Ignore this first paragraph if you are easily confused or tired
First the bad news: those good old shrubs we knew and loved as Potentilla fruticosa have had their names changed and they are now Dasiphora fruticosa. The genus means ‘hair-bearing’ which seems odd since the herbaceous potentillas, which have retained their name, are also hairy. Perhaps Daisphora is an older published name. (Un)commonly called cinquefoils, which means five leaves, from the French, the shrubby cinquefoils have pinnate leaves – divided like feathers unlike the ‘palm-like’ leaves of the herbaceous species. Dasiphora do have the typical five-petalled, rose-like flowers and they have dry, strawberry-like fruits. And while we are on the subject, potentilla comes from ‘potent’ because of the usefulness of some species as medicines.
One of the first shrubs to go in the garden was Potentilla fruticosa (Dasiphora fruticosa) ‘Abbotswood’. As shrubs go it is pretty mundane. The species is native to much of the Northern hemisphere and it is actually native to the UK. It is often found at high elevations and latitudes and is tough as old boots. It was used as a garden plant, in Europe, in the 18th century but new ‘sap’ was introduced when Reginald Farrer brought stock from Western China a century ago. Many cultivars have been regular residents of gardens for decades.
As a garden plant it familiar. It is a staple of the landscaping brigade that plant around supermarkets because it is tough, will grow in sun or part shade and, most importantly, tolerates their erratic attacks with hedgetrimmers better than most. It is not fussy about soil and thrives in clay or poor soils and while it flowers best in sun it will also grow in part shade.
As an ornament for my own garden it has a few faults. The flowers are small (about 4cm), the plants are lumpy and undistinguished, it has no great autumn colour and it is slightly dull in winter. But I am being unfair. Because here is a shrub that blooms from May to October; that is almost disease-free (some mildew is possible in drought), that can be pruned as you wish (though spring is best) and is as keen to please as a lonely puppy.
I added it to the garden this spring because, among my many gardening faults is my predilection for stupid plants (see yesterday’s post). I have to discipline myself to buy some good, easy, high-performance plants now and then. ‘Abbotswood’ (AGM) is usually considered the best white and is often described as dwarf, though it will reach 90cm high, but it is dense and full in habit. Plants get scruffy after a few years but all you need to do is chop them off low down in spring and they will quickly bounce back and bloom in a few months.
My top ten shrubs for new gardeners would always contain a shrubby potentilla but I think I would now name it as ‘Abbotswood’. I am grateful for the contribution this plant has made in the chaotic, early stages of my garden.