As a student, the thought of working in the Berberis Dell at RBG Kew made my blood run cold. Seeming acres of nondescript, thorny, arching shrubs with tiny flowers did not excite me. Even botanising among them sent me to sleep. With maturity has come a greater appreciation of them and it did not take long to start to include them in this new garden. I am sure that most people feel the same way about ribes. My father didn’t have a good word to say about Ribes sanguineum; in fact all he did say was that it stank of tom cats. I have liked the plant for ages and positively love some of them, especially the low, yellow-leaved ‘Brocklebankii’. This is rather strange since I profess hating pink and yellow together. But I think, especially this year, I am so desperate to embrace anything cheerful that I am perfectly happy to see any colours together.
Admiration for the species grew when I saw it in the wild in Oregon, bursting into flower through the thick snow. I am not sure quite why I like ribes so much but I find them all fascinating. Even the strange green flowers of currants have a strange charm and gooseberry flowers are intricate little beauties. The hybrid R. x gordonianum has followed me wherever I have gardened and it is an easy and delightful shrub that makes a change from the usual pink and yellow of ribes and forsythia.
But even more exciting has been the planting of Ribes valdivianum. It is named after the city in Southern Chile and I knew it only from Berberis valdiviana which is surely the most majestic and beautiful of that genus. When I bought the ribes I knew nothing about it apart from the fact that it was deciduous and has greenish or creamy white flowers. But I had to own it!
Bean (Trees and Shrubs hardy in the British Isles) says ‘It blooms in late April and May. Except for its liability to injury by late spring frosts, it is hardy. Some of its forms are described as having green flowers. The yellow-flowered ones are quite attractive.’
It was introduced to the British Isles in 1926, from just across the border in Argentina. It is supposed to be 2m or more across and I can’t wait till it gets big enough to look up at rather than down at.
I think that every plant in this garden has given me sleepless nights and after the wicked frost we had last May I regard every high pressure system with fear. We are having some warm days right now but an arctic blast is forecast for the Easter Weekend and I am sick with worry about my ribes and lots more. The flowers are absolutely beautiful and I love the colours. I need to look closer because the flowers, and presumably the plants, are either male or female with the males having longer racemes. I suspect mine is a male but I won’t make assumptions and need to have a close look. The racemes of blooms are elegantly shaped and I think I have a new favourite ribes. Fingers crossed late frosts don’t kill the flowers.