This is almost the one that got away. I keep meaning to mention it but something more seasonal always grabs my attention and so it gets ignored. But I have to say that few of the shrubs planted in the garden so far make me happier and no other gets the attention of the few visitors to the garden so far. Not only is it always noticed but it always gets a stroke!
‘Fine Line” (AKA ‘Ron Williams’ after the breeder) was only introduced in 2003, after the cross between Rhamnus frangula ‘Asplenifolia’ and ‘Columnaris in 1989). It has inherited the narrow foliage of the former and the upright habit of the latter, making a narrow column of very narrow leaves.
The name is a bit confusing. Fine Line (R) is the selling name and the proper cultivar name is ‘Ron Williams’ PP14791. It was found as a seedling by hosta breeder Ron Williams of Green Bay, Wisconsin and initially distributed by Spring Meadow Nurseries in Michigan. It is now sold, in the USA, under the Proven Winners brand but they now sell Fine Line (R) improved (‘SMNRFBT’). It seems to be different only in that they claim it is bushier and better clothed at the base of the plant. I am sure mine is the original.
I bought it on a whim about five years ago and it was one of the very first shrubs planted in the garden, having sat in its pot for a year. Like its parents, it has tiny, green flowers, which the bees seem to find attractive and might have black berries but very few are set. It is a tough plant, totally hardy and although should prefer a slightly acid soil and can take part shade, mine is in (acid) clay and in full sun – and a windy spot. Creating a green, feathery column all summer it changes to bright, butter yellow in autumn before the leaves drop. In winter it is an elegant sheaf of twigs resembling an inverted besom.
Rhamnus frangula (the alder buckthorn) is one of two species that is the food plant for the Brimstone butterfly – I have planted the wild species in my hedge for this purpose – and it is native to northern Europe. It has been introduced to the USA and Canada where it has naturalised and the fact that ‘Fine Line’ is more or less sterile means that it should be able to be planted without fear of escape from gardens. And for those troubled with nibbling garden visitors, it is not usually bothered by deer.
It is a great accent plant and possibly more of a ‘landscapers’ plant than a ‘garden’ plant. It would make a marvelous screen or hedge, if a little slow growing. But I am delighted with my solitary specimen. Because of its appearance it would work as well with conifers and evergreens as among herbaceous plants.
The ultimate height is given at 2.5m and mine is about 1.5m after four years in the ground (bought at about 45cm). Because it is completely hardy it should be suitable for patio pots too, planted in loam-based compost, and would be a good alternative to bamboos to create a delicate tracery of foliage. And it is a lot easier to grow, here at least, than a cut-leaved maple.
If, like me, you believe that texture and form is as important as colourful flowers in the garden, you could do a lot worse than plant this, whatever it is called.