Plants for a purpose

I mentioned the other day that I had been shopping. I must admit that I went a bit mad and filled a trolley with plants. Even so, it was a fraction of what I wanted to buy and I was fairly sensible and bought some plants for a purpose as well as just pure desire.

My most surprising buys were probably a couple of brooms (Cytisus scoparius). The wild plant is native of Western Europe, including Ireland, where it grows on poor, dry, acid soils. It is superficially similar to gorse but is not spiny. It does contain alkaloids that prevent grazing, making it a very successful and quick coloniser of grassy areas. In many areas of North America and in Australia and New Zealand it is a serious pest. I recall seeing it in huge swathes in Washington State where it looked lovely but, like purple loosestrife, was a threat to native species.

But I need not worry about my plant, it is native. I selected just two, to go on a rather dry bank in the garden. ‘Boskoop Ruby’ is as blatant as brooms get, with large flowers of rich red. In contrast ‘Luna’ is more like the wild plant but with pastel yellow flowers.

Brooms grow quickly but are shortlived. They tend to be ugly by the age of ten. But you can keep them looking nicer, for longer, by clipping most of the flowered length of the branches off immediately after flowering. Never cut into grey, leafless branches. Just clip back the green shoots, that grew last year and flowered this year. This prevents seed formation and encourages new growth through summer, that will bloom next year. It also keeps the plants more compact and prevents a straggly habit.

My four Crataegus laevigata ‘Crimson Cloud’ are producing a few flowers. They were planted in autumn and only two are producing a few flowers. I chose this, above the more popular, double, ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ because the single flowers, while still showy, and in my opinion more attractive, are better for pollinators and they should also produce some berries for the birds in autumn. It is a hybrid of ‘Charles X’ and ‘Paul’s Scarlet’. ‘Charles X’ appears to have similar, though pink and white, flowers and many similar cultivars used to be available but are possibly not in commercial production, including pink and white ‘Punicea’ and ‘Princesse Sturdza’ and ‘Bicolor’. Wild hedges often show variations in flower colour and pinks of various intensity are not uncommon. It seems that there used to be many more cultivars of single or double-flowered hawthorns and it may be because of the thorns that they have fallen from favour and that crab apples are the most popular ‘blossom trees’. Ornamental hawthorns are worth considering for their hardiness, tolerance of heavy soils and wind and their benefit for wildlife.

‘Crimson Cloud’ has a more arching habit than ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ but can reach about 3m high and wide, but mine have a lot more growing to do – look closely and you can see a red dot where the flowers are.

But I must not criticise crab apples and the two ‘Freya’ are incredible at the moment and buzzing with bees. Strangely, they are all honeybees and the bumblebees don’t seem to be that bothered, and are frantic visiting the last pulmonaria flowers and the tiny cream blooms on Lonicera nitida.

I planted two Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ either side of a grass path to make a partial screen, narrowing the view and now, in the second year, they have already grown (they were originally 20cm high) and starting to bloom. I can never quite understand why this form, with all sterile flowers, is called ‘Roseum’ but it is possibly because the individual florets look like roses – this plant has been grown since the 16th century when it was known as the ‘rose elder’ or ‘Sambucus rosea’. It is commonly called the snowball tree which is quite appropriate. It is a common and rather coarse shrub and, of course, does not produce berries. But it is tough and has prospered despite the rather challenging spot. There is something rather fun about the ‘blobby’ flowers which start lime green and mature to white. It is generally easy to grow but strong shoots can be attacked by blackfly. It is a large shrub and not easy to keep small without pruning off flowering shoots. For those who are feeling sorry for the birds, I have also planted ‘Aureum’ which has yellow leaves and does set fruit.

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4 Comments on “Plants for a purpose”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    May 17, 2022 at 9:41 am #

    The hawthorns are good plants though I have had problems with them losing foliage in summer over the last few years.

  2. Paddy Tobin
    May 17, 2022 at 10:04 pm #

    I had a look this afternoon and Cragaegus laevigata ‘Crimson Cloud’ is in full flower and making a wonderful display. C. l. ‘Rosea Flore Pleno’ has only a small display of flowers at present.

  3. tonytomeo
    May 18, 2022 at 4:24 am #

    Gads! Yes! Brooms are some of the worst weeds here. French broom is the worst, although we know it as Scotch broom. Scotch broom is actually not so bad, and could be controlled if it were the only species here.

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