A narrow escape: I hope

When you start a garden from scratch, with a blank canvas, there are good and bad points. The task ahead can be slightly overwhelming, but at least you should not inherit any troublesome plants. I have been fairly careful not to introduce anything I might regret at a later date but the pink-flowered vinca ‘Jenny Pym’ verges on the aggressive and tests me. I have had it for 20 years or more, carrying it around with me and I tolerate its invasive tendencies purely because the pink flowers are so unusual for a vinca. If it was blue I would not put up with it. And I would not give it to anyone unless they were absolutely sure they knew what they were taking on.

Apart from that, I don’t think I have made any big mistakes yet, except… Rubus spectabilis ‘Olympic Double’. Rubus spectabilis is native to the NW of the USA where it grows in semi-shade and flowers in spring, along with the trilliums and dodecatheons. It is pretty in bloom but a suckering, rather scruffy shrub with bristly stems and orange fruits called salmonberries which are edible. ‘Olympic Double’ was discovered in the Olympic Peninsula, Washington, and has deep pink, fully double flowers like beautiful roses, but without scent. Of course, there are no berries either. Coming from rainy Washington State, it puts up with the Irish climate admirably.

I think of it as a pink ‘kerria’ with similar, scruffy habit and similarly pompon-like blooms. I was keen to plant it in the garden and when my small plant arrived in the post I put it in one of my best-prepared beds. The position was so prized that it has an embothrium as a neighbour. It settled in the first year and looked happy and sent up new shoots from the base. All was well. Until last summer new shoots started appearing through the soil about 1m away in all directions. Panic set in! Well the ground has dried out enough for some garden work – I cut the lawn yesterday – and so today it was time to move it. And it seems I was just in time. There were thick white suckers spreading out from those sucker shoots and the patch would have been at least 2m across this summer if I had left it.

I have resited the pieces. At the ‘front’ of the garden is a bank and on the road- side I have been battling with grass and weeds. The top is planted with Rosa rugosa, that provides some privacy but the bank gets regular battering from the tractors that have no respect for anyone. I have planted vinca and Geranium x oxonianum and they are getting established but now there is rubus which can do exactly as it pleases. It is just a shame it doesn’t have 10cm spines to thwart the tractor tyres.

Completely unrelated except in colour, is Salix ‘Mount Aso’. I needed to have this as soon as I found out about it and I rather unfairly planted it in the most awful place in the garden, in unimproved soil that is wet in winter – it is a willow after all. It was not impressed and hardly grew for a couple of years – well it grew but died back almost as much. But then it got its roots into the clay and started to show what it can do.

It is a relatively small willow, with greyish leaves in summer that won’t get the heart racing but are not awful. The reason to grow this is the furry catkins which are produced all along the stems and open pretty pink, the colour of unicorn poo I suspect. It is utterly charming and not just a novelty but showy enough to actually make an impact in the garden. I need to take some cuttings now it is growing well and experiment with it. I think it would look great underplanted with snowdrops and pink hellebores.

This would be a much better plant to graft on ‘broomsticks’ than the awful Kilmarnock willow and would sell on sight.

There is a catch, of course, and the pink pussy willows don’t stay pink for ever and they turn black after a few weeks, as the yellow pollen emerges. But I will forgive it that.

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13 Comments on “A narrow escape: I hope”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    February 2, 2023 at 7:59 am #

    Peculiarly, we planted that rubus about twenty years ago and I struggle to find a bit of it now. It was among trees and shrubs which may have curbed its vigour. I’m not sure if it is still there.

    • thebikinggardener
      February 2, 2023 at 10:54 am #

      That just shows how plants can behave so differently in different gardens. It usually thrives in light shade so it is odd that it couldn’t cope. If you need a bit you know where to come!

      • Paddy Tobin
        February 2, 2023 at 1:13 pm #

        Some plants come as gifts and one must choose their planting spot carefully to ensure they don’t thrive yet their passing can’t be blamed on the gardener.

  2. Jaye Marie and Anita Dawes
    February 2, 2023 at 8:24 am #

    I am loving that pink pussy willow!

    • thebikinggardener
      February 2, 2023 at 10:53 am #

      It is a nice thing 🙂

      • Jaye Marie and Anita Dawes
        February 3, 2023 at 6:45 am #

        I don’t think we have this in UK…

        • thebikinggardener
          February 3, 2023 at 8:18 am #

          You do 🙂 I actually got my plant of rubus from the UK before the Brexit shutters came down, though I am sure it must be available in Ireland too. It tends to be more commonly grown in the West and North because it copes well with wet conditions. But you could certainly find it for sale there. And the vinca was bought in the UK too.

  3. tonytomeo
    February 2, 2023 at 2:51 pm #

    It is funny how we feel so obligated to keep some of these things around. Some are justifiable, of course. I still grow the same rhubarb that my great grandfather gave me before I was in kindergarten. Well, I also grow the feral English daisy that is a common lawn weed here, just because I think it is pretty. I grow the freeway iceplant also.

    • thebikinggardener
      February 2, 2023 at 5:06 pm #

      Yes, It is somehow reassuring to grow plants we grew up with even if they have their faults. I like the older epimediums for the same reason though the new ones need no excuse to include in the garden. What is freeway ice plant?

      • tonytomeo
        February 3, 2023 at 6:16 am #

        Carpobrotus chilensis and Carpobrotus edulis. Carpobrotus chilensis might also be known as pigface. Carpobrotus edulis might also be known as Hottentot fig.

        • thebikinggardener
          February 3, 2023 at 8:19 am #

          Ah, thank you for that. I saw that right on the beach in Oregon and Calif – it must be a bit of a pest.

          • tonytomeo
            February 5, 2023 at 5:20 am #

            Carpobrotus chilensis is considered to be an aggressively invasive exotic species, but no one seems to be able to confirm that it is exotic. Some believe that it might actually be native. The first Spanish people to arrive here did not document its importation, but did document its prevalence early in the history of California, as if it were always here. In some regions, it is useful for erosion mitigation. Carpobrotus edulis was imported later, and is actually more prevalent in some regions, but does not seem to be as aggressively invasive. If I remember correctly, it was the more common species in San Luis Obispo County. Other species may be naturalized as well. A few bloom with flowers that are slightly different from the two common species.

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