‘Currant’ favourites

Lots is happening in the garden, by itself I have to say since the wet and windy weather continues and I can’t even bring myself to spend much time in the greenhouse where there are some seedlings that need attention. I have been busy adding shrubs to some old and new areas when the weather allowed and am quite excited about that. Quite a few new weigela and philadelphus have been added, for colour and fragrance in summer as well as a few more magnolias. I promised myself to plant one magnolia every year but have actually added four this year: ‘Nicki’, M. acuminata ‘Blue Opal’, ‘Wada’s Memory’ and M. sieboldii. I will leave it at that for a year. Older shrubs, now in position for three years, are now doing well and are giving me a lot of pleasure.

An old friend, that I like a lot, is Ribes x gordonii that is now called R. x beatonii. It was raised, by crossing R. odoratum with R. sanguineum, in 1837. Donald Beaton, then of Herefordshire, did the work and named it after his employer, William Gordon, but it seems that it should be called after the raiser, being the first published name. This won’t do a lot to raise the profile of this often overlooked shrub!

Few of the ribes earn the desciption of ‘exciting’ and the ubiquitous R. sanguineum is often despised for the harsh pink colour of the flowers and the smell of the foliage which I don’t actually find that disagreeable. It is also very easy to grow and that makes it less than desirable among those who prefer plants that are challenges. I have yet to find a really good (and unusual) cultivar to put in the borders though I have mixed the plain species in my mixed hedge, where it keeps the bees happy. And with so much white and yellow in the spring garden I actually welcome the pink. There are is a rather nasty variegated form that looks like it is planted under a pigeon nest, and the yellow leaved ‘Brocklebankii’ which I left behind when I moved and will be snapped up when I see one. Pink flowers set against yellow leaves should fill me with horror but I actually find it oddly uplifting.

But back to R. x beatonii. The parents have pink flowers and yellow flowers and these are oddly combined in the blooms to create a ‘rhubarb and custard’ effect. The leaves are smaller and less hairy than R. sanguineum and the habit is a bit straggly, reaching about 2m high and wide. My plant needs a trim after flowering to make it a bit more compact. Beaton did not restrict himself to breeding ribes and was responsible for breeding some of the most important Victorian pelargoniums at Shrubland Hall in Suffolk until 1852. He corresponded with Charles Darwin on the subject .

Ribes valdivianum still puzzles me. I am not wholly convinced that the plant I have is truly this plant. It is supposed to have green or yellow flowers and the plants are either male or female, rather like R. laurifolium. But my plant has blooms that appear to be ‘perfect’ and in a subtle combination of pink and yellow.

I had no real reason to plant this, but bought it because I had no idea what it was. Nice surprises often follow chance plantings. Spiraea prunifolia was added because it grew in a garden when I was a child and had never seen it since. Spiraeas have had a lot of attention from plant breeders, mostly S. japonica which is now available in a bewildering variety, all rather similar. But this one is very distinct and has one season of interest; in spring when it is covered in pure white, rose-like blooms, though there can also be good autumn colour too. I wanted it so badly that I made up an order to get it and bought three in case something awful happened if I only bought one! That shows how much I needed this plant.

Last year flowering was odd. A few buds opened very early and the display was prolonged and ineffective. This year, as the branches are getting denser, the flowers are starting to make more impact and the buds have waited for better (ha ha) weather to open.

It is one of those curious plants that was found and introduced as a double-flowered form (like kerria) and so, although it has double flowers, it is Spiraea prunifolia – the single-flowered form (rarely grown) is forma simpliciflora. The double-flowered form was found by E H Wilson in W. Hupeh, China, where it was cultivated. It was actually introduced from Japan in 1845 and was sold, two years later, at a ‘guinea’ a plant. Today it is rather neglected. It is larger than more modern spiraeas but it has small leaves and an elegant, arching habit, not yet obvious in my plants. Perhaps we don’t need more white flowers in spring. But I get a lot of joy looking at the individual flowers. They are only 1cm across but they are abundant and they are so cute!

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4 Comments on “‘Currant’ favourites”

  1. tonytomeo
    April 12, 2023 at 5:22 am #

    Ha! Ribes sanguineum grows wild in our landscape. A few were added intentionally a few years ago. I do not notice the aromatic foliage unless I prune them after bloom. I would like to add some that bloom white, but can not think of a good excuse to do so.

    • thebikinggardener
      April 12, 2023 at 8:42 am #

      ‘White Icicle’ is the most common white one available here but I am not completely sure I need more white when the point of plant is that it is pink. Time will tell. I saw Ribes sanguineum in the wild there, flowering through the snow in places and seeing it wild did increase my fondness for it.

      • tonytomeo
        April 13, 2023 at 5:49 am #

        Since commenting earlier, I noticed these growing wild here in the Pacific Northwest. (I am presently on vacation.) Although white is my favorite color, I sort of prefer the more typical pink, and their blooms seem to be larger and more pendulous. ‘White Icicle’ is the only white cultivar that I am aware of.

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