Elegant and eye-catching prunus should be renamed flowering cheeries!

FLOWERING cherries are elegance personified and once they fill the garden with their beautiful blooms you know that spring has finally sprung.

Prunus is the family name – there are almost 500 species – and Prunus Ukon is the tree that’s been with us for more years than I can recall.

Ukon, hailing from Japan but sounding more Canadian than Oriental, is dressed in clotted cream double flowers with faint tinges of pale yellow and foliage that starts off yellowish-bronze and ends as orange-red.

It’s a good performer, one of numerous varieties in shades of pink, white and cream, that adorn our gardens in April and May.

But suddenly Ukon has a rival, albeit in the front garden but one which is capturing our daily attention as the buds unfurl and sends its flowers gazing over the garden wall.

Kanzan is its name, a Japanese cherry with coppery-red foliage when young, an upright grower and stunning double pink flowers with a hint of purple produced over the branches from late April.

Kanzan is not a new variety and is possibly the most popular of all the cherry prunus, but ours is the first I’ve bought – from Merry Harriers nursery (www.merryharriers.org.uk), near Bucks Cross – and this is its first year in bloom.

In Britain, the public have always seemed to love the cherries, though the flowering peaches, plums and almonds are also very desirable but appear more delicate than showy.

In Japan, they started growing cherries as far back as the seventh century. The aristocracy adored them and set up viewings known as hanami.

In Washington DC they hold a cherry blossom festival to celebrate spring, while in Britain the fashion got going in the 1920s and, to this day, you only have to see how many suburban lawns are enhanced by the glorious cherry blossom to realise they have never lost their glamour.

It’s true that the glories of prunus lasts for no more than a fortnight if you are lucky and that often there’s not much to celebrate in subsequent months.

Some, however, such as the pure white Shirotae, has new foliage in bronze and old foliage in golden tints – and it’s a tree that spreads itself wide rather than high.

Amanogawa is the choice of many, growing stiffly upright with soft pink double flowers that explode onto the scene in great profusion.

Prunus sargentii is one from Korea, bearing clear pink single blooms and leaves that are among the first to change to autumnal orange and red. Korea, eh? I wonder if someone has presented Kim Jong Un with a few of these and that’s why he’s been mellowing just lately!

And finally, Fudanzakura, another Japanese gem previously known as serrulata, and with copper-red emerging leaves and pink buds that turn a pinky white. This variety can show off its wares anytime between November and April, depending on how the weather is performing.

Finally, did I say? Well, there’s a long way to go to explore all the many shapes, sizes and growing habits of this extensive family, so do invade the garden centres and ask questions to suit your personal site, soil and weather conditions.

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⏩⏩➡ Charming cherries: Top and centre – Prunus Kanzan; above – up close with Prunus Ukon.

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Two evergreens to reward you with scent and spectacle

YES, you are quite correct, we haven’t had an April monthly posting from St John’s Garden Centre in Barnstaple . . . and I have to confess I was beginning to get a little concerned.
But I need not have worried for too long. The simple answer is that the nursery has had a busy old month and found that serving customers took priority over writing notes – and that can’t be bad, so I’m not complaining!
So prepare for a slimmed-down and belated Notes for April, with St John’s kindly sending me details on two Plants of the Month.

OSMANTHUS BURKWOODII: Many gardeners who grow this genus will recognise some species, especially heterophyllus, as very much resembling holly, albeit perhaps a little more refined.

Osmanthus burkwoodii (net)

Burkwoodii, a hardy evergreen, is not quite in this category, for its distinction lies not in the leaves but in the supremely scented white, tubular flowers profusely borne in mid to late spring.

The shrub, which grows densely to reach around 10ft, is useful for hedging, screens and banks and, perhaps more importantly, is a low-maintenance lodger, with no known pests or ailments.

GENISTA PORLOCK: This semi-evergreen has officially changed its name to Cytisus Porlock – one of the brooms – though for the life of me I never understand why the boffins keep meddling with the titles.

Cytisus Porlock (net)

It’s a vivacious, arching, almost fully hardy shrub which, like the osmanthus, will peak at 10ft and looks stunning when fully clothed in its vivid, clear yellow fragrant, pea-like blooms. Indeed, at its colourful peak this broom will sweep you off your feet!

Don’t coddle brooms with rich soil. They relish life in poorish ground that tends towards acidity, though Porlock is slightly lime-tolerant. And like osmanthus, dry banks and slopes will suit it down to its roots.

⏩⏩➡ www.stjohnsgardencentre.co.uk

Listen to golden designers at Rosemoor for National Gardening Week

NATIONAL GARDENING WEEK digs in soon, starting on 29 April and running to 4 May.

At RHS Rosemoor, Chelsea gold medal winning designers Charlotte Harris and Hugo Bugg will share their Passion for Plants and outlining their top hard-working and beautiful plant choices for gardeners of any level of experience.

The pair have this month been announced as the designers of the kitchen garden for the new RHS Garden Bridgewater in Manchester, due to open in 2020, so will end their talk with the first public presentation of these plans.

This talk is included for free with normal garden entry, but tickets are limited and need to be booked to avoid disappointment.

⏩⏩➡ http://www.rhs.org/rosemoor or 01805 624067.

Let’s toast the pieris: The best shrub of all time . . . probably

DELICATE BELLS AND DRAMATIC FOLIAGE GIVES THIS GEM THE GARDENING GOLD

SOMETIME in the past year or two I posed the question: “Is the pieris the best shrub of all time?”
It’s now reached a staged where I can safely turn that query into a dedicated comment: “Yes, pieris is very definitely the best of the lot.”

Agreed, there are many competitors for this crown, not least the ravishing rhododendrons, the gorgeous camellias or the dependable skimmias.

And yet, I always return to pieris praise for the way it transforms from displaying delicate pendants of baby white, occasionally pink, bells – not dissimilar to lily-of-the-valley – to lighting up the garden in a blaze of scarlet.

Often, these bells and the flame effect sit together, creating an even more stunning show in April, primarily as a backbone shrub in the border.

What’s important to remember with pieris is that they are members of the heather family – surprising but true – so that rules out alkaline soil if they are to prosper. Regard it as fact that if rhodos and azaleas do well, pieris will flourish too.

There are just seven species of pieris, which hail from the Himalayas, North America and the West Indies. In the UK the two species most likely to be encountered are the Oriental japonica and the American floribunda, with the Himalayan formosa taking the bronze medal.

Arguably, the best-known of them all is floribunda Forest Flame (12ft), an RHS Award of Merit winner for being such a good all-round doer. It has the brightest new growth, an intense copper-red which contrasts superbly with the dark green foliage.

In stark contrast, Little Heath (2ft) is a tiddler and bears young leaves which are pink with silvery margins.

Other varieties include Wakehurst, Henry Price, Christmas Cheer with crimped white flowers, Blush opening with vivid, dark pink bells which turn pale pink then white, Purity which produces pale green leaves when young, and Mountain Fire which delivers red young leaves that turn glossy chestnut-brown.

Pieris are perfectly suited to tub-growing, provided plenty of ericaceous compost is added and a sunny spot is chosen. Little or no pruning is required, apart from an annual tidy-up and removal or any branches that appear to be growing in the wrong direction. Search out a shrub or two at your favourite garden centre.

The fourth of the seven species, incidentally, is one that particularly interests me. It is called Pieris nana and it is a native of Kamchatka, that huge peninsula of 800 miles that spills over at the eastern end of Russia into the Bering Sea like a vast torpedo and is home to numerous volcanoes, big bears and eye-watering scenery.

Off the beaten track? Kamchatka is up there among the remotest of the remote!

Why is nana so different? It’s because it is just 3in high, spreads to 12in and, like its full-size cousins, grows red-bronze leaves and white bells which, at 2½in long, are practically the same length as the entire shrub.

My search for this Kamchatka cracker is under way!

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⏩⏩➡ Prince among the shrubs: Four views of my pieris Forest Flame showing the delicate bells and the fiery foliage.

Top-notch flowers at Rosemoor this weekend at national show

RHODODENDRONS are reigning supreme at Rosemoor over the weekend . . . with a little help from camellias and magnolias.
It’s the two-day National Rhododendron Show where some of Britain’s leading growers are pitting their skills against . . .  more of Britain’s leading growers.

The blooms are not just good, they are gorgeous, in a myriad of colours, shapes and statures.

Experts from a wide spectrum converged at the RHS’s Torrington horticultural haven and the crowds duly flocked in – as they are certain to do tomorrow.

If you weren’t able to attend today do be there tomorrow as this is a floral feast not to be missed. Indeed, today’s display was as near to petal perfection as it’s possible to imagine, as my pictures of first prizewinners prove.

Tomorrow’s spectacle opens at 10am and runs until 4pm. With its award-winning restaurant in full swing, the plant centre and those fabulous acres of gardens on both sides of the A3124 to explore, a day out at Rosemoor – especially during national show weekend – is a sizeable slice of heaven in Devon.

⏩⏩➡ www.rhs.org.uk/rosemoor

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⏩⏩➡ Rhododendron augustinii

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⏩⏩➡ Niveum

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⏩⏩➡ Flower arrangement from Marwood Hill, near Barnstaple

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⏩⏩➡ Beatrice Kier exhibited by Sussex couple Iris and Brian Wright

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⏩⏩➡ Rhododendron Hino-Crimson from Trewithin Gardens, Truro 

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⏩⏩➡ Phalarope exhibited by Dorset’s Russell Beeson

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⏩⏩➡ Camellia japonica Matterhorn shown by Trewithin Gardens

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⏩⏩➡ A triangle of magnificent camellia blooms

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⏩⏩➡ Super six camellias displayed by Botallick Gardens, near Looe

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⏩⏩➡ The waxy beauty of magnolia Livingstone, another exhibit from Botallick

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⏩⏩➡ Another sensational six, this one a cup-winning entry of rhododendrons from Caerhays Castle in Cornwall

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⏩⏩➡ And finally, a view of some of the rhododendrons that came under scrutiny in Rosemoor’s Garden Room

 

BURDETTS TO BOW OUT OF PLANT FAIRS: SUCCESSOR URGENTLY SOUGHT

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N APPEAL has gone out for a green-fingered enthusiast to take over the running of the Plant Heritage plant fairs and bonsai weekends in North Devon.

It follows the decision by Derek and Pauline Burdett to retire after 25 years of organising these excellent “floral treasure chests” across the region.

Their final fling will be at Rosemoor on Saturday and Sunday, 12 and 13 May, when a host of traditional nurseries will be showing off choice, unusual and downright rare plants in the Garden House.

Readers will remember that Derek and Pauline ran Fairhaven Nursery at Chittlehampton for 32 years and finally hung up their hoes and trowels seven years ago.

Now, unless a successor comes forward, there seems little hope that the popular fairs can continue in the north of the county.

Pauline says: “I think we have done our stint.”

✴ Contact Pauline or Derek on 01271 860000 or email them at fairhavennursery@hotmail.com if you think you are a “fair” candidate to save the day.

 

Flowers in their fabulous finery at Rosemoor this weekend

IF PLANT perfection makes you happy with horticulture, then Rosemoor is your weekend must-visit destination.

It gives you the chance to marvel at the astonishing variety and colour of an array of spring flowering plants – grown by enthusiasts with expertise at their fingertips.

It’s the annual National Rhododendron Show which returns to Rosemoor’s Garden Room at Torrington in a blaze of class and colour.

The show has more than 60 classes covering all aspects of rhododendrons, as well as trade and advice stands, plus magnificent displays of magnolias and camellias.

Previous competitors have included Exbury in Hampshire, Caerhays Castle, near St Austell, the Savill Garden in Surrey, Trewithin at Truro, Marwood Hill, near Barnstaple, and several National Trust properties.

The competitions are entirely free to enter and are open to anyone who wishes to exhibit. It is, of course, late in the day now but entry forms are available direct from RHS Competitions Manager Georgina Barter at georginabarter@rhs.org.uk

On my last visit, in 2015, the two displays that left a lasting impression were the daffodils shown by Cornish grower Ron Scamp and a stunning tiered display of hyacinths from Stephen Gibson, of Kettering, Northants.

⏩⏩➡ The show opens to the public at 11.30 on Saturday and 10am on Sunday, both days running until 4pm. Normal garden admission applies.

⏩⏩➡ www.rhs.org.uk/rosemoor

 

Rhodo show Rosemoor

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⏩⏩➡ Supreme stuff: Top – Visitors admire displays of individual blooms; centre – a stunning array of rhododendrons and camellias entered by Marwood Hill; above – a magnificent magnolia, F J Williams, gained a first prize for Caerhays Nursery.

GARDENERS’ QUESTION TIME RETURNS TO ROSEMOOR

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HE CELEBRATED panel of gardening experts – Bob Flowerdew, Anne Swithinbank and Neil Porteous, along with chairman Eric Robson – are back at Rosemoor on 1 May after a few years to record a Gardeners’ Question Time programme for BBC Radio 4.

All will be tackling questions – some tricky, some humorous – thrown to them by local gardening keenies.

GQT is a Radio 4 institution, attracting more than two million listeners a week. Recorded in a different location each week, this perennial programme has answered well over 30,000 queries since its inception back in 1947.

The panellists have been guests of a diverse range of gardening clubs and other organisations, including recording at the top of Snowdon, broadcasting from Buckingham Palace and even solving problems – non-political, of course – from inside 10 Downing Street.

The panel never see the questions before the recording. Their encyclopaedic, seemingly effortless answers are completely spontaneous and reveal their huge experience and depth of knowledge. Being on the GQT panel is not for the faint-hearted!

⏩⏩➡ Tickets cost £4.50 and are available to buy from rhs.org.uk/rosemoor and include a complimentary glass of wine or fruit juice, as well as garden admission after 4pm.

YOU’RE SO VEIN!

It’s easy to get hooked on heucheras: ‘Rocky’ stars with fabulous foliage

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OPULARITY among plants can be a here-today-gone-tomorrow fad – roses, rhododendrons and other long-established favourites excepted.

But in the “middle order”, I defy anyone to challenge the relentless popularity surge of heucheras.

These foliage kings were, up to a few years ago, sideline subjects unknown by most of us. Indeed, as a gardening writer back in the 1970s, I never once referred to them, simply because I’d never heard of them.

Spin forward 40 years and we find the number of varieties multiplying at a breathtaking rate.

It’s not hard to see why!

These hardy American natives – many thriving in the Rocky Mountains – are mostly evergreen and bring a touch of showbiz to beds, borders, pots or even hanging baskets.

Thanks to intensive breeding, their luscious leaves embrace an almost rainbow palette of colours – from rich red, lime green, purple, pink, peach, gold and in-between shades that are not always easy to define.

And then there’s the veins – beautiful artistic tracery that especially shows up against paler backgrounds in varieties like Persian Carpet, Gun Smoke or Sugar Plum.

Their names are colourful too – Peppermint Spice, Marmalade, Tiramisu, Red Spangles, Georgia Peach, Pearl Drops and Raspberry Regal to quote a handful.

Then there’s the ubiquitous Palace Purple with jagged, glistening, almost metallic bronzy-red foliage and bearing cream flowers with red anthers.

Flowers throughout the genus are small and starry in various shades, slender-stemmed, held high above the leaves and are adored by bees.

Closely related are the frothy-flowered tiarellas and when these were crossed with heucheras a hybrid race called heucherella emerged, rather like a labradoodle in dog-speak.

Heucherellas bear similar characteristics, though often with more sharply pointed leaves, but with veining well up to heuchera quality.

During a first-time visit to the superb Bernaville Nurseries (www.bernaville.co.uk) at Cowley, near Exeter, this week, I stopped to admire stunning displays of heucheras that really put their colour variations under the spotlight.

In fact, from the entire beautifully laid-out plant stands that exuded springtime vibrancy, our friends the heucheras were my “pick of the bunch” – and that’s just from foliage.

Bernaville, incidentally, has been run by the same Jackson family for around 60 years. How many nurseries can come even close to that, I wonder?

A couple of reminders worth noting: Heucheras appreciate good air-flow, some prefer part-shade over full sun so do check the label, and don’t overfeed as this can result in a bloated appearance and, surprisingly, plants that are less tolerant of the cold.

Readers will recall my recent “bargain of the century” from BJs Value House in Bideford – an under-the-weather red-purple heuchera, Morello, for a princely 20p price-blitzed from £8.99. It’s now thriving!

The National Collection of heuchera, heucherella and tiarella is held by Vicky Frost, of Plantagogo (Jubilee Cottage Nursery), at Englesea Brook, near Crewe, Cheshire, who is something of a serial medal-winner at major flower shows, Chelsea included.

http://www.plantagogo.com

Heucheras Bernaville

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⏩⏩➡ Top – heucheras in all their multi-coloured splendour at Bernaville Nurseries; centre and above – two views of the excellent display areas.

Say ‘Oui’ to this nursery – and learn a little cross-Channel chat

FANCY walking the flowers followed by talking French? Oui? Then Withleigh Nurseries, near Tiverton, is the place to be seen soon.

The unusual Anglo-French connection, named the French Conversation Club, is due to begin on Saturday, 21 April (9.30am) and takes place at the nursery’s Café Banana.

And it will repeat on the third Saturday of every month – hot drink and vegan croissants included – at an attractive fiver a head.

Here’s more Français . . . on the first Tuesday of each month, from 1 May, Withleigh are staging a Kids’ French Club – again just £5 – at 11am for 45 minutes in the cafe which promises fun, interactive French language sessions for the under-fives, with squash, a biscuit and fruit all included.

So before I get carried away by my long-ago enjoyment of learning the lingo, we’d better start talking English gardening! If you love hanging baskets there’s a chance to create your own moss-lined suspended garden at a Withleigh workshop on Sunday, 29 April (11-11.45am).

For the £25 fee, enthusiasts can load their 14in baskets from a selection of 11 plant varieties. Owner Terry Watling and his wife Melissa – a former French teacher, hence that entente cordiale – will even look after your creation for a month until it is reading for hanging as a piece of perfection.

Amusez-vous bien!

As for Terry and Melissa, they fell for and bought the well-established nursery in 2006 after quitting London’s hustle and bustle for the tranquil Devon countryside – a classic “dream of the good life” that bore fruit.

Terry says of the nursery: “We loved its setting, nestled among the rolling hills, facing south to catch the sun on a terraced slope through which visitors could wander and choose plants.

“Owning Withleigh has given us the opportunity to get our hands dirty and watch our plants and our lives grow.”

He adds: “It has always been important to us to concentrate 100 per cent on the plants and our approach is passionate.”

⏩⏩➡ To book a place at the Hanging Basket Workshop email withleigh@aol.com

⏩⏩➡ For the French Conversation Club and the Kids’ French Club, email cafebananadevon@gmail.com

⏩⏩➡ www.withleighnurseries.co.uk

⏩⏩➡ The dark and the delightful: Some of the plants stocked at Withleigh Nurseries – top, pulmonaria; above left, Helleborus niger; right, purple aeonium.