Phylliopsis Sugar Plum

SOME of the loveliest plants around are often those few have ever heard of – no matter what the shape, size or colour.

The one that springs to mind in my garden is a “little darling” that thrives in acid soil and which delivers its pink bells in mighty numbers and, as a bonus, also out of season – like now.

Its name – Phylliopsis hillieri Sugar Plum, pictured above. It sits in a rather unsunny spot, has reached no more than 6in high in the four years it’s been with me – without any trimming – and most certainly doesn’t call out for attention.

Unusually, this alpine is an exciting cross between two closely related genera, Kalmiopsis and Phyllodoce, and created by Hilliers Nursery in Hampshire in the 1980s.

The leaves are deep, glossy rich green, somewhat needle-like and up to half an inch long, so the little bells have no difficulty in rising above and putting on quite a show for a little fairy of a plant.

And even now, deep into autumn, several of those delightful blooms are tinkling in the breezes which is not at all bad for a plant that should flower in springtime and often again in summer. But a second repeat performance? Now that’s what I call a true champion.

I bought my phylliopsis from the excellent Hartside Nursery in Cumbria, whose owners Neil and Sue Huntley specialise in rare and unusual hardy plants that not only thrive in the challenge of the North Pennines but which are offered little or no protection from the chill winds.

The couple keep a terrific range of primulas, gentians, anemones, dwarf rhododendrons and erythroniums, the dog’s tooth violet, among others.

With Hartside’s lofty location in mind, it stands to reason all their plants have to be toughies. Which is why my phylliopsis has done rather well down here in the more balmy climes of Devon – and possibly because I do keep my eye on it!

⏩⏩➡» 381372 for a catalogue.





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