One of the classic garden plants for shade Fatsia japonica is much admired for its large, glossy, evergreen leaves and easy temperament. It grows happily in any reasonable garden soil and does particularly well in shade, though not so well in dry shade. It is also tolerant of a maritime garden though its large leaves will need some shelter from strong winds. The large fleshy leaves evoke the image of lush tropical rain forests but the plant is reliably hardy, though the result of crossing it with ivy produces the less hardy x Fatshedera lizei. Quickly forming a medium sized shrub with flowers borne on the end of the shoots. The flower buds and white flowers look a lot like a scaled up version of Ivy flowers, appearing in autumn. This late flowering means though the buds are reliably formed in the UK the flowers are often damaged by frost.
Fatsia japonica leaf
Known by a variety of common names including Japanese aralia, castor oil plant, fatsi, fig-leaf palm and glossy-leaved paper plant; F. japonica was originally described by Carl Peter Thunberg in 1780. This followed his trip to Japan where it grows wild and he named it Aralia japonica. It was re-named in 1854 by Joseph Decaisne and Jules Émile Planchon, two botanists working in France. They took it out of they genus Aralia and created the new genus Fatsia for it; so the name is now Fatsia japonica (Thunb.) Decne. & Planch.
In the wild Fatsia japonica is found from central Japan south along the Japanese islands almost to Taiwan and in South Korea. It is sometimes described as a monotypic genus, meaning that there is only one species init, but in fact there is at least two other species of Fatsia, Fatsia oligocarpella Koidz. and Fatsia polycarpa Hayata.
Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’
It was introduced to western horticulture in 1838 and though the plain green Fatsia japonicais the one most often seen in gardens others are available and the variegated form Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’ which has splashes of white on the leaves is worth looking out for.
The rough leaved Hydrangea is one of the less commonly grown examples of this important genus in our gardens, but makes an excellent addition to the garden. The large velvety leaves provide an attractive display all summer covering this medium sized bush. And come June and July this is topped with dark lilac “lacecap” flowers. As is typical of Hydrangeas Hydrangea aspera D.Don is easily grown and need a shady location, making it ideal in front of a north facing wall or fence, or in the shade from trees. It is a very variable species and some people have questioned its hardiness but I have seen it grown successfully all over the UK. That said it probably benefits from some protection, particularly from strong winds which would damage the leaves, though this protection could easily be provided by the fences around most gardens or by a woodland aspect.
Hydrangea aspera flower
An oriental species it is found growing wild in the Himalayas, West and central China,Taiwan and Myanmar (Burma). It was first described by the Scottish botanist David Don in his 1825 flora of Nepal, placing it in Linnaeus’s genus Hydrangea L. In gardens it is often represented by Hydrangea aspera D.Don ‘Macrophylla’ a sterile selection with large leaves and flowers.
The variability of Hydrangea aspera D.Don, probably due in part to its wide geographical distribution, has lead to a degree of confusion regarding the different subspecies, cultivars, etc. The RHS database lists about 38 different entries under Hydrangea aspera D.Don including several subspecies. I it is doubtful how many of these are valid as the International Plant Names Index (IPNI) does not recognise any valid subspecies of H. aspera,raising them to the level of species.
Hydrangea aspera foliage
Ginkgo biloba L .in leaf is probably the easiest tree to recognise, it’s leafs are so unique. Its heart shaped leaves resemble an enlarged version those of the maidenhair fern (Adianthum sp.) and so the common name the Maidenhair tree. The tree is quite narrow in habit, slowly growing to be a large tree. Hardy and unfussy regarding soil or location it tolerates industrial locations and can be grown all over the U.K. If this were not enough, come autumn, the foliage turns a glorious gold making it an excellent specimen or avenue tree. If you chose to plant one you should bear in mind it is both slow growing and very long lived. Kew’s oldest specimen is over 250 years old and there are reports examples in oriental temple gardens 3,500 years old! So you will be planting something not only be able to out live you, but also your civilisation.
The maidenhair tree can be readily propagated from seed but this normally has to be imported as general only the male form is growing in the UK. Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants (dioecious). This is because the “fruit*” emits a vial smell when it starts to breakdown, said to resemble the smell of vomit. In contrast the seeds are edible and said to resemble pine nuts in flavour.
Ginkgo biloba foliage
Ginkgo biloba was first introduced to the west in the early 1700s, possibly about 1727, and was named Salisburia adiantifolia by James Edward Smith (1759- 1828), who was a founder and the first president of the Linnean Society, and Salisburia biloba by Johann Centurius von Hoffmansegg (1766 – 1849), a German botanist and Count. In 1771 Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) described both the genus Ginkgo and the species Ginkgo biloba in his “Mantissa plantarum altera generum editionis VI & specierum editionis II” and so the name was settled.
What has caused botanists far more problems was placing the genus Ginkgo in the over all system of plant names. The fossil records show it was part of a large group of plants in the Jurassic period but only this one species remains resulting in the rather erroneous description of living fossils as there is no evidence that any of the fossils are of the actual specie Ginkgo biloba. Its seeds lack an ovary wall and it has flowers so it is often placed in the class Gymnospermae along with the conifers and in garden books it is usual listed as a conifer but it has little in common with any other extant plants let alone conifers. This has lead to a various attempt to place it in a suitable group. It has been suggested that it is closest relative is the Cycads while others place it in with the Horsetails. What is clear is that botanists still have a long way to go in unravelling the evolution of plants.
* Being a gymnosperm the plant cannot by definition have fruit in the strict botanical sense.
Eucryphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’
This may not be a very popular plant; I fear the name may put off some, but it should be far better known. Not only is it an evergreen with attractive foliage all year round but every late summer it disappears under a mass of white flowers.
Though not spectacular individually they are borne in such numbers as to make this one of the best flowering trees.
This with its habit as a small to medium sized tree of quite narrow shape it makes an excellent choice for a small garden. Unfortunately it tends to only be sold as a bush up to about 1m tall so it tends to be over looked as a choice for garden trees.
Eucryphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’ flower
E. x nymansensis is a very variable hybrid which results from crossing Eucryphia cordifolia and E. glutinosa, two excellent South American species. Eucryphia × nymansensis ‘Nymansay’ itself is a selection of one of these hybrids by James Comber who was head gardener at Nymans (hence the name) just after the First World War.
Eucryphia cordaifoliais found in central Chile and northern Argentina where it forms an evergreen tree growing up to 40m; though in the UK it is more usually a large bush or sometimes small tree. There it is known as Ulmo and the flowers are highly valued by beekeepers that produce Ulmo honey. Its heavy and hard timber is used in construction and the production of good quality charcoal.
Eucryphia glutinosa flowers
Eucryphia glutinosa is also found in central Chile, where it is known as Holy Cherry, and it forms a small deciduous tree. Its name glutinosa comes from its sticky buds and like E. cordifoliaits flowers a prized as a source of nectar for Ulmo honey.
Eucryphia glutinosa foliage
The “New Zealand Holly” rightly earns is common name; its pointy edged leaves make look a lot like a grey holly leaf. They can be a little tender but are sufficiently tolerant of salt laden winds that that do well near the coast. This makes them a valuable plant in seaside gardens where their tolerance of salt and the relative absence of hard frosts makes them well suited. In all but the most exposed gardens they can be grown; coming through all but the worst winters with little or no damage. They are very wide spread in North West Scotland, to the point of almost being naturalised.
Olearia macrodonta bark
While evergreen like holly; the leaves are not as hard and vicious as holly (as anyone who has hand weeded around a holly bush will testify too). It also differs from Holly in that it grows quickly; forming a medium sized bush, and given time a small tree. Holly on the other hand is rather slow growing.
In summer the New Zealand Holly is covered by mounds of white flowers and older specimens develop a peeling, almost shaggy, bark which new growths breaks away freely.
Olearia macrodonta shoot
As the common name suggests it is a plant native to New Zealand and was first described by Joseph Dalton Hooker who in 1864 named it Eurybia dentata var. oblongifolia. This turned out to be incorrect and in 1884 John Gilbert Baker, working at Kew under Hooker, renamed it Olearia macrodonata. Though this is the name it is normally grown under in the UK; the New Zealand government’s own data base lists it as Olearia ×macrodonta Baker a hybrid between two species: O. ilicifolia and O. arborescens.
Though Olearia ×macrodonta is widely grow in the UK, the dwarf form Olearia macrodonta ‘Minor’ would be well worth seeking out for a court yard garden or rockery. This plant looks like a miniature version of the original, being smaller in all its parts, and it is listed in the RHS Plant Finder.
Olearia macrodonta ‘Minor’
Crataegus monogyna – Hawthorn hedging
The common hedgerow plant Hawthorn is a familiar sight all over the UK and gets it name from it’s fruit which have the common name Haws and is sharp thorns. Also known as May or Mayflower due to its flowering time, it also goes by the common Quickthorn and Maythorn. Correctly known as Crataegus monogyna Jacq. It was placed in the genus Crataegus, created by Linneus, by Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin (1727–1817) and first published in his 1775 flora of Austria.
Crataegus monogyna flower
Its fragrant white flowers are one of the heralds of spring; their being borne with the leaves makes it easy to distinguish at a distance from Blackthorn, Prunus spinosus, as that flowers earlier and before its leaves have opened. Its reliable stocky growth and mass of intertwining braches covered in sharp thorns has made it the commonest hedging plant in the countryside. Historically it was laid to form hedges where its upright branches were cut nearly through, bent over and interwoven but these labour intensive skills are now little seen and it is cut with a variety of mechanical methods, all of which it happily tolerates. It is in fact very tolerant of being cut, and if can be cut flush with the ground it will still re-grow.
Crataegus monogyna leaves
Its widespread occurrence can lead to related plants being misnamed C. monogyna and in fact globally Crataegus L. is a very large genus containing its being estimated something like 200 species. In practice the most likely plant to be confused with C. monogyna is Crataegus laevigata (Poiret) DC., known as the Midland Hawthorn or Two-styled Hawthorn, and the red flowered form Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ is widely planted. Its main difference is that the leaves are not as deeply lobed as C. Monogyna but if you careful examine the flowers you will also see that C. monogyna generally has only one female style where as C. laevigata generally has two; hence the repective names monogyna and two-styled. In most garden settings it’s probably safe to assume if it’s a white flowered hawthorn its C. monogyna and if red then Crataegus laevigata‘Paul’s Scarlet’
Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s-Scarlet’ flowers
Acer palmatum var. dissectum
Acer palmatum var. dissectumis a much used garden plant where something striking but delicate is wanted. Much loved in “Japanese” style gardens where it mixes well with gravel and boulders, a position which allows it to be ground in isolation so as to show off its dome of draping branches. They are slow growing bushes slowly forming a small shrub after many years.
Acer palmatum var. dissectum foliage
Not fussy plants they will grow in most decent garden soil though they do best in moist but free draining soils. The finely divided, thin leaves are prone to damage by wind and sun so they are best in a sheltered part of the garden with light shade, but not heavy or dry shade.
Known as the Cut Leaf Japanese Maple due to A. palmatum being known as the Japanese Maple as it comes from Japan, central China and Korea and its leaves being finely divided. The naming of Acer dissectum is confused, a situation caused at least in part by confusion between botanical names and those of cultivated plants. It is often named as Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum’ but that would only be if the plant did not exist naturally in the wild, as that form of name is only used for a cultivar. Things are further complicated by the many cultivars of Acer palmatum var. dissectum which have been raised and are available, Acer palmatum var. dissectum‘Garnet’ being a particularly nice example with red tinged foliage (this being an example of a cultivar of a variety).
Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Garnet’
Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Garnett’ foliage
Betula utilis var. jacquemontii
If you are looking for a tree for a small garden this selection of the Himalayan birch would be a good choice. B. jacquemontii differs from the B. utilis in its outstanding white bark. Never making a large tree the light foliage doesn’t cast troublesome dense shade.
- Betula utilis var. jacquemontii bark
The white peeling bark makes a striking feature either in a border or set amongst grass; particularly in groups. In either case the light shade it casts isn’t too restrictive on the range of plants that can grow underneath it. Its light canopy also makes it a good compromise when wanting to block the view of a neighbouring window without causing too much shade. Correctly named Betula utilis var. jacquemontii Spach as it was originally described by Édouard Spach (1801-1879)
A variety of Betula utilis hence the var. after the species name. A varieties is a range of plants which are more uniform than a species but not as narrow as a forma (or form). Betula utilis is found growing wild in the Himalayas and was given its scientific name by the Scottish botanist David Don in 1825 when he published a description of it. It was though not introduced to the west until 1849 by Sir Joseph Hooker.
Betula utilis var. jacquemontii foliage
Its peeling bark was traditionally used in the Himalayas to write on and in David Wheelers ‘Hortus Revisted: A Twenty-First Birthday Anthology’ Tony Shilling describes how among other things the bark is used to write on and is believed to have magical powers. The word utilis is botanical latin for useful or beneficial and the Latin word utilis gives us the word utility.
A more vigorous alternative would by Betula ermanii ‘Grayswood Hill’, it differs from B. jacquemontii by its pink tinged bark and very rough shoots.
This is a very common garden plant, known as Lady’s Mantle, grown in many gardens for its attractive foliage and ability to provide a weed covering mat. It is easily grown in sun or light shade, only limited by heavy shade, in any normal garden soil; seeding itself freely about he garden give any opportunity. The lime green flowers could easily be over looked buts its charming habit of catching drops of dew or rain water in the folds of its leaves.
Alchemilla Mollis with water droplets on the leaves
The plants grow to about 450 mm high and should be planted about 600 mm apart. As a hardy perennial the foliage dies down in autumn and cutting back the dead leaves in winter is all the care this plant requires. If it has not spread itself about the garden by self seeding, a tendency which can be controlled by removing the flowers once they start to die back, it can be propagated by division. The time of this division is not important with this easy plant.
Close up of Alchemilla mollis flowers
The plant is quite distinctive in appearance and closes to it are probably the closely related Alchemilla erythropoda and A. alpina both of which are notably smaller. Alchemilla mollis is found naturalized in the wild in this country along with several other members of members of the genus some native, some naturalized. The genus Alchemilla is in the rose family and the pollen of many European member of the genus fails to fertilize the plants with the seed forming asexually.
Photinia ‘Red Robin’
This is a very common shrub in gardens – that is not to say it isn’t very worth while one to have in your garden. It has a lot of desirable features to recommend it. It will happily grow in most gardens being happy in sandy or clay soils. Its large evergreen foliage makes it a good screening plant and in a few of years it will reach 2 metres in height.
It’s easily identified by its red shoots, the leaves emerge strong red colour which persists at the leaves grow, only gradually fading to a glossy green as they mature.
Its’ dense foliage as well as making it a good plant for hedges and screening also make it very effective at smoothing out weed underneath it. In a border you should allow about 1.2 metres by 1.2 metres for it. As a hedge, either formal or informal a single row spaced 600 mm to 900 mm apart will have a good screen. The exact spacing being decided on by the size of the plants you are starting with, the cost and how long you are prepared to wait for them to close up to form a continuous hedge.
Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ as it is more correctly known is a selection from the hybrid between two plants P.glabra and P. serratifolia. Though P. ‘Red Robin’ was introduced to this country from New Zealand its parents, along with the rest of the genus come from the Himalayas. Its’ distinctive foliage make it hard to confuse with other plants, visually the most likely is Pieris ‘Forest Flame’ which also has striking red shoots but this is an altogether smaller plant and it regularly flowers in the UK which Photinia ‘Red Robin’ does not. The genus Photinia is in the very large and horticulturally important rose family.
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