Eucryphia × nymansensis ‘Nymansay’

Eucryphia x nymansensis 'Nymansay'
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
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 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
Eucryphia glutinosa foliage

Autumn Tidy Up

A leaf on a lawn covered by frost
A leaf on a lawn covered by frost

With the arrival of dark mornings thoughts turn to tidying the garden up for winter. The first frosts will soon finish off the annuals and tender perennials, while the hardy perennials die back for the winter and the deciduous trees and shrubs will take on their autumn colours before dropping their leaves.

Any tiding up will invariably create a collection of rubbish and gardening is no different. It’s often said “one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure” so what treasure can we find before glibly throwing everything in a skip. Not everything is going to be re-usable; if you come upon what might be asbestos sheets, then only option is to contact your local authority for some specialist advice. That aside in most cases the limiting factor is your imagination.

Once you get rid of the bits of broken glass and rusty metal, which only the most artistic gardeners will be able to find a use for, you are left stones, rubble, lumps of wood, leaves, weeds and  other bits of greenery, and soil. As a rule its best to keep any topsoil you find surplus to you immediate needs. Small amounts of topsoil often come in handy for filling stump holes and the like but, due to its weight small quantities are hard to come by and expensive. Even if you have nowhere to store it, you can lose it by spreading on to the borders. If you think this is going to cause problems consider 50 kg of topsoil (the same weight as 2 bags of cement) will cover a patch 1.5 m by 1.5 m with a layer only 10 mm thick.

Shrubs in Autumn
Shrubs in Autumn

 

The green material will make good compost so long as care is taken when making it, and you have a little space for a compost heap/bin. Any woody material, like rose prunings, are best off shredded if they are to breakdown in a reasonable time. If you do not have the space, or time, our local authority will have a green waste composting service which will do the work for you and provide a quality controlled produce you can buy back from them when you need it.

It you have a lot of trees and shrubs you a likely to find, come autumn, you have a lot of dead leaves in the garden and these make an excellent soil improver in the form of leaf mould. Its worth considering that evergreen plants also shed lots of  leaves through the year, just take a walk through a conifer wood one day! Leaves tend to rot down more slowly that most of the green waste that goes into compost, so it’s often better to separate the leaves out. The leaves can be heaped up into a simple container made of course wire netting supported by posts or canes, just consider how you will get the leaf mould out again. As the leaves of different plants will rot down at different rates is best if the tougher leaves are shredded to help them brake down, and some people recommend adding some grass cutting to help the process along. The heap should not be allowed to dry and will need turning at least once. After a year you will have a very useful soil improver but ideally the heap should be left for two years.

Olearia x macrodonta

Olearia macrodonta bush
Olearia macrodonta

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
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.

Close up of Picture of an Olearia macrodonta shoot
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'
Olearia macrodonta ‘Minor’

 

Species

The species is the basic unit that we divide living things into and originally species were seen as clearly distinct from one another. What puzzled scientist was how species appeared in the first place? The answer was species evolved from other species as a result of a battle for survival; as carefully argued in Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species by Means of natural Selection or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”. As is often the case the answer to this question produced a second question; if species appear as the result of a gradual change from one species into a second, where does one species stop and the next start. This argument will keep taxonomist in work so long as there are species to classify!

Clearly this makes a precise definition of what a species is impossible and whether a plant belongs in a separate species to another is the result of a consensus being formed. This consensus though is not fixed and has to be open to debate.

Species is also the basic unit of plant and animal scientific names and the name of a species is the combination of both the genus and species names. The rules for how a species name is structured is defined by International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (as it is now known) and this goes into great details; but some of the important rules are:

  • With in any genus no two species can have the same name or one that could cause confusion with others.
  • For plants; the species name cannot be the same as the genus it belongs in, unlike animal names. So Rattus rattus, the black rat, is a valid name for an animal but the style would be unacceptable for a plant.
  • Importantly the species is always begun with a lower case letter,
  • The genus should be written immediately before it (the genus can be abbreviated to its first letter if it does not risk causing confusion) and both the genus and species should be in italics or if not practical underlined.

Cutting back – the call to arms

Pruning is cutting back for the plants benefit while cutting back is pruning for the gardeners benefit so certain rules apply to both. First remove dead and diseased material, second remove crossing branches and finally shape the plant.

Any dead or diseased parts of the plant are going to be no benefit to you or the plant. Yes that branch may be in just the right place for what you wanted but if it not healthy it’s never going to look right and will end up causing problems further along the line so cut it back to healthy growth just above a bud or close to where it branched off a larger part. If it’s a larger branch do it in three stages to prevent it damaging the rest of the plant when it breaks away from the plant. Work methodically, starting with the larger branches so that any damage caused by removing them can be cleared up as you go.

How to cut off a large branch
How to cut off a large branch

Once we’re left with a collection of healthy branches we can turn our attention to any which are crossing through the bush. This is not a hard and fast rule as the first but  there are reasons for it. First such branches almost always end up rubbing against one another as the plant moves in the wind. This causes the bark to be worn away at these points and it is the bark which acts as the plant’s main defence against diseases getting in. This means that sooner or later these places will be where problems are going to occur. The second reason is that plant diseases tend to benefit from a still moist atmosphere and this is more likely to occur in a tangle of branches than a nice open structure which the air can move  through freely. Finally it tends to be more visually pleasing not to have a lot of branches crossing through.

Now we can come to shaping the plant and this is much more a matter of personal taste. There are though a few things to consider. If by nature it’s a big plant and you are going to cut it down a long way , then it will quickly re-grow and you will soon need to repeat the process. Should you allow it more room or is it simply not in a suitable place? If you are trying to lower the height of the plant, remove the tallest branches completely low down where they divide and allow the shorter branches which are left to form the new top. Nothing looks worse than just choosing a height and cutting everything off in a level line at this height, but you regularly see this done and often by people claiming to be professional. Once done the plant is very unlikely ever to recover aesthetically.

The important thing is to take your time and regularly step back to get an overall view of the job as you go. Whatever plan you start with you will have to fine tune it as you go as the job progresses and new ideas occur.

Genus

This is a collection of very similar species and forms the first part of a plant’s scientific name. For example Alchemilla in Alchemilla Mollis and as such it is very important in the naming of plants. Ideally it would be best to have a clear definition as to what constitutes a genus and the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants goes into great detail as to how a genus should be named. It does not though make any attempt to nail down what actually constitutes a genus and for a very good reason – you can’t. In practice it would be impossible, plants evolve into genera in what ever way evolution takes them and only much later to people come along and try to group them into genera, species, etc. In the end a genus is a collection one or more species which a consensus has been arrived at that they should be placed together because of there botanical similarities.

Cutting back – the plan

Before reaching for the pruning tools you need a clear idea of what you are hoping to achieve and in the context of this post it is a healthy plant which fits both physically and aesthetically into its location in the garden. It must not overwhelm the area around it or in the end look unattractive to the eye.

Pruning is not the easiest of things to teach, partly because of the different requirements of different plants but equally because it is as much art as science. To start with a few preliminaries:

  • Plants don’t always respond well to pruning – not all plants will come again if you cut into old wood, this includes nearly all the conifers but also a number of others.
  • Those that do, don’t always do as you expect – often a plant will respond to pruning by producing a mass of soft shoots rather than one or two useful ones.
  • Once you’ve cut it off you can’t put it back – so if in doubt delay cutting and then take off a bit at a time to see how it looks
  • Think ahead to prevent accidents – you would be amazed at the number of people who actually cut off the branch they are sitting on!
  • Make sure you are suitably equipped – as you will never make a tidy job using poor/blunt tools.
  • Plan first, act second – have a really good look at what you’re tackling and how your cuts are going to affect the plant before you do anything.

 

Plants which should not be cut back into old (brown not green) wood include nearly all conifers. They resent being cut back beyond their green foliage, except for Yews which can grow away vigorously from old wood. Botanists insist Yews are conifers but try as they might, from a gardeners point of view, Yews are not very good at being conifers.  Most deciduous shrubs respond well to being cutting back but more caution should be used with evergreen shrubs and it may be better to spread the work over a number of seasons. Some such as lavender is not worth trying so it’s a case of live with it or replace it.

Thought should also be given to a shrub’s value be it sentimental or otherwise. With any attempt to drastically cut back a plant there is always the chance it may not be successful so consider “what if I lose it” and moderate your actions likewise. For example on the one hand a choice tree peony which is slow and relatively unusual would receive the minimal of cutting back while on the other hand a Berberis, a very good garden plant, which is readily available and grows quickly can be cut back very hard safe in the knowledge it will probable quickly recover and if not it is easy to replace.  I’ve seen Berberis cut down to ground level and recover.

Clearing out

Now we’ve given the garden a really good looking at it is time to get our hands dirt. Having studied the garden you may well have come to the conclusion some plants are just too big, in the wrong place or you just don’t like them. To start with the last first, because it’s the simplest, you’ve got one choice and that is to dig it out. At this point you may come to the conclusion that it would be just as easy just to cut it down to the ground and leave the roots where they are. This though has problems and first of these is that stumps take a VERY long time to rot. Not years but decades! You are then going to be left with a stump in the border to try to disguise, trip over every time you go into the border and hit with a spade when you try to dig in the border.

There is a further problem to this short cut because not all the fungi that will attack and hopefully rot down the stump are benign. Some will spread to adjacent plants and attack them and one such example is Honey Fungus. I’m not going to digress into details of this disease except to say once you’ve got it you have a serious problem.

Pedestrian Stump grinder
Pedestrian Stump grinder

This means, if at all possible, you are going to have to dig the plant out. This can be achieved in a number of ways and the easiest is often a stump grinder, or chipper, which grind the stump down to a heap of chippings. These come in a vast range of sizes from small ones you can hire to operate yourself and wheel around the garden to large self propelled machines which are supplied with a specially trained operator. An alternative is to use a digger to dig out the stump. These are rarely a good solution unless one is already on site for other reasons due to their size, cost, difficulty of operating and limited ability to dig out stumps – I’ve seen a JCB struggle to remove  relatively small tree stumps. Third way is winching out the stumps and the modern lever operated winches do make this a more attractive option than most people realise. They have though two Achilles heels. One they need a very secure anchoring point as how ever much force they pull the stump with they also pull what ever they are anchored to. The second is as they pull the roots out anything else near them, like drains, water pipes etc, tend to be pulled out as well. Finally you can grab the bull by the horns and just dig it out by hand. Be warned though this is very hard work. You will need to good spade, gloves, boots, axe and preferably a large steel crowbar.

Crataegus monogyna

Crataegus monogyna
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 flowers
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
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
Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s-Scarlet’ flowers

 

 

Variety

This is classification of plants below the level of species which share common characteristics but would freely interbreed with other varieties of the same species if the opportunity arose. For this reason different varieties are often separated geographically. When writing the name of a plant the variety name is written in italics or underlined, is immediately preceded by var. in normal type and this follows the species name. There tends to be a lot of confusion between variety and cultivar but the former only relates to plants which originate in the wild and the latter to plants which originate in cultivation.