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Let me start with another appeal for contributions. We are not expecting Pulitzer Prize journalism… just simple accounts of plants you like, problems you have and nurseries or gardens you have visited. Photographs are particularly welcome. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plant of the Month: Danae racemosa
Winter is the time when the evergreen shrubs of the shade garden really come into their own, but the branches of Danae racemosa also add form throughout the year. The plant is rhizomatous with arching stems. On our plants these are about 4ft long and clothed with what appear to be elegant, elliptical, pointed leaves. In fact they are flattened branchlets known as cladodes, the real leaves being reduced to mere scales. The plants do well for us in moist shade, but are said to be tolerant of quite dry conditions once established. They originate from woods in the mountains of Turkey, Syria and Iran and are fully hardy in the UK. The flowers are described as yellowish-green in short spikes from the top of the stems. They are said to be self-fertile and should be reliably followed by red, fleshy berries. Although our plants have been in place for five years and are growing well, we have yet to see either. Some books suggest cutting back the older branches in the spring. I have not done this to our plants and this may account for their reluctance to flower. However, the foliage is good enough for the plant to deserve its place.
Danae is a monotypic genus, but is closely related to ruscus, the butcher's brooms. These are also good woodland evergreens but R. asculeatus is quite different in habit to danae, being smaller, stiffer and often quite spiky. The branches of the two are compared in the attached photos.
‘Leaves' of Ruscus aculeatus
We have not yet tried to propagate our plants, but division of the rhizomes in autumn is said to work. They are slow to grow from seed, taking up to five years to make a decent plant. There are several suppliers listed in the Plant Finder, but with prices ranging from about £7.00 to in excess of £25.00 it is best to shop around.
Job of the Month: Cutting off Foliage
Many gardening monthlies are telling you to get out there and lop off the foliage of epimediums and hellebores. However, think before you cut. Several millions of years of evolution have resulted in these plants hanging onto their leaves through the winter and well into the spring. They do this for a reason. As plants of deciduous woodland and woodland margins, springtime is a bonanza for them. They get good moisture, some warmth and plenty of light down at floor level until the trees leaf out in late April. Cutting off their foliage deprives them of all the food they could photosynthesise in this period.
There are two possible reasons for denying them the feast. Firstly, if our climate differs sufficiently from the ones in which they have evolved to put them at increased risk of disease. Winters are wetter here than where most of these plants originate and reducing disease is one of the main reasons the monthlies give for the annual chop, but if your plants are in an uncrowded, well drained site I think this is a little bit paranoid. Unless they look a bit sickly, dont worry. The second reason is simply for your own benefit, to enable you to see the flowers better. This is a very valid reason as long as your plants are strong, well grown and at a size that you are happy with. In this case putting them on half rations is not a great set back. But if they are small and or newly planted, then they need all the nutrition they can get. Let nature take its course and dont cut off the leaves until they start to die back in late spring. This can be a bit of a chore. It is certainly more difficult to prune out old leaves from amongst the new in spring rather than simply go over the whole plant with shears in the winter, but it will be worth it for a few years until they grow up!
The speakers at our Shropshire group meeting in December were Sue and Bleddyn Wynn-Jones from Crug Farm. As the title of their talk was the same as the one they are to give to the AGM, I will not go into details except to say that there were photos of some excellent foliage plants for the woodland garden, and the stars of these were the Schefflera. Wynn-Jones was quite optimistic about the hardiness of a couple that he described, but I have only ever seen samples of the genus growing well in coastal gardens. I bought a relatively cheap (and hence small) plant of S. alpina 18 months ago and planted it out this summer to see if it will survive the winter here. As these are not cheap plants I would like some reassurance about hardiness before venturing the big bucks on some other members of the genus.
It occurred to me that many people may feel the same, and that it would be useful to survey the experience of our members with these plants. So I am asking you to send me any observations you have, preferably under the headings: Species, if known ; Where in the country?; What sort of site it is planted in?; Size of the plant; Is it still alive?; How long has it survived?; Any cultivation tips you may have; Any other comments.
Information on plants that have died is just as important as on the living ones, and please include plants that you have seen in gardens in your area as well as ones you may have grown yourself.
As these are still fairly uncommon plants in cultivation, I realise that I will not get enough information for a statistically sound study, but even limited information is better than none.
Chickens: Plant Connoisseurs
Schefflera is only one of the many genera in the araliaceae that make good shade plants. Fatsia japonica, often overlooked simply because it is easy to buy and grow, makes a really good addition to the woodland garden, and, as you can see from the note sent in by Diana Garner, we are not the only species that admire it.
We keep chickens in a couple of shady pens which are largely pecked bare of anything green except for the weeds we throw in from the garden. We have begun to find however that some things are chicken resistant. Nettle is one obvious example, but they dont eat Michaelmas daisies nor Fatsia japonica. The accompanying picture taken this November shows them tending their prize specimen. The plant is probably ten years old and flowering for the first time -obviously hens are good horticulturalists.
Guess the genus. 7 syllables
- First two syllables… Half Roman
- Second two syllables… An old fashioned writing instrument
- Third two syllables … For Example
- Last syllable … Indefinite article
The solution to last month's charade was Sinopodophyllum, a hideous new genus created to house a single species formally quite happy in the genus podophyllum, P. hexandrum. As I understand it they have moved it because the pollen is released in tetrads rather than in monads as in the rest of the genus. This may be important to the ever decreasing group of taxonomists, but is of no relevance to the vast army of gardeners and horticulturalists. I dont quite understand why we let the tail wag the dog.
First of the Season
The first hellebore of the year for us is H. foetidus Gold Bullion. The strain was apparently identified at Plant World Nurseries some years back, but we only acquired ours from Ashwood three years ago. It is an excellent plant, growing perhaps a little taller than the type, with a golden tint to the foliage and yellowish flowers. For us it does well at the foot of a birch tree (B. mandshurica var. japonica) in fairly deep and dryish shade. It requires no attention other than the removal of the spent stems once the flowers are over (or once the seed has been collected). Most seedlings from it are true to type, but a few will revert to the basic form. This can be seen in the photo which shows half a crate of 1 year old seedlings from our own seed waiting to go out this spring. The one at the bottom right is a reversion.
Helleborus foetidus ‘Gold Bullion'
The others seedlings at the left are H. argutifolius Pacific Frost grown from seed from the seed distribution. I still havent made up my mind whether the speckly white variegation is pleasant or just looks like the plant has the measles. I will plant them out at the same time as the others and see what they look like when they are grown up.
The HPS Shade and Woodland Plant Group is open to all members of the Hardy Plant Society. Please follow this link for more information.
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