Thinking shrubby Posted on February 12, 2015

It can get pretty tense when there’s a slot to plant in a tiny garden like this – or rather, when some bolshy radical, impatient for change, says there is. There’s immediately a lobby in defence of the plant to be, as it were, supplanted. “It looks fine, I like it where it is”. There are, though, no grounds for an appeal to variety: it’s a box bush. One of quite a number.

“I’ll put it in a good big pot”. (There are quite a number of these, too). “Don’t you think we need a bit of action there; a plant that performs – even flowers?” “Well, I like the green; it’s soothing”.

The real problem is that there’s no obvious candidate – or at least one that isn’t a thumping cliché around here. Does it matter that everyone else grows it? After all, the park is full of planes, and Tuscany of cypresses.

I see a cliché as a wasted opportunity. The pleasure of our little space is close-up observation of something that isn’t going on all around us. So unusual, even rare, is good. And something that will thrive in rooty competition in almost constant shade.

I’m thinking shrubby; something that will earn its space, with its back to the west-facing, plant-covered wall, with a jumble of herbaceous stuff in front. The neighbour’s walnut takes most of the afternoon sun. I look in the shrubs-for-shade lists. Of course most of them are evergreen. And no thank you, I don’t want Forsythia: or anything early – or anything yellow. In this garden roses belong on the walls (and indeed way above them). London is not rhodoland – though it is the epicentre of camellias. I have mulled over Japanese maples, but their spread would preclude planting close to them (and we have a beauty, a Saling seedling) in a pot. Viburnum? The best is V. burkwoodii, which we already have trained up a wall. Bodnantense? Our neighbours have a huge one (which we love). V. tinus stinks. V. opulus “Compactum” is possible: not thrilling, but pretty in autumn with turning leaves and shiny berries.

Callicarpa bodinieri is a possibility. Would it flower and produce its alarmingly- coloured berries in the shade? One to put on the short list. Would a deutzia perform? How about Dichroa febrifuga, a dark-blue-flowered hydrangeish thing we saw in New Zealand? It would be lovely to have, but it comes (if you can find it) with scary health warnngs. Holodiscus discolor: there’s an idea. Something that ornaments Douglas fir forests on Puget Sound doesn’t sound very urban, and certainly doesn’t have conventional petalled flowers. But its tall arching stems and its little oaky leaves (one of its past names was quercifolia) would look graceful, and its long buff tassel flowers, like a spirea, are exceptionally elegant, turn brown and ornament the winter too. To be considered. Cornus: now there’s a family….

To be resumed.

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