Posted in plant pieces

Osmanthus – not to be overlooked

The very name should command our attention – from the Greek osme meaning fragrant, and anthos meaning flower. Not surprising given that is belongs in the Oleaceae family. Yet despite this, and perhaps because most of the time these are leathery evergreen shrubs, Osmanthus is not as well appreciated as it might be.

I first encountered this genus when gardening in London and needing something that would fill a difficult gap in a south-east facing dryish, shady border. And so I planted one of the Holly Olives or Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’. This variegated shrub hails from Japan and means ‘five shades’ as it does wander through the palette of cream-yellow-greens and throws in some Spring rouge and bronze.

shades of the Japanese holly olive

Although tolerant of the situation I’d forced it into, it would have preferred much more light, liking both full sun to part shade. It would then have flowered, in a barely visible but highly fragrant Jasminesque way from late summer.

Having left it behind in London, I wanted to give this shrub a second go, especially as it perfectly suits plans I have for my forthcoming Japanese garden. (Most Osmanthus are from eastern Asia and in Japanese are called mokusei. The flowers are added to tea.). Thus, a new one was purchased back in March and is enjoying much more light and attention than its predecessor.

One Osmanthus that certainly drew my attention was growing in Russell Square gardens. A dark-green, small-leaved plant with a smothering of tiny white very fragrant flowers that assailed the passer-by in late Spring. I eventually identified this also as an Osmanthus and could hardly connect it with the small holly-like shrub I had mouldering in shade.

Osmanthus burkwoodii vs heterophyllus

I think now it was Osmanthus delavayi but had added it to my wishlist as Osmanthus x burkwoodii. Not too far off with my guess as it is in fact a hybrid between O. delavayi and O. decorus raised by Burkwood and Skipwith.

So this Spring I also purchased a Burkwoodii (by mail-order as we were still in Covid lockdown). It was not in good condition and I’d evidently missed its flowering, but now the plant has put on much new growth and is starting to look like a serrated-edged privet. This may account for why it is widely used in hedging – something I may eventually plan to do in my new garden, after taking cuttings.

“An evergreen saved from ignominy by pure heads of sweetly fragrant white flowers in mid spring – good at lighting up a semi-shady corner behind ferns or glimmering white narcissi” Val Bourne – Garden Writer on Osmanthus x Burkwoodii

Posted in gardener's jottings

Some Movement in May

The month of May, And the spring comes slowly up this way ~ Coleridge

After one of the coldest Aprils, this month is loaded with sunny expectation but so far, has mostly chucked buckets of rain in strong, chilly winds. Still it’s early days and I am soon heading South for a welcome 2-week break, although am loath to leave the garden with its attendant needs unmet. The obvious downside of plants in pots is just how much and how frequently they need to be watered, even after rainy days.

Leafing Japanese mountain hydrangea ‘kiyosumi’

It also means I shall miss the stages of plant growth which are unfolding at a fast-forward time-lapse rate. For this reason I have been out with my camera when I can, to capture some plant portraits for the Spring Gallery. Really I should take the tripod for crisp clear images though I do favour a touch of soft blur!

Acer ‘Seiryu’ – April 2020

This is usually the time of year when I can admire my three Acers trees the most. They are some of the last trees to leaf and I enjoy them as much now as in the Autumn. The two larger ones, Acer ‘Trompenburg‘ and ‘Seiryu‘ have already been moved over to the new garden but I have kept back the diminuitive ‘Ukigumo‘ to go when I do. With its white and yellow-green variegation tinged pink in Spring, the translated name of ‘floating clouds’ is most apt.

With age, I have come to like the simpler flowers more and more and after throwing a few woodlands seeds into a large blue pot last year have had the enjoyment this Spring of some tall and honest Lunaria plants. One alas was pole-axed by vine weevil larvae. I had reused some compost in their pot but saw no sign of those dreaded maggoty grubs at the time.

It is entirely possible to reuse old compost: the books tell you not to, but they are assuming you have money to spare/a car/easy access to a garden centre. Certainly, if the plant died from disease or soil pests such as vine weevil, then the compost is best sent elsewhere. But if it just looks very tired, use it as mulch.” ~ Alys Fowler’s Gardening Column. The Guardian

Looking to the few flowering tulips I am again confirmed in my dislike of double blooms. Since the demure ‘Lady Jane‘ has gone over, some pink peony style tulips have come to the fore and every time I look at them, I can almost taste candyfloss ice cream! Suitably named ‘Angelique‘ they romp around displaying all their frilly underwear. Most unseemly – but they were a gift I must be grateful for. It’s doubtful that they will (be allowed to) emerge next Spring!

Two early perennials which do give pleasure are Corydalis ‘purple leaf‘ and Ajuga. They remind me how much I am drawn to blue flowers and in the new garden I will focus as much on palette as plants. Thus blue/purples contrasted with some yellows/oranges or white are in my plan though overall I am aiming for the understated colours of a Japanese garden, dominated by green.

Almost by accident over the years I’ve chosen shrubs bearing the japonica or nipponica ending as well as iconic Japanese plants like hydrangea and hosta so when I move home they will all find themselves in something resembling their original environs – eventually, after a great deal of transformation!


Take a scrolling stroll through the potted garden in May