Gardening: Be bewitched by this little shrub’

Phyl Boyce

Reporter:

Phyl Boyce

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Fothergilla (witch alder) is a deciduous shrub that grows to 10 feet tall. The plant produces glossy dark green, oval shaped leaves. The leaves are noteworthy for turning brilliant reds, oranges and yellows in the autumn.

Fothergilla (witch alder) is a deciduous shrub that grows to 10 feet tall. The plant produces glossy dark green, oval shaped leaves. The leaves are noteworthy for turning brilliant reds, oranges and yellows in the autumn.

In late spring the plant produces white bottlebrush like flowers. The bristles on the flower spikes are actually stamens, the flower has no petals. The flowers appear before the leaves and can last for 2-3 weeks.

The white flowers really stand out if planted in front of a dark background, like rhododendrons. The plant needs an acid soil, it will not tolerate limey conditions. It does best in a moist, humus rich soil in partial shade. Fothergilla is a rather slow growing , but long lived shrub. Once established, the shrub is one of the most trouble free flowering shrubs that you can grow. Fothergilla is an ideal plant for the woodland garden, it does well under large trees. It can also be planted in a mixed shrub border.

Herbaceous plant of the week

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum) is a popular plant in gardens at this time of the year. It is a very graceful and beautiful plant. It has a creeping root, rhizome or underground stem which is thick and full of knots. In late spring it produces stems that can grow up to 2 feet or more in height, the lower part of the stem is straight with the top part bending over gracefully. The stem is pale green in colour and bare half way up, the top half has large oval shaped leaves on one side of the stem, all pointing in the same direction and bent slightly upwards.

You have to look closely to see the flowers which grow from the base of the leaves and hang down beneath them to form drooping clusters of bell-shaped flowers. The flowers are a creamy white colour, topped with a yellowish green rim. Solomon’s seal is a very hardy plant.

It likes a light soil and a shady position, it is a native of woodlands. If the plant is given space it will thrive and multiply very rapidly by its creeping roots.

Give the plant an annual top dressing with compost in spring. The best time to transplant or divide the plant is in the autumn after the stalks decay, but it may be done at any time if dug up with plenty of soil. To give the plant a good start when planting, add in some compost to the soil.

There is a variegated variety called Polygonatum multiflorum ‘striatum’ with creamy white stripes on the leaves. Smilacina (False solomon’s seal) is a plant that shares several characteristics with solomon’s seal.

The leaves are much larger and the flowers are very different. It produces a cluster of small white star shaped flowers at the top of the flowering stem so they are clearly visible. The flower has a very strong scent. Polygonatum stewartianum produces a straight, erect stem, 3 feet tall with purple-pink tubular flowers. The flowers are followed by red berries in the autumn.

Jobs for the week

After the summer-like weather in April and recent rains over last few weeks, it is an ideal time to plant out tender bedding plants growing in the greenhouse. These plants should be hardened off before planting out.

This process gradually weans plants away from warm indoor conditions and acclimatises them to the variable weather outside. Pots and trays of plants can be placed outside during the day and moved back under cover at night. Do this for a week and plants will be hardened off enough to plant them in their permanent positions in the garden.

Now is a good time to kill weeds on driveways and paths using any of the available weed killers. Weed-killers work best when plants are in active growth.

Choose a dry, calm day to prevent weed-killer drifting onto your valuable plants and at a time when no rain is forecasted for 
24 hours.

Keep an eye on the compost bed, if it becomes dry, wet it with some water and keep the bed covered with some carpet or plastic. Watch the lawn cuttings, mix them with some hedge cuttings to prevent the grass forming a slimy mess.