Archive for January, 2010

Many parking lots and other institutions have parking lots and landscaping which is populated by tough hardy and often broadleaved evergreen plants. These plants have to be attractive and durable and tolerate being neglected. Many of these plants are just green and a background with no real features. A select few are standouts and should be seen in other settings more often. Viburnum tinus (Laurustinus) is a great plant which is attractive and versatile in many ways.

Viburnum tinus

Viburnum tinus(Laurustinus) is used as an informal hedge outside this fence.

Viburnum tinus has been in cultivation for a long time. This is probably do to the fact that is comes from the Mediterranean, an area which is one of the first areas where gardens were developed for pleasure. We do know that it was brought to Great Britain at least 500 years ago and many old plants are found there. It’s evergreen nature and sweet scented flowers which bloom late in the year probably attracted attention to it for use as a decorative plant.


During the winter Laurustinus is a great show which it's many heads of rosey buds waiting to open.

The common name Laurustinus is thought to refer to the leaves which resemble those of the Bay Tree(Laurus nobilis). The Latin name Viburnum refers to this genus of plant but is thought not to refer to this particular species. the Latin meaning of ‘tinus’ is said to be the true ‘ancient’ name of this plant. It seems to me that Laurustinus is best described as a ‘Bay-leaved Viburnum’.

Viburnum tinus flowers

Although the flowers of Viburnum tinus are small, they are highly fragrant.

Viburnums are from the Carpifoliaceae family which includes many fragrant plants such as Honeysuckles, Beautybush and Twinflower. Laurustinus has a spicy sweet floral scent when in bloom. Other people say that it can have an unpleasant scent which may come from the leaves when they are growing early in the year. I know that the wild Viburnum which grows around here gives off an acidic scent in the fall when it sheds its leaves, it is a scent that I associate with autumn and look forward to experiencing every year. Scent is such a personal thing, one persons perfume is anothers most hated smell!

Laurustinus fruit

Often you will see Viburnum tinus blooming when there still are fruit on the bush.

Viburnum tinus have attractive drupes(fruit) which have a metallic steely blue black color, they are more sporadic and often do not develop well. The fruit of this species is not known to be edible and are said to cause stomach upset, this probably is do to the high acid content. The glossy smooth edged leaves, attractive berries and fragrant but delicate flowers make this a showy plant all year round. the added bonus is Laurustinus is easy to grow too.

The glossy leaves and red tints of the flower buds make Laurustinus attractive in the winter.

Growing Laurustinus is easy. They need well drained soil which is fertile and on the gritty side as they do not like overly wet roots. They do the best in a sunny location for the best flowering. They also tolerate dappled or shaded sites as well. they also are tolerant of ocean exposure and more chalky sites. They can grow to between 2 and 4.5m(6- 15ft)  in height and width depending on the variety you choose. This is a densely leaved plant which is excellent mass planting, informal hedges, winter gardens, shrub borders or containers. It is best to prune it for shape after it has finished blooming. There are several named forms which are more compact and one which is variegated, but is less cold tolerant. These plants are rated for zones 7 though9 (-10c or 10f).

More about Laurustinus:

Paghat’s post: http://www.paghat.com/viburnumtinus.html

Plants for a Future have some interesting notes: http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Viburnum+tinus

Oregon State University page:http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ldplants/viti-i.htm

*****Next Week I will be moving and will not be posting, I hope to post on the following Sunday Febuary 7th.  See you in 2 weeks!*****

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At this time of the year I sneak  outside between rain storms  and check out my favorite gardens to see how the plants are getting along. It is a difficult time of year, often so wet and warm. many plants are weighed down by the rain and some become almost flattened by the weight of the water hanging on branches and stems. Large flowers can become discolored and droop badly. A genus of plants which is often overlooked until this time of year are Sweet Box or Saracocca which put on a fragrant bright show every year.

Sweet Box also known as Sarcocca

A lovely, healthy Sweet Box (Sarcococca humilis) hedge used as an edging at Finnerty Gardens.

Sweet Box are from east and south east Asia and ranging through China into the Himalyan Mountains. The first type was brought to Europe in 1901 was Sarococca ruscifolia. It is native to western Hubei, Sichuan and Yunnan where it grows on shady shady cliffs which are often  made of Limestone.  This species was originally discovered and collected by Augustine Henry in 1887.  Another species from the same area is S. humilis which is smaller and more refined in it’s growth.  S. hookeriana is the species found the farthest west and is found in the Himalayans and into Nepal, forms of it are found growing with the others in China.  It is unknown exactly where S. confusa originates, but one can guest it was near the others.

Sarcococca flowers.

Sarcococca are commonly called Sweet Box because of the wonderful fragrance of their small flowers.

One often does not notice Sarcococca until one day you walk by one which is in bloom and the fragrance attracts your attention. The scent is quite potent and fills areas especially on the occasional warm day at this time of the year.  These plants have powerful alkaloids and other constituents which make them less attractive to insects, disease and fungus which attack other genus. The powerful chemicals are recognized in Asian medicines and extracts are used in topical medications as well as in tonics.  The name of the extract sold by Chinese herbalists is ‘Qing Xiang  Gui’.

The drupes of Sarcococca are large compared to the flowers and add a colorful addition to the plant.

The drupes of Sarcococca are large compared to the flowers and add a colorful addition to the plant.

Sweet Box are an easy adaptable plant which is underused. It has attractive smaller foliage which is pleasingly elliptical and glossy green. Species such as ruscifolia, confusa and hookeriana can be used as low hedging which grows to 4ft(1.2m) and can easily be clipped and shaped.  S. humilis and it’s forms are lower growing and more suckering, it can be used as a low groundcover or mass planted. They are also an essential addition to any winter garden. All Sarcococca tolerate shade to deep shade (if you are willing to forgo the flowering) and make excellent understory plants.

Sarcococca humilis

The low growing Sarcococca humilis is planted behind the sign here in Finnerty Gardens

Growing Sweet Box is easy as they are not fussy plants and have no real pests or disease to deal with.  as they are woodland plants they like rich humusy soil which will retain some moisture sureing the drier seasons. They tolerate some lime better than many other species.  Placement is best where they get some morning sun but none later in the day as they will  yellow and burn in the summer. Dappled light is an excellent situation for them. They are classed as slow growing shrubs so they will not outgrow a space quickly.

The winter garden at Government House has a large Sarcococca in bloom right now.

Sarcococca are rated at zones 7 -9(-15c or 0-10f). S. rucifolia, confusa and hookeriana grow 1.2m(4ft) by the same. S. humilis and it’s forms are generally no more than 1m(3ft) and some forms grow only half that height.

Sweet Box links:

very detailed article about Sweet Box: http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/2732/

Paghat’s Garden article on S. ruscifolia: http://www.paghat.com/saracococca.html

Finnerty Gardens: http://external.uvic.ca/gardens/

Until we meet again soon…..

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Sometimes a plant will bloom out of season, it might be that there is an unexpected warm spell which causes the buds to open. Other times blooming may be irregular and over a long time with no real pinnacle of flowering. Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’ is often a combination of sporadic blooming in December and then breaking out in a frosty shimmery pink through mid to late January. This year the shimmering icy pink blossoms are making their appearance a little early.

Rhododendron Christmas Chee

The light pink blossoms of Rhododendron Christmas Cheer do look beautiful when the sun comes out here.

I alway notice a few blooms when I am in Sidney in late December and this helps me remember the name of the plant. The name ‘Christmas Cheer’ interestingly  refers to it’s one time use for forcing at Christmas time in bouquets and other indoor decoration during the Victorian era.

Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’ is a hybrid of unknown age although it is thought to originate in the 1830s’. It parentage is also partly unknown as well. What is known is that R. causaicum is one parent and was introduced into cultivation in 1803.  Rhododendron causaicum is a plant which comes from Caucasus in north eastern Turkey and  the surrounding area. It is a plant that has long been in cultivation and has been used extensively in development of old and new hybrids. One plant which may be considered a twin to ‘Christmas Cheer’ is R. ‘Rosa Mundi’ which is said to be slightly more compact and bloom one week later.

Rhododendron 'Rosa Mundi'

It seems to me that Rhododendron 'Rosa Mundi' blossoms are paler and more frilly.

R. ‘Christmas Cheer’ is restrained in all it’s parts. The leaves are mid green and have a pleasing narrow elliptical shape . the plant itself is densely branched so there are generally no unsightly gaps to see through. The flowers are delicate in color and size with slightly wavy edges. They are not in the least damaged by frosts and seem to stand up well to the monsoon rains by drooping or discoloring.

Rhododendron Christmas Cheer

This Rhododendron Christmas Cheer is covered with icy pink trusses of delicate flowers.

Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’ and ‘Rosa Mundi’ are some of the hardiest Rhododendrons. they are tolerant of temperatures as low as -20c(-10f) so these are good plants for colder areas in which Rhododendrons can be grown. As with all broadleaved evergreens location is important to bright the best out in your plant.  They appreciate being protected from cold drying winds that can occur during winter months. They like to be located in part to full shade. They are said to be more drought tolerant than other Rhodies’ and that may explain why some are located in more water challenged positions than others. They like rich well drained soil which has extra compost added to retain moisture during the dry summer months.

'Christmas Cheer' Rhododendrons

A couple of large and leggy 'Christmas Cheer' Rhododendrons found at Government House.

Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’ and ‘Rosa Mundi’ are fairly common here, you will often see them in parks here.They are popular being that they are slow growing and generally attain only 1.2m(4ft) in 10 years which makes them suitable for smaller gardens and yards. At maximum they will grow to 2m(6ft) high and wide. They work nicely in shady shrub or perennial borders at a mid depth. They also are included as a winter feature or specimen. They light up areas in these dark days which does bring cheer to us all.

Rhododendron 'Christmas Cheer'

Rhododendron 'Christmas Cheer' should be seen in more gardens.

More about ‘Christmas Cheer’ Rhododendrons and their relatives:

American Rhododendron Society page: http://www.rhododendron.org/descriptionH_new.asp?ID=455

Description of Rosa Mundi (Rosamundi) Rhododendron: http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ldplants/rhros.htm

Rhododendron caucasicum:  http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=120&taxon_id=242442794

Until we meet again later…

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This week is my One year anniversary of this blog. I have endeavored to bring you the best plants which I can find each week which look their best. Each season has brought its challenges in doing this, the weeks of cloudy weather or rain, the color drought during the middle of summer and weather which is too icy and snowy that I can not go out to take pictures or find new specimens to write about.  I thought I would start of this year with a splash of unusual color not only for this season but for in the garden. This is a plant which I was introduced to at Park & Tilford Garden while i was still in school and am alway on the lookout for it. Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’ (Beautyberry) brings a jaw dropping display of color to the garden.

Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion'

The strong magenta color of Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion' is indeed a 'Beautyberry' of the first rank.

There are many species of Beautyberry with most of them growing in tropical and subtropical areas. Most of them are in the form of shrubs or small trees. Several species come from more temperate areas. Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii is found in central and western China. It was collected by French Missonary Emile Marie Bodinier (1842-1901) who was a known botanist and was stationed in Peking for some time.  He collected more that 3000 herbarium samples during his lifetime of which about 200 are named, Beautyberry is the most important of these.


This Beautyberry is found in the Winter Garden at Government House.

Callicarpa are from the Verbena family (Verbenaceae) and has aromatic leaves, this makes it less attractive for Deer to browse upon. In China and Japan it has been used medicinally.  The fruit of this particular species is not considered edible do to it’s poor flavor.  The American form of this plant (C. americana) or French Mulberry in the past has been used to make delicious and popular jellies and jams.

Beautyberry contrasts nicely against the trunk of this Douglas Fir in the winter sun.

Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’ was selected for its more compact growth and better crop of berries. It was awarded an AGM(Awrd of Garden Merit) in 1984. Emerging spring foliage has bronzy tints and later in the fall the leaves turn shades of madder and pink before they are shed. Leaves are elliptical with a sharp point and are 2-5in. (5-12cm) long and half as wide. Flowers are small with a faded mauve color and are not really that showy when in bloom. Bloom period is from June to October depending on where you are, here it is fairly early.

This Beautyberry glows in the winter sun at Glendale Gardens.

Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’ is a undemanding plant and you get several seasons of interest from it. They prefer light well drained soil which is on the acidic side. They tolerate some clay or even heavy soils as long as it is not too limey which will cause yellowing of the leaves.  To produce the best berry crops Beautyberry needs full sun, but will do very well in part shade.  A spot in the winter that shows it off will be fantastic. These plants are often planted in grows of 3 or 4 as this produces the best show of berries. Beautyberry plants are are used in shrub borders, mass planting, in winter gardens or a specimens.


The bright mauve berries are small but are produced in masses to make a showy display.

Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’ is surprising hardy and takes -20c (-4f) easily and is rated at zones 6 through 8. Berries are not damaged by freezing. They do not do well in warm climates. Can you imagine going outside after a snowfall and seeing this bush loaded with berries… beautiful. These shrubs grow 1.8-2m (6-8ft) tall and have a slightly arching habit. They can be pruned to promote more branching and better berry crops.

Calicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii Profusion

Calicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii Profusion is one of the brightest plants in the garden right now.

More on Beautyberry:

Paghat’s page on this plant: http://www.paghat.com/beautyberry.html

RHS page for the plant: http://www.rhs.org.uk/Gardens/Wisley/About-Wisley/Plant-of-the-month/October/Callicarpa-bodinieri-var–giraldii-Profusion

Until we meet again later…

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