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August 2008

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Hydrangeas, eucryphia and late-flowering dahlias

Hydrangeas, eucryphia and late-flowering dahlias

The woodland areas are at their most colourful in spring with rhododendrons, azaleas, pieris, camellias and kalmias all trying to outshine each other. Hydrangeas produce the bulk of the colour in these areas during the summer and flourish here as they love the moist mild climate of the west. However in August the eucryphia family are definitely the star performers. They come from Chile and south-eastern Australia. They are evergreen and semi-evergreen trees with leathery leaves and a neat growth habit, so they are attractive all year round.

There five or six species in the genus and all bear a profusion of white flowers except for Eucryphia lucida ‘Pink Cloud'. Most of them reach between six and fifteen metres, but with their compact columnar form they never appear too large. Eucryphia milliganii is the smallest, both in leaf and in ultimate height and I have placed it by my bedroom window. E. lucida is the first to flower in Galway, followed swiftly by E. milliganii and E. glutinosa and E. nymansensis.

I have just been given two plants of E. intermedia ‘Rostrevor' and am looking forward to seeing them flower for the first time. This is an Irish cultivar and should bloom later than the others. They have both been planted in the front garden in areas that were cleaned during the last two winters when trees fell. Both have been given as sheltered positions as possible, as I have learned by experience that eucryphias do not appreciate our strong westerly winds. They will thrive in shade, not overhanging shade, and most members of the family prefer moist acid soil although E. cordifolia and E. nymansensis will tolerate lime.

This is a good month to visit other gardens to get new ideas. I am always looking for plants that will help to extend the summer season. I was in England in August last year and visited both Great Dixter and Sissinghurst Castle and was struck by the use of dahlias to extend the colour in many of the sections. I am trying to do the same in both The Rankin Garden and in my ‘hot' border where I have all my South African plants, such as watsonias, kniphofias, agapanthus and crocosmias. Some dahlias I have grown from seed, such as ‘Bishop of Llandaff', which have not all produced the dark foliage of the parent plant, and the others I have grown from tubers. I am already reaping the benefits of both. To get maximum results with flowering it is worth feeding dahlias at intervals and continuously dead-heading.

 

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