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Alternative Plant of the Moment; Early February 2020

Some years, February can be a bleak month with little to look at and engage even the most die-hard botanically minded plant lovers. Others, like 2020 is proving to be, benefit from mild weather, a little less rain than in recent years and even some good sun. With this comes more and more brilliant plant moments and most of us will surely have enjoyed something planty when out on our travels. I've seen countless bulbs massed brilliantly in beds, borders, pots and lawns. I've seen early herbaceous perennials bursting in to life. I've seen the first flowers on trees and shrubs opening, but one plant has caught my attention in the last week.

iPlantsdogs 1 and 2
iPlantsdogs 1 and 2

If I were to give you a thousand guesses, you would be unlikely to get it, so I'll put you out of your misery early and tell you that I've been impressed by Brambles (Rubus fruticosus and similar sp.). Obviously a Marmite choice here and while many people enjoy eating bramble fruits, perhaps in a crumble (ooh lovely), most people don't love the plant itself. In fact, I make no claim to love the plant, having spent a disproportionate part of my gardening life removing it from gardens at the expense of cut hands and clothes and generally little satisfaction as it inevitably returns in double-quick time. Here I am more acknowledging the plant as a great survivor, a pioneer and a 12 month spectacle.

Rubus fruticosus (Brambles) in Kent, Summer 2019
Brambles in Summer

This winter, brambles on the land adjoining my garden have continued to grow. They have retained most of their leaves and they were flowering and fruiting well into December. Quite an amazingly robust plant (see below for a picture of a stem that has broken through a fence in the corner of the garden in the last two/three months and went unnoticed until I sat on i!) Without fail, I've noticed them every year when out walking the iPlantsdogs (see top image, where field is flanked with Brambles) and I can't recall a year in my adult life where I haven't had to chop back plants winding their way into a garden that I either owned, or was working on. Most years I even gather the fruit for my family to greedily devour. I think I'm just impressed this winter, by how well they are doing even when the should be resting.

Rubus fruticosus (Bramble) in February 2020
Rubus fruticosus (Bramble) in February 2020

OK, it is hard to argue that it looks great in the picture, but it is still very much active and that is impressive for a plant that produces metres of growth during the normal growing season anyway.

For the purposes of this post, I'm not going to talk about growing conditions, or cultivated forms, suffice to say that they are very tolerant of a wide range of conditions and there are hundreds of worthwhile species and cultivars of Rubus out there to grow, not least of all the myriad cultivars of Blackberry, Raspberry, Gooseberry, Tayberry, Loganberry and others grown for their fruits. Here we talk about bog-standard Brambles; native, self-seeded, wildlife friendly brambles - unabashed in their roguish nature.

As designers and plants people, we need to think a lot about plants that will tolerate the changes that our local ( and National) climate will witness in the coming decades. There are a great many plants that I fear will struggle to survive with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Brambles I believe have already future-proven themselves here. Their nature and rampant growing, durable, survivors should see them rise to the challenges of the future as they have to those of the past and the continued attacks from gardeners such as myself.

While, like me, you may have a love/hate relationship with Brambles and you may even baulk at the idea of ornamental forms in gardens, it is hard to deny their impressive credentials as the toughest plants out there.

Rubus tricolor, Rubus cockburnianus 'Golden Vale' and leaf detail of 'Golden Vale' as an example of a couple of interesting ornamental Rubus worth growing.

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I think I recognise the Rubus Tricolor. 😁

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