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Alternative Plant of the Moment - Late January 2020

A detail of the flower of Galanthus 'Desdemona' copyright Lewis Normand 2018
Galanthus 'Desdemona'

At the moment, social media is adorned with lots of wonderful images of Snowdrops (Galanthus) and other early bulbs complementing myriad beautiful Hellebores (Helleborus) and quite rightly so!

While I am a huge fan of this and have long been a Galanthophile (Snowdrop collector), I'm in to championing underdogs and so a plant that I rate very highly, but gets none of the headlines is my focus in this article.

Leucothoe 'Carinella' copyright Lewis Normand 2018
Leucothoe 'Carinella' iPlantsman

There are many worthwhile evergreen shrubs for the garden and lots of them are looking particularly special at the moment. One genus that I rate highly and sells pretty well across the UK, but nobody ever mentions is Leucothoe. Recent breeding has meant that the mainstay cultivars of 'Scarletta' (also sold as 'Zeblid') and the variegated 'Rainbow' (pictured below) have been joined by lots of newer introductions over the last decade.

I particularly like and recommend the variety named 'Carinella' (also sold as 'Zebekot')(pictured above), which has a longer leaf than many cultivars and species of the genus, a good growing season colour and excellent winter season foliage colour. For me, it is just a bit more stylish than varieties. Foliage is a dark green, turning to purple on older leaves in winter, with younger foliage on fire in shades of red, orange and pink. A really interesting and dramatic foliage plant!

Leucothoe 'Rainbow' copyright Lewis Nromand 2018
Leucothoe 'Rainbow' iPlantsman

Pretty simple when it comes to growing conditions. All Leucothoe prefer acid soil. They will happily grow in neutral soils, but will struggle on chalk, especially shallow chalk. In chalky soils, foliage will be washed out and unimpressive if the plant survives at all. Great in a border providing soil conditions can be met. Where this isn't possible, grow in a decent sized pot. They don't enjoy drying out and if the foliage loses its lustre, you can be sure that this is usually the reason. They trim well and in time make interesting shrubs in the garden, with this smaller variety getting to around 60cm tall and wide in 10 years.

Flowering isn't what they are grown for, but they do and it is interesting if not exciting to look at. Similar to a related genus of Pieris, they produce clusters of short, pendant racemes of small, bell-shaped white flowers in spring. Flowering volumes can be quite impressive some years, but generally are interesting, if not exciting.

I haven't yet tried it, but I suspect it would also make an interesting alternative to Box (Buxus) for a low hedge, or especially as a ball or mound shape. Perhaps worth a go?

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1 Comment

They do add brightness and light, which is sometimes needed. Good selection.

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