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Remember, Remember: My Top 5 Plants to grow at home for Bonfire Night on the 5th of November.

Following on from my exploration of plants looking good on the 31st of October with a Halloween theme (see bottom of page for link), I thought I would have a look at plants for the 5th of November - Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night. As such, I have looked for plants that are hardy in the UK (other countries with temperate climates are available), which look interesting on November 5th and have a name that relates to the theme.

Royalty Free pic of Bonfire

Here are my Top 5 plants;


Pieris japonica 'Bonfire'

Pieris japonica 'Bonfire' - (Andromedas/Fetterbushes, but typically called Pieris in the UK)

There are lots of plants with Fire in the name, though most don't look amazing in November. Pieris japonica 'Bonfire' may not be at its shining best then, but is a useful evergreen for acidic soil, which always looks decent. While it won't be in flower (spring, see pic below) and the likelihood is that the young foliage which starts of bright red (see pic above) will have faded to green, it is a solid shrub in the garden and very easy to grow. Avoid early morning sun, which can scorch young foliage and icy, cold winds, which let's face it, nobody likes. Other than that, it is easy to grow and can be grown in a large pot if soil parameters don't otherwise allow.

Pieris japonica 'Bonfire' flowers in spring


Pennisetum 'Fireworks' - Cbaile19, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Pennisetum 'Fireworks' - Cbaile19, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pennisetum advena 'Fireworks' - (Purple Fountain Grass)

Pennisetum are generally temperature hardy in the UK, though winter wet is often their undoing. This is especially true of any red-leaved form, so this plant is often treated as a bedding plant by UK gardeners as a consequence. It may over-winter outdoors, but I wouldn't ever bet on it doing it. Instead, I look to it to add summer and autumn excitement to planting schemes with a rich wine-red foliage colour and reddish bottlebrush flowerheads. It does have an exploding firework quality about it and in sunny, dry spots it is a really impactful plant associating nicely with tall bedding plants like Dahlia, just as it will hardy Salvia and Verbena. I have seen it grown very effectively with Purple Orache (Atriplex hortensis var. rubra) for maximum purple! Has the potential to get to 1.2m (4'), though unless it is protected over winter I find plants grown in a single season rarely get above 90cm (3').


Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' in autumn leaf

Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' - (Dogwood)

One of the most popular of the Winter Stem Dogwoods and has been for many years now; Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' is a useful plant, especially in damp or even rather wet soils, where it will grow away happily. Pruning of these plants is often a cause of anxiety for many gardeners, but is easy enough providing you remember that Cornus sanguinea types need less puning than Cornus alba and Cornus sericea types. C. alba and C. sericea dogwoods are happy being chopped down to near ground level every late-winter/early spring. They will regrow over the season and produce colourful stems for you to enjoy in winter. C. sanguinea types are better pruned back hard once every three years or 1/3rd of the oldest stems removed to near ground on each plant each year. This way you will always have good winter colour and the plant is not too stressed from having to regrow from nothing each year. Allowing two extra development years also enables more side branching, where you can see the flame colours starting at the base as an orange and darkening to the tips with red (as pic below from a display at Hadlow College in Kent). Autumn colour is a fabulous orange too (see pic above) and the plant is simply a thing of beauty. Best planted in groups that will be lit up with low winter sun for maximum impact!

Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' winter stems at Hadlow College


Euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow' - (Fireglow Spurge)

There are lots of striking Euphorbia from the 2000+ species ranging from Cacti and Christmas oddities like Poinsettia to hardy stalwart sub-shrubs and even garden weeds. I like a lot of the hardy species and varieties available and while they are generally highly toxic if ingested and their sap is a skin irritant, I have never felt the desire to eat them and handle them with respectful care when planting or maintaining - I recommend this approach, don't eat or drink sap, avoid contact with your skin, wear gloves and be careful when handling and you should be fine. Euphorbia griffithii is a hardy species that produces upright growth, eventually forming a small clump, but can be a bit spindley for the first few years. Fireglow gets to 75cm-1m (2'6"-3'3") tall and a little less wide. Just like our next plant, the flowers are actually tiny and pretty dull, but are flanked by modified leaves called bracts, which give the appearance of petals. The bracts (let's call the flowers for simplicity) are significantly more colourful than the dark-green foliage shining at the end of stems with a rich orange-red in summer, which persists even when seed has set into the autumn. In mild spots it may retain some foliage in winter, but expect it to die back each winter and return in spring.


Hydrangea paniculata 'Bombshell' (Japanese Hydrangea Bombshell)

A relatively recent introduction of Japanese Hydrangea of particularly compact habit. A LOT of new varieties of H. paniculata have been recent over the last 10 or so years after decade of only a handful of good selections. As a result, many are quite similar with a tendency for flowers to have more or red pinky-red colour change being one of the main difference between many. Having a more compact selection instantly makes it more garden-worthy for some gardeners and at 1.0-1.2m tall and wide, it can fit in most gardens with ease. It is also a more appealing choice than most varieties for pot growing, so useful here too. Perhaps not surprisingly, there are not a great number of plants with 'Bomb' in the name and probably no bad thing. This is a bit of a bombshell variety in its look and advantages for use for a wider audience. Flowers start a creamy-white and redden as they age (as visible in pic). Flower size on young plants is smaller with more florets per flowerhead as the plant develops. Prefers an neutral to acidic soil, but I have never found them to struggle in alkaline soils unless very dry and very chalky.

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