Like Alys….me and euphorbia

Euphorbia myrsinites 316
Euphorbia myrsinites, Tostat, March 2016

I always enjoy Alys Fowler’s gardening column in ‘The Guardian’, though I am sure that she writes less frequently than before, and all of the articles are refreshed much less often than a few years back.  I am by no means such a veggie as she is, but I keep vowing to try harder.  But this week, her column concerned the ‘Euphorbia’- which was just a tiny bit spooky as I had already taken the photographs for this blog a couple of days before.

I have loved- and hated the Euphorbia over the years.  In fact, I am back in a loving moment with them right now.  This is really their best season, when the lime-green bracts sing out against bare ground and a few, brave bulbs.  The Big Daddy of them all is Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii– which was a huge delight to me when we moved from Scotland.  Willing to put itself almost anywhere in our stony, dry areas, growing like a rocket, self-seeding and being generally gorgeous in early Spring, for all these reasons I loved it.  But these were also the reasons that I came to hate it, pulling handfuls of babies out when critical mass had long been surpassed.

But, what I have come to understand is, that it does what it does and I have to maintain the population balance that I want.  It won’t do it for me, and no amount of me cursing is worth the time and effort.  I just have to roll with the punches and keep a beady eye on it.  One  of the reasons that I am back in love with it, is that it will literally put itself anywhere.

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Euphobia characias subsp.wulfenii, Tostat, March 2016

And here it has self-seeded right on a tricky, rocky corner of the New Garden, and leaning out from the wall, it catches the sunlight and is brilliantly luminous. I would never have put it there, but it looks great.  Across from it, in the dry, hot New Garden, it is verging on a takeover, but right now, makes a great repeating pattern of lime-green and yellow, when everything else is only just waking up.  I will yank some out in a few weeks before the seeds start exploding round the garden, but now they have my blessing.

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Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii, Tostat, March 2016

At the top of the article is a small, but dogged Euphorbia, Euphorbia myrsinites, which creeps along the ground, in the hottest, driest spots, holding up its rosette-shaped heads just a little above the ground. I adore it.  It is so cheerful.  It needs the sun and sharply drained poor soil, but then it is as happy as Larry.  This one does not spread itself about prolifically.  I wish it did.  So you need to be careful where you step, as once broken, it takes a long time to repair itself.

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Euphorbia seguieriana, Tostat, March 2016

Euphorbia seguieriana is a modest player.  With an almost fern-like foliage, and pinky new growth, it flowers later than the big beast, wulfenii, but it slowly bulks up to about 0.60 x 0.60m. It will take the driest, sunniest spot you can give it.  I got this one very small from Beth Chatto’s nursery three years ago, and it only limped along for the first two years. So, give it time.

And my last entrant in the ‘Lovable Euphorbia’ competition would be the Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’.  In my semi-shaded damper part of the garden, it is sprinkling itself around with modest abandon at this time of year, just creeping about under the tree peonies and hydrangea.   The gorgeous copper-coloured new growth catches the sun and makes a stunning statement, while later in the year, it just blends in with whatever else is happening. This is it’s time.

Euphorbia amygloides Purpurea 1 Apr 15
Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’, Tostat, April 2015

 

From the tiny to the golden…more great workhorses

Today, Easter Sunday, we have had a beautiful afternoon, just a little breeze, and good sunshine that brought out all the sometimes-hidden corners of the garden.  And it seemed a good idea to showcase a trio of workhorse plants that I enjoy especially at this time of year.

Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' April 15
Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ April 15
The flowers on Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' grow on delicate sprays Apr 15
The flowers on Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ grow on delicate sprays Apr 15

Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’  is at the very tiny end of the workhorse spectrum. The heart-shaped leaves slowly make a pleasing mass in dry shade or woodland edge, and the sprays of flowers wiggle their way through the leaves in order to be seen.  Close-up they are incredibly delicate, cream with yellow, and they really do look like the tiny flower jewels that Faberge made for the Russian nobility last century.  Easily missed, so some people like to trim the leaves back a bit, but I prefer just to be observant and find them.  ‘Sulphureum’ flowers first for me in the Spring, I also have Epimedium. x purralchium ‘Frohnleiten’ and x. Warleyense, but these come a little later. The excellent Carolyn of Carolyn’s Shade Gardens in Pennsylvania has a great post on epimedium with some gorgeous varieties.

New shoot of Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Purpurea' April 15
New shoot of Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ April 15

Euphorbia amygloides Purpurea 2 Apr 15

Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ is such a great plant. I think I bought a plant about 8 years ago, and now it wanders about in my woodland, shady, and in summer quite dry, area turning up in a bright and colourful way all over the place. It’s no bother, wear a pair of gloves as the milky sap is a skin irritant, and just pull it out wherever you don’t want it.  I used to grow the big characias Euphorbia, but that has driven me crazy with self-seeding in our stony soil, so this wood spurge is the perfect pal. Andy Byfield in the ‘Guardian’ does a good run-down on other varieties.  Val Bourne is quoted on the Crocus page, see the link, as loving it for bringing’ warmth and zing’, I agree.

Acanthus mollis 'Hollard's Gold' April 15
Acanthus mollis ‘Hollard’s Gold’ April 15

Acanthus mollis ‘Hollard’s Gold’ is just like the photo- a glorious golden yellow and is spectacular in the Spring. But, for me, maybe not for you, all Acanthus take more than a few years to get going. I first bought a couple of small Acanthus Mollis in the first year of gardening here, and it is only in the last couple of years that they have really begun to deliver in big clumps. ‘Hollard’s Gold’ has been in the semi-shady bit for about 5 years, and entirely disappeared from view for at least 3 of those years. So, I had it down as a weedy thing that had been messed with by breeding. I was a bit harsh! It is now clumping up nicely, and whilst it has taken some patience to wait for it, I love the colour at this time of year and so am forgiving and generous to it. John Hoyland, a very good plantsman, has a good piece on Acanthus, but has closed his Pioneer Plants nursery, in Hertfordshire where I once bought some Cirsium. He has a great website, with the title ‘Mad with Joy’, and it is going on to my list of sites and blogs to stay in touch with.  He used to garden at the other end of the Pyrenees. I love that.