Posted on | September 13, 2008 | No Comments
Since you’re all probably sick to death of the weather, let’s forget it and focus on a desirable family of plants that can take almost everything our changing climate can throw at it without getting covered in mildew or rotting or falling over. The specie is Pseudopanax, a name I’m sure we will be hearing a lot more about in the years to come. Pseudopanax syn Neopanax hails from New Zealand, just about as a far as you can get from the British Isles.
The distance between Wellington, New Zealand and London, is 11,682 miles and is 12 time zones ahead of us which is why we are only now starting to see them in the UK. They are in a small group of shrubby Aralia allies with insignificant flowers which appear in the summer. Instead they are known for their thick, evergreen leaves of various sizes, shapes and markings, and are not only excellent evergreen foliage plants for the exotic, but any garden that deserves something different to the norm.
These glorious southern hemisphere plants thrive in sun or dappled shade on most garden soils and also make good container plants. The tips can be pinched out to make them bushier, hence are easy to maintain as they can be kept at a size that suits the space in your garden.
The Lancewood Pseudopanax crassifolius is a rather interesting if not alien-looking slowgrowing shrub to 2.5m and similar width, though usually less in the British Isles. As a juvenile (which can last many years) this intriguing plant grows as a single upright stem, with leaves up to 60cm long by 2cm wide, which are stiff and dark bronze-purple with a distinct orange midrib.
The leaf edges are sharply serrated and hang down at an angle of 45 degrees when young, giving it a very bizarre appearance indeed! As the plant matures, the leaves become smaller and lift upwards. Although it has been regarded as half-hardy in the UK, it has been known to survive cold temperatures down to -10C for short periods. The Savage lancewood Pseudopanax ferox is like P. crassifolius on mutant steroids.
It is a bizarre plant, which looks as though it has been planted upside down. It has few branches on extremely upright stems and grows slowly to about 2m in its native habitat, though much less in the British Isles, probably 1-2m.
The stiff mottled bronzebrown thin leaves are jagged, shapely toothed and hang at 45 degrees to the stems, widely spaced apart and reach a length of up to 45cm. It prefers welldrained soil, in a sunny corner of the garden. It should be hardy to around -8C for short periods.
Pseudopanax arboreus, commonly known as ‘Five Finger’ in its native habitat, grows to about 2- 3m in warmer parts of England and although considered not particularly hardy has survived -11C in a Norfolk garden with only minor leaf burn.
This handsome shrub has large, glossy, dark green leaves which are divided into five to seven oblong leaflets. Tiny honey-scented green flowers are followed by rounded purplish-black fruits on female plants in the autumn. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or in full sun. Pseudopanax laetus is a stunning plant which eventually forms a tropical looking round tree, and is one of my favourites.
This handsome plant has an eventual height and spread of 3m, with large leathery, glossy, palmate dark green leaves composed of five to seven oblong deep green leaflets with prominent mid ribs, up to 30cm long. Tiny greenish-purple flowers appear in the summer, followed by round black fruit, which reminds me, I must collect the seed from mine which is now in its ninth year. It must be protected from cold desiccating winds and has proved hardy to -5C and probably lower in a protected corner.
Pseudopanax lessonii is an ornamental shrub with a bushy habit, with bright green, thick, leathery, usually five palmate leaves borne on stout branches. There are several cultivars worth seeking out. ‘Black Ruby’ is a rather attractive form, growing to around 5m tall in its native habitat, though more like 1- 2m in our warmer gardens. The handsome, glossy, dark bronze-purple, three-lobed leaves, become even darker when planted in full sun.
‘Gold Splash’ is an absolutely delicious ornamental shrub, growing to a height and spread of 3m with a dense bushy habit, with striking, thick, leathery, usually five palmate, mid-green leaves with a strong golden-yellow central variegation.
‘Purpureus’ is another ornamental shrub with a bushy habit, growing to about 2.5m tall, by 1.5m wide, with palmate, glossy, leathery, toothed, bronze-tinged three to five-lobed leaves up to 7cm long. In the winter the foliage turns a delicious deeper bronze-purple.
‘Trident’ is an another excellent ornamental evergreen shrub with a columnar spreading habit, growing to 5m tall, by 3m wide, though usually much less in this country. The attractive dark green leaves are tough, leathery with prominent pale veins. It often has single double and triple-lobed leaves on the same plant.
All are hardy to about -5C and probably lower, provided they are grown in a corner of the garden protected from prevailing winds. ‘Rangitira’ is an attractive hybrid with its shiny palmate five-lobed bronze-purple leaves. It is an excellent garden plant with compact bushy habit compared to the others having a height and spread of about 1m. The palmate leaves are brown to rich purple in the winter.
Pseudopanax lessonii ‘Cyril Watson’ is probably the most sought-after of the hybrids, growing to around 3m tall in a sheltered location. It gives a stunning display of bold leaves which are an alluring bright apple green and are thick and leathery with three to five broad, rounded lobes. It is excellent as a specimen or container plant and lends itself well to any garden.
It should be remembered that indications of hardiness are intended as a guide only, as it is not possible to be 100 per cent accurate. Bear in mind that softly grown and young plants are more vulnerable to frosts than established specimens, and two days at -8C will do less damage than two weeks at -4C.