Plants to look for in December

Clianthus puniceus - K Keeton Crataegus x lavalleei - S Turner Euryops pectinatus - S Turner Euryops virgineus - S Turner
Clianthus puniceus
Clianthus puniceus was originally discovered on the North island of New Zealand, growing wild in the inlets of the Bay of Islands. It was introduced to this country in 1831 and Robert Marnock, designer and first curator of the Sheffield Botanical Gardens, grew it in the Pavilions. Referring to his 1838 catalogue it is said that the plant was first discovered by a missionary, and its first flowering was in the Trentham garden of Lord Leveson Gower at in 1834. The common name for it is 'parrot's bill' referring to the shape of the curved keel petals. An evergreen small spreading shrub, it flowers well when given some support on a sheltered wall and is growing beautifully (although out of season!) on the wall of the Gatehouse as you go through into the Gardens, on the right-hand side. It is a beautiful plant with luxuriant, pinnate foliage, and bright red long pointed flowers constructed just like those of a pea as it is in the Leguminosae (pea) family.
Crataegus x lavalleei
Attractive year round, this small tree is particularly desirable in winter, when the many large berries slowly ripen from orange to red and may last until March. The lustrous dark green leaves persist into December. In May and June the glossy new leaves are a fine foil for the masses of clustered white flowers covering the crown. In 1879, French gardener M. Lavallee introduced the hybrid which is believed to be a cross between C. stipulacea (Mexican) and C. crus-galli (Cockspur thorn). In the Gardens this special little tree is beautifully positioned near the Brocco Bank entrance. Another specimen grows in the Award of Garden Merit border.
Euryops pectinatus
Alongside E. virgineus grow 2 other species of Euryops: Golden Daisy Bush, E. pectinatus, the species name referring to the comb-like narrow divisions of the lacy, silvery leaves, which contrast well with the yellow daisy-flowers. This plant holds the RHS Award of Garden Merit. Another Euryops in the South African section of the Mediterranean climate garden is E. chrysanthemoides (African Bush Daisy). The 6cm single yellow flowers, with deeper yellow centres, are held on long, erect stalks over the deeply lobed green leaves.
Euryops virgineus
It is a pleasure to come upon a bright showy shrub such as this Euryops virgineus in winter. Endemic to South Africa, largely in coastal areas from the Eastern to the Western Cape, the common name, Honey Bush, refers to the pleasant scent, while Euryops comes from the Greek meaning large eye. The stiff stems are densely clothed in neat green leaves, ending in masses of tiny, bright yellow, daisy-like flowerheads.
Ilex aquifolium 'Handsworth New Silver' - K Keeton Ilex x altaclerensis - K Keeton Mahonia japonica - S Turner Mahonia oiwakensis subsp. lomariifolia - S Turner
Ilex aquifolium 'Handsworth New Silver'
The genus Ilex is a large and complex group of plants, there are about 400 species and many hundreds of cultivars. Many fine specimens of mature holly trees may be seen throughout the Gardens. It is known that the first curators of the Garden planted many varieties of Ilex aquifolium, perhaps some of the trees date back to those times. The original plants would have been purchased from the once famous Sheffield nurseries, Fisher, Holmes & Co (Fisher Son & Sibray from 1879). The nurseries in Handsworth were in business for many years in the 19th/20th century and specialised in the propagation of new holly varieties. A very fine, variegated holly, Ilex ‘Handsworth New Silver’ can be seen on the East lawn.
Ilex x altaclarenis
Many holly varieties result from a cross between Ilex aquifolium and Ilex perado, which originated in Maderia. These hollies became known as Ilex x altaclarenis because they were said to have originated in the gardens of Highclere, the estate of the Earls of Carnarvon near Newbury (the setting for the television programme, Downton Abbey). Many more cultivars were produced at the Handsworth nurseries and may still be seen in the Holly Walk at Kew or the Valley Gardens in Windsor Great Park.
Mahonia japonica
Mahonia japonica is an evergeen, hardy shrub of upright habit and has racemes of pale yellow flowers from late autumn to early spring. Flowers are followed by bluish purple berries and the leaves are dark green and lance-shaped. The origin is uncertain, but the plant has long been cultivated in Japan, and is thought to have been introduced to this country in mid 19th century.
Mahonia oiwakensis subsp. lomariifolia
On the West Lawn, across the path from the Rose Garden, grows M.oiwakensis subsp. lomariifolia. The scented yellow flowers are borne in erect racemes. This plant was introduced by Lawrence Johnston of Hidcote, after he went plant hunting with George Forrest in Yunnan in 1931.
Mahonia x media 'Lionel_Fortescue' - S Turner Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun' - S Turner Rhododendron 'Christmas Cheer' - C Egglestone Xanthocyparis nootkatensis 'Pendula' - K Keeton
M. x media 'Lionel Fortescue'
Crossing the previous two Mahonia species produced some beautiful hybrids, some by chance and others deliberate. In the Gardens, M. x media 'Lionel Fortescue' is the very handsome tall shrub at the bottom of the Asia Garden, just across the path from the Evolution Garden.
Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun'
Another hybrid, M. 'Winter Sun' is a medium-sized evergreen shrub with long, spiny, pinnate leaves. The erect racemes carry small, bright yellow, fragrant flowers, which are followed by blue-black berries.
Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’
This compact plant, with dense foliage, can be found just inside the Asian Garden across the path from the Evolution Garden and close to Mahonia 'Lionel Fortescue'. There is also a large clump at the entrance to the bearpit. Originating in an Edinburgh nursery in 1895, this hybrid Rhododendron used to be protected under glass so that it would be in flower at Christmas. One of its parents, R. caucasicum, grows from NE Turkey to Georgia at heights of up to 3,000m and temperatures of -20 degrees C.
Xanthocyparis nootkatensis 'Pendula'
One of the finest and unusual conifers in the Gardens is the Nootka cypress. This beautiful tree is easily recognised as you walk down the pathway from the Main entrance. Area H - the lower area of the Rock and Water Garden.
Until recently known as Chamaecyparis nootkatensis – (the taxonomists are still in debate as to its correct placement), the Nootka cypress is a native of North America from Alaska down the western coastline to Oregon, possibly one of the longest-lived trees in the cloud forests. It was discovered by Archibald Menzies in 1793, around the Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island. It was not, however introduced to the U.K. until some time later, when John Jeffrey sent the seed from Vancouver Island in late 1851. The pendulous form is a cultivar discovered in 1884, with graceful branchlets hanging vertically. The blue-green cones have a recurved, pointed flap at the centre of each scale, and take 2 years to mature. It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.