10 August 2012

You what?

Perhaps the most commonly asked question in the garden at Hill Top, apart from ‘are you Mr MacGregor?’ and ‘where are the toilets?’ is ‘what’s that plant?’ And for two weeks in August, the answer is almost always ‘Eucryphia glutinosa’! No other plant in the garden creates such a stir and it’s such a popular question that our shop staff even have a handy little aide memoire by the till!

It's cheating really!
For the first half of the year it’s just an unassuming big green bush which thousands of visitors walk past without a second glance, but come the first week in August it becomes the undoubted star of the show.

Eucryphia in full swing
The species was introduced from Chile in South America in 1859, but quite how one came to be growing in a little cottage garden in the Lake District is a bit of a mystery. It seems to like our climate though, and has been growing slowly but steadily since it was planted by an unknown gardener about fifty years ago.

What makes Eucryphia glutinosa so special is the large, white flowers which literally cover the whole shrub for those few short weeks in mid to late summer. The local bee population arrive en masse to take advantage of all that pollen and nectar, and from dawn until dusk the whole bush buzzes. Many references say the flowers aren’t scented but I'm convinced they have a faint aroma of honey, although I suppose that might be the smell of all those bees!

Bee heaven!
Once the flowers have faded and the last of the petals have been swept from the garden path the Eucryphia has one last card to play, it has really good autumn colour. And when that's gone it sits patiently through the winter, waiting for those two weeks in summer when everyone wants to know its name.If you fancy growing one, your local nursery (or the internet if you must) will help you out, but if you have limey soil you’re out of luck, it won’t grow. And if you want one as big as ours, you’ll have to wait a while!

Post and photos by Pete the Gardener.