Thursday 18 December 2014

Bright and brassy in the summer sunshine

Published 28/07/2014 | 02:30

Hypericum
Hypericum

The bright yellow flowers of hypericum have a lively sparkle. The petals have a shiny surface which reflects sunlight and gives the flowers a uniquely bright luminescence. The flowers can be seen from a distance and look great with some contrasting colour from blue agapanthus.

Hypericums can be seen these days in lots of gardens and in public and commercial landscaping in towns, because this shrub is a reliable workhorse.

It is easy to grow, does not, in general, suffer from pests or diseases. It makes a good size without becoming unmanageable, and it flowers generously.

Although not to everybody’s taste, sometimes considered a bit ordinary, the bright flowers of hypericum can enliven a shrubbery or mixed border for weeks. There is a peak of flowering now and intermittent following flowers for months.

Hypericum is commonly called St John’s wort, as the wild plant flowers before the feast day on June 24. Wort is an old English word for a plant and this one has long been credited with warding off evil spirits.

One of the most popular hypericums is the tall shrub Rowallane which arose as a chance seedling in the garden of that name in Co Down.

It can make a big bush to over two metres tall and almost as wide. The large flowers are carried from summer into early winter in a mild year.

Also widely planted is Hidcote, named after a famous English garden.

It has flowers similar to those of Rowallane, although it is a smaller grower, considered hardier than Rowallane. It is more suitable for smaller gardens.

These shrubs can be allowed to simply grow and fill the space available, or they can be cut back in early spring and allowed to grow out again. When this is done, they will flower a bit later in summer but remain neat and tidy and very fresh in flower.

The plants mentioned were once surpassed in popularity by the low, suckering shrub St John’s wort, also called rose of Sharon. This was widely used until recent times as an excellent ground-cover shrub but it has since become badly affected by rose disease, which defoliates it, and it has been rooted out.

Some hypericums, such as Elstead, are grown for their decorative red berries rather than the flowers which are relatively small, carried in groups at the ends of the twigs.

Later, the upright conical berries turn red as the leaves colour in autumn.

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