Sunday 17 December 2017

A supporting role for pretty potentilla

Potentilla comes in yellow, white, orange and red flowers, making it a good garden filler
Potentilla comes in yellow, white, orange and red flowers, making it a good garden filler

Gerry Daly

Potentilla is in flower at the moment, making a great display of colour and it will go on flowering for months. Even though it is colourful, it is not one of the star plants of the garden in the way that roses, camellias and rhododendrons are. But it makes an excellent supporting player.

The shrubby potentilla is a native plant, appearing in the western counties from Clare to Mayo. This wild form has bright yellow flowers and makes a small bush to about waist-high, though often less. It usually appears in rocky places with good drainage. Being derived from a native species, the garden forms of this plant are very reliable and easy to grow.

It is also known by the common name of shrubby cinquefoil. This name derives from the French name for these plants, 'cinq feuilles' which means five leaves, and each leaflet is divided into five leaflets. The flowers have five petals too, which makes them look like roses with small flat flowers, and they are members of the rose family.

The garden forms are very good for flowering through the summer, although the first big flush in May and June is the best of the year. There has been much selection and breeding of the wild form and many new kinds have been produced, even in recent decades. The basic kind has flowers of bright yellow but there are now white, pink, orange and red kinds among the named varieties.

'Abbotswood' is a lovely white-flowered kind with relatively large flowers and good growth habit. It is more vigorous than most and has blue-green leaves. 'Goldfinger' has bright yellow flowers of large size. 'Elizabeth' has large, bright yellow flowers too and holds them nicely over the bush. 'Primrose Beauty' is well-named for its soft primrose yellow flowers, and it is one of the most popular kinds.

'Red Ace' has bright red flowers. 'Tangerine' has yellow flowers, flushed with orange-red. 'Princess' is a very pretty variety with pale pink flowers. 'Vilmoriniana' is an old French variety with grey-green leaves and pale creamy yellow flowers. It is very distinctive and more vigorous than others.

The paler yellow and white kinds are easier to use in the garden because the colours fit in with other plants more easily. These can be used as general fillers at the front of borders, setting off plants of more intense colour. The red, strong yellow and orange kinds fit in with other orange, red or yellow flowers, especially with some brown or purple foliage nearby. They are very easy to grow in any ordinary soil, sunny, well-drained but not too dry in summer.

My hydrangeas are turning brown!

Q: My hydrangea is in a large pot and the tips of the leaves are turning brown but the rest of the plant seems fine. The rose in the same pot is fine. What is wrong with the hydrangea? R Lally, Co Mayo

A: Hydrangeas like moist, humusy, well-drained soil and tend to suffer from drought in a pot when they have filled it with roots. It may have dried out during the dry weather, and it might need feeding too. Roses are better able to cope, but will eventually suffer too. Plant them out, or move to a bigger pot, keep moist and liquid-feed every three weeks in the growing season.

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