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Gardening: Elaeagnus - a beacon among winter shrubs





Some plants come into their own in winter and early spring when most plants have lost their leaves and have little to offer by way of garden ornament. Elaeagnus is a beacon amid the bare branches. It is a shrub with broad evergreen leaves and it can grow to a significant size.

The most commonly grown kind can reach four-metres tall and at least as wide. In modern gardens, many hardly ten metres each way, a shrub of such size takes up too much space, and that certainly contributed to the decline in popularity of this fine shrub.

But elaeagnus is not the only shrub that went into decline in recent decades, most shrubs suffered the same fate. And, now that there is a renewal of interest in shrubs, perhaps this one will also return to some kind of prominence.

Elaeagnus shares much of the value of many other shrubs, namely size, relative permanence, sheer presence and foliage or flowering qualities. Flowering quality is not one of the benefits of elaeagnus but it rates highly on the other desirable attributes.

While plain green forms are available, most kinds of elaeagnus grown in gardens are yellow-marked. The gold markings on the leaf can be central, as in the case of 'Maculata', the name meaning 'spotted', or around the edge as in the kind 'Variegata' or a broad golden edge, such as 'Dicksonii', which is a slow grower. 'Gilt Edge' has a pale gold margin and 'Limelight' has blotches of gold and pale green. The latter two are vigorous growers and more recently bred.

Elaeagnus is a strong grower and can be used as hedging, especially in coastal areas as it is very wind and salt resistant. For hedging, the variegated kinds are too flashy, and probably too expensive in any case, so the plain green kinds are a better choice.

In a big garden with lots of space, they can be treated as big shrubs and in a small garden, they can have the lower branches taken off to keep them as a small tree with just one or a few stems and space left at ground level to accommodate smaller plants.

This shrub is easy to grow in any kind of soil that is well-drained and not wet in winter. In heavy wet soil, the plants suffer from root-rot diseases and dieback. Ideally the soil should not be too rich as this can make the plants grow too rapidly and become top-heavy and likely to be rocked by wind. In a windy location, some pruning to reduce the weight of the top can be carried out in late spring.

Sunday Independent