Wednesday 21 February 2018

Spanish gorse shows its Mediterranean stuff

SUN WORSHIPPER: Bright yellow flowers cover the bush
SUN WORSHIPPER: Bright yellow flowers cover the bush

Gerry Daly

Spanish gorse is in flower these days and making a very spectacular show of bright yellow. This plant is related to the wild gorse that has been so floriferous this spring, but it is a separate species.

Originating in south-western Europe, notably Spain, it does really well in this climate.

The plant is much smaller than gorse and more suited to gardens as it forms a dense, neat-growing, low bush. It starts off in its early years as a small round plant, about knee-high, and spreads out as it grows outwards rather than upright.

The whole bush covers itself with clusters of bright yellow flowers and these are held at the tips of the shoots, which makes them very visible.

As the bush gets older, it can spread to reach two metres across, although it can run out of room to make its full size. But given enough space, it can be a great addition in early summer.

It is particularly effective on a bank or a gravel area, or in a Mediterranean-style garden, being a true native of that region. It looks great creeping down a slope or hanging over the edge of a low retaining wall.

Like wild gorse, Spanish gorse is spiny but this is not a drawback as it is practically weed-proof, its growth being so dense that it excludes light.

In general the only weeds that might get in the middle of the bush are seedling trees, like sycamore or ash; both have flying seeds that can blow in.

The botanical name for Spanish gorse is Genista hispanica and it has several related bushy plants, notably Genista lydia, which comes from the eastern Balkan region of the Mediterranean.

This is also low-growing, more like broom than gorse because it has narrow rush-like stems that carry the small yellow flowers, and it has no spines. It forms a more open bush than Spanish gorse.

A smaller plant, not as tall or as wide, it makes an arching bush, not as upright in its growth as Spanish gorse. The two plants are very happy in dry soil that is open, even gravelly, and well-drained.

Both are members of the pea family, members of which specialise in growing in poor soil low in nutrients. These can fix their own nitrogen nutrient thanks to special bacteria in nodules on the roots.

In their native lands, these plants succeed in dry rocky places and dry heathlands. They do not thrive in heavy soil that gets wet in winter and can die or become patchy.

Both kinds love sunshine and they are quick-growing, perfect for a new bed with space to fill. Both are evergreen, adding a touch of greenery in winter, and widely available in garden centres.

Sunday Independent

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