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5 Aug 2020

Highlight plants at Inverewe in August

Written by Kevin Ball, Head Gardener at Inverewe Garden
A large and tall flowering bush with white flowers. The flowers have large petals with a yellow centre.
‘Eucryphia glutinosa’ at Inverewe
Anyone with the good fortune to be in the west of Scotland at this time of year will know that eucryphias (or leatherwood) are one of the great glories of a large garden in late summer.

Eucryphia plants are mainly evergreen shrubs or small trees that grow up to 12m (40ft) high. They can be an imposing sight, particularly when their pure-white flowers stand out against dark, glossy-green leaves.

Eucryphia is a genus of eight species, five of which come from temperate forests in Australia, one from Tasmania and the other two from Chile. They have settled down particularly well in the warm and (often) wet conditions of Inverewe and other gardens where the Gulf Stream has an influence. Being upright and columnar in shape, they are natural specimen plants. They’re most likely to be found, and do best, where other woodland trees shelter them from cold winds. Because of their liking for an acid soil, they are good companions for rhododendrons, kalmias, pieris and magnolias and they look particularly good with an underplanting of hydrangeas, which can be used to shade the roots.

The most well-known is the hybrid Eucryphia x nymansensis, the offspring of a cross between E. glutinosa and E. cordifolia, raised at Nymans (a garden in West Sussex) in 1914. The best of the seedlings, ‘Nymansay’, was given an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) by the RHS in 1924. It has cup-shaped, fragrant white flowers, at least 7.5cm (3in) across, with very prominent bosses of yellow stamens. Its elliptic leaves are strongly toothed and about 6cm (2.5in) long. From a distance, ‘Nymansay’ looks like Carpenteria californica ( a tree anemone), although it flowers at a different time. You can find it in flower during August on the Drive and throughout the woodland garden.

A tall white flowering bush stands beside a path in a garden on a very sunny day.
Eucryphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’

Eucryphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’ is probably the most popular of the eucryphias because it is pretty hardy and the most tolerant of alkaline soil. Even so, it will not thrive everywhere, and it’s best to plant it in early spring in a light, sheltered woodland position, where the soil is moist in summer and its roots are shaded from the sun. It may lose some evergreen leaves in winter, but that’s nothing to worry about. This tree needs little or no pruning, except perhaps for cutting back the odd shoot. It’s possible to propagate this eucryphia from semi-ripe cuttings taken in July or August. The glossy leaves seem to shrug off most pests and diseases.

The hardiest of the eucryphias is the deciduous Chilean species, Eucryphia glutinosa (seen in the main image at the top of the page). It flowers in July and August and makes a fine tree, growing up to 7.6m (25ft) tall. It has handsome flowers, perhaps a little smaller than ‘Nymansay’, and the leaves change colour in the autumn. It is lime-hating and will tolerate an exposed position. Like ‘Nymansay’, it has an AGM from the RHS. Osgood Mackenzie (Inverewe’s founder) knew this as Eucryphia pinnatifolia and he referred to it often in glowing terms:
I do not know of any shrub that I can more highly recommend to everyone … such a good doer and never sick or sorry whatever the seasons may be like. They are most floriferous, and their bloom is so lovely, a little like sprays of the white dog-rose, with this difference, that there is a faint greenish tinge at the base of the petals; in fact, the centre of the flower is very pale-green, which shows up more forcibly the lovely and prominent anthers which, instead of being yellow as in the dog-rose, are crimson.’

A close-up of some pink eucryphia flowers, with round pale petals and a dark pink centre.
Eucryphia lucida ‘Ballerina’

For a medium-sized sheltered garden, I would recommend planting Eucryphia lucida or one of the many cultivated varieties. This beautiful small tree is endemic to Tasmania, where it is abundant in the temperate rainforests in the west of the state. It grows alongside myrtle beech (Nothofagus cunninghamii), southern sassafras (Atherosperma moschatum) and Australian blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon), all of which can be found at Inverewe. The sweetly scented white flowers of E. lucida contrast beautifully with the dark green leaves. At Inverewe it’s one of the first species to produce flowers, usually by early July.

Here are a couple of named cultivated varieties that I would particularly recommend:

1. Eucryphia lucida ‘Spring Glow’: This stunning plant enjoys the sheltered environment of the woodland garden at Inverewe. The young growth in the spring is flushed deep-pink, which gradually fades as the foliage matures. In late summer, its narrow tapering habit with evergreen leaves edged in cream creates a stunning foil for the pearl-white flowers.

2. Eucryphia lucida ‘Ballerina’: This beautiful specimen was first discovered growing in Western Tasmania in 1986. It also has a narrow tapering habit with evergreen leaves, which set off unusual, large pale pink flowers with eye-catching crimson stamens. It’s currently in full flower in the woodland.

It’s great to have Inverewe Garden open again and to be able to share nature’s wonders with a wider audience. These shrubs, with their profusion of (usually) white flowers, are definitely worth making the effort to enjoy at this time of year. We look forward to welcoming you back.

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