In this issue, Iâ€™ve chosen to highlight the Leucothoe family of shrubs. They are natives of North America and Japan and have adapted easily to conditions in this part of the British Isles. Adaptable in both sun and shade, they make an impact in gardens in both summer and winter. An acid, free draining soil is essential for their success and varieties suitable for containers should be planted in ericaceous (lime-free) compost, with a little added soil to prevent drying out.
The Leucothoe family of shrubs encompasses a wide range of varieties from ones which are almost dwarf to others which are large and bushy, providing good shade cover for other more tender plants, as well as providing shelter for small birds in winter. Many of the varieties have graceful, arching stems with lanceolate, leathery leaves, which, in autumn and winter, especially in exposed positions, become tinged with a rich, beetroot red or bronze purple. Some of the newer varietiesâ€™ leaves turn pure blood-red or purple, during colder spells of weather. Most varieties have short, pendant racemes of small, white, pitcher shaped flowers, which appear all along the stems in May and June.
Pruning and shaping of these plants can be done in this area in late spring, after any late frosts, and consists of light trimming and clipping back apical shoots to shape into a slight round shape.
Varieties which are commonly available are:
Leucothoe Fontanasiana â€˜Rainbowâ€™.
One of the larger and more vigorous varieties, with elegant arching branches. Leaves have a year round colour of marbled green, cream and a splash.
Leucothoe Fontanasiana â€˜Scarlettaâ€™
Introduced as a new variety a few years ago, this is a striking plant in winter. Medium growth up to 0.5 -.075 metre high, with blood red leaves in winter. There is a similar variety called Zeblid, of Dutch origin, with compact growth.
Leucothoe Fontanasiana â€˜Royal Rubyâ€™
Medium growing shrub up to 1m high, with glossy green leaves in summer, turning ruby red from autumn through to spring.
Leucothoe Axillans â€˜Lovitaâ€™
Much more compact form, with smaller leaves, green in summer turning a deep purple shade during winter.
Leucothoe Axillans â€˜Curly Redâ€™
An unusual form of the â€˜Lovitaâ€™ type with crinkly, curly, dainty leaves turning purple-red in winter.
All the varieties mentioned can be grown successfully in containers. Placed near house entrances, these plants can enhance a property with their rich colours in autumn through to spring.