Taking risks is one of the things I like about gardening. What can really go wrong? The plant dies? Gets too big? Flowers the wrong colour? This is a low risk sport apart from wallet damage and a dent in your pride when things go belly up.
There are ways to reduce your risk though – in the world of gardening the small nurseries are the heroes and they are the ones who help you take risks. They are also the experts, they have grown the plants, know what they behave like and have usually grown lots of similar plants. The result? They are usually a good source of what is good to grow and usually will help you find it too. There is a lot to learn from these nursery men and women. Ask, listen and reward them with your purchases. In my world many of my purchases are guided by these influencers. I think of Oliver & Liat Schurman in Mount Venus Nursery with an almost biblical knowledge of plants, of Nick Macer in Pan Global Plants with a free wheeling, easy going demeanour that belies his wide and deep experience with quirky and unusual plants, rare and odd. One of my best finds is Holboellia latifolia and that came on the sage advice from Sue Wynn-Jones from Crug Farm. My needs? I wanted a climber, interesting, for a small space on the front of my house, evergreen please, maybe flowers? A recommendation followed – Holboellia latifolia. I opted for the darker version and soon a small package arrived with a nice plant ready to go. That was almost seven years ago. Since then it has grown gracefully, elegantly and without complaint. Tucked into a west facing wall corner it has grown 7 feet and has remained neat and tidy, perfect. That was before the flowers came. Wow. In March they start as little pink bullets, tightly closed. They are a shade of pink that is very much reminiscent of the 1960’s – retro, if you are of a culinary mind there’s a touch of blackcurrant fool about them. Once they start to open you are greeted with tiny, dangling rockets, flared trumpets with a rich, delicious fragrance that is very cloying and distinctive. The performance is still going strong as I write this in the end of April. It never fails to amaze me what the investment of a little time in asking and a little money in acquiring can do for your garden.
It’s worth knowing a bit about Holboellia if you want to have the same success I have enjoyed. Firstly, most people know them as sausage vines due to the shape and colour of the ripe fruit. To have these you need both male and female plants and without both sexes you will still obviously have flowers. If you are familiar with Akebia you will recognise that there are similarities as they are closely related and both come from the pretty unpronounceable Lardizabalaceae family which also includes Stauntonia another delectable and collectible climber. Holboellia is named after Fred Louis Holboell who worked at Copenhagen Botanic Garden. Flowers are pink in the dark form but can also be much paler pink verging on white. All are beautiful and worth finding.
To keep the plant looking trim you need only barely prune, after flowering and only to the last hard junction on the stem. New growth will emerge every year after flowering. Soil is best if it is open and well drained and a little shelter, particularly on a west facing wall is ideal.
These plants demand a place in your garden; easy, beautiful and lots of interest. Given all I’ve said I hope you will reach out to one of our independent nursery tribe and discover this and the other treasures they are keeping for people like you.