If ever there were a plant that gives of its best when it’s needed the most, it’s Hakonechloa. I took the picture above under heavily overcast skies and with a hint of drizzle in the air. I have done nothing to enhance the colour of the Hakonechloa as it assumes its autumn raiment. The foliage is wet and the light inclined toward a contrasting bluishness, no more is needed.

For many years I have grown a variety that I obtained in a Devon nursery and it either had no name or I lost it along the way. I have long thought of it as H. macra ‘Mediovariegata’, I think because I ruled out every other variety I read about and that was what was left. More recently I obtained one under the name ‘Albostriata’ and the two look very similar, though I hesitate to say identical. ‘Albostriata’ was a variety being propagated and sold by the wholesale liner supplier Seiont Nurseries, who put it into their catalogue to replace ‘Stripe it Rich’, which they had found to lack vigour.

My experience bears that out, ‘Albostriata’/’Mediovariegata’ is a robust plant, standing up well and spreading a few inches each year. It also produces the best autumn colouring and stands until February in an average winter, standing out as the brightest plant in the garden by far through the middle of winter. Its summer colouring is green with creamy stripes; I would say that the name ‘Albostriata’, if correct, is misleading.

Hakonechloa macra is the parent species of perhaps a dozen varieties available in the UK. It is plain green, robust and upright. This year it is rivalling ‘Mediovariegata’ for colour, in previous years it has been a little less bright.

‘Stripe it Rich’ was very slow to get well established but at around six years old it is now doing well and spreading a little each year. The leaves arch gracefully outward making a mound around 9 inches high and they are a pale green with white stripes mainly in the centre and margins of the leaf. Its autumn colouring is relatively pale and low key.

‘Aureola’ or ‘Alboaurea’ is by far the most widely grown variety in the UK and has green and yellow striped leaves, the yellow being very bright and dominating the green. It is quite a strong grower, spreading slowly and making mounds feet across with the shoots upright in the centre and arching to touch the ground at the edges. Its winter colouring is considerably less intense than some of the others.

‘Samurai’ I obtained from Knoll several years ago. For me it has been the most vigorous spreader with the stems slightly more widely spaced than other forms. Another variegated variety, the stripes in this instance are nearly white, especially early in the season. It colours a bit later than the rest, in late November being still predominantly green.

Some varieties have been selected for the reddish tints that the leaves get in late summer and autumn. I have two such, ‘Beni-kaze’ and ‘Nicolas’, both very young plants, the former in the ground, the latter in a pot. Neither have coloured at all this year. ‘Nicolas’ is still fairly green, ‘Beni-kaze’ a rather ordinary dead grass colour.

‘All Gold’ is the brightest and the floppiest variety that I have. The leaves are a uniform bright yellow from spring until autumn. Even now at the end of November it is the most yellow of all of them. It is also pretty much flattened so I would expect it to be the first to break up under winter conditions.

The other variety I have in a small pot bought this year. It is another variety from Seiont and is called ‘Sun Flare’. It appears to be similar to ‘All Gold’, an unvariegated, yellow leaved form.

Looking at pictures from the last couple of years, my original clump of ‘Mediovariegata’ has been the last to be cut down, sometime in February. The others made it to February one year, but had been cut down by the same time in the other year. Our cats took to jumping in them one year, which didn’t help. Our Cornish climate is wet and windy, I would expect them to last better in drier and more sheltered gardens.

The other great merit that they have is to be completely deciduous. So many grasses are spoiled because they gradually accumulate dead stems and leaves which are impossible to remove. Hakonechloa starts to shoot very early so it is necessary to remove the previous year’s shoots before the new ones are more than an inch high. Then you start each year completely clean.

Mine are in very ordinary soil, mostly in part shade, ‘Samurai’ and one ‘Mediovariegata’ mostly in sun. They don’t like to dry out but I don’t find I need to water the shaded ones at all, the others rarely. I would imagine that growing them a little hard; by which I mean growing in poorish soil and not feeding, and watering only when very dry; would keep them shorter and less inclined to flop.



Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’


Helenium ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ was discovered as a seedling growing in the Sahin trial grounds in Zeeland, Holland. It was selected in 1996 for its long flowering season.

For me it starts flowering around mid July and has a main flowering period of four to six weeks, then produces a trickle of blooms into the autumn. It is about 90cm tall, entirely self supporting and compared to several other Helenium varieties I have grown, is slug resistant. It tolerates but doesn’t like, drought.

The colour is yellow overlaid with reddish orange, the base and tips of the petals remaining yellow. The prominenet central cone is dark brown, made paler as the florets open from the edge in towards the middle.

All that said, I still haven’t got to the main reason why I have such high regard for it as a garden plant, which is that it is by far and away the most popular plant in my garden with bees, butterflies, hoverflies and oddly, crickets. On a sunny day, there will be more many insects on my quite large clump as in the rest of the garden put together.

Both the individual flowers and the whole clump demand a photographers attention and having just purchased a new telephoto lens, I have been snapping away.


Hydrangeas are to an extent the victims of their own success. There are very few plants to rival the mophead macrophylla hydrangeas for providing the maximum flower display for the minimum of effort. As a result they are absolutely everywhere and familiarity rapidly breeds contempt.

The good news is that they are also a rare example of a plant group where you can have your cake and eat it. Search around just a little and you can find varieties that are just different enough to escape being branded as ubiquitous, but are still floriferous and undemanding to grow. That at least is what I have aimed for when I have added them to my garden.

The July 2016 issue of “The Garden” has an article about Hydrangea serrata and its varieties, describing them as “more nuanced, refined, elegant and chic” in comparison to the mophead hortensias. I agree completely, I have six, plus at least one hybrid.

Hydrangea serrata ‘Shichidanka’ has grown only 3 feet in the many years I have had it. It is in shade, but within the rootrun of a sizeable maple, so it is often dryer than it would like. This year has been a good one for it, with plenty of moisture available and I have been rewarded with a fair sprinkling of tiny blue stars that whilst possessing a certain charm can hardly be described as a display. Herself has been trying to get me to dump it for years but I have resisted. I should propagate it and get it growing in a better spot.


Hydrangea serrata ‘Shichidanka’

Hydrangea serrata ‘Shojo’ is stronger growing, with lacecap flowers in abundance, each with only a few ray florets. The blue colour seems to have been applied sparingly, adding to its delicate appearance. In less acid soil it would create the same effect in pink.


Hydrangea serrata ‘Shojo’

Hydrangea serrata ‘Fuji-no-taki’ AGM has only managed to get about a foot tall and two wide in the four or five years I have had it. Reliably smothered in flowers each year, it has become a real favourite of mine. The ray florets are numerous and largely hide the fertile flowers; each being a small double with the bracts diminishing in size as well as getting greener towards the centre. It has a tendency for the blooms to become spotted in the garden but this is much more noticeable in photographs than on the actual plant. I have in the past grown it under cover and it didn’t suffer in the same way. Hopefully as it gets taller and the flowers get improved air circulation, the problem will diminish.


Hydrangea serrata ‘Fuji-no-taki’

Hydrangea serrata ‘Kurenai’ has the usual lacecap flowers but is distinctive for the strong red colour that they turn as they age. It starts out deep pink, inclined to mauve on my acid soil, with the small fertile flowers being blue. Dark stems and a dark reddish-purple flush to the leaves add to the effect. It is not the strongest grower and I shall have to ensure it doesn’t get swamped by the plants around it.


Hydrangea serrata ‘Kurenai’

Hydrangea serrata ‘Tiara’ AGM was named and introduced by Maurice Foster, author of the aforementioned article. My plant is now around five years old and stands around three feet tall with a spread of about five feet. It is hard to see a leaf for the amount of flower it is carrying. Mine is a clear light blue which would become pink on an alkaline soil. It hasn’t done it for me but I have seen it produce good autumn colour at RHS Rosemoor.


Hydrangea serrata ‘Tiara’

Hydrangea serrata ‘Sizun’ has far more ray florets than ‘Tiara’, approaching a mophead effect by comparison, a comparison that I cannot avoid having planted them beside each other. The serrated petals and green leaves edged purple save it from looking coarse but I may at some future date move it. Both plants suffer from such close proximity, ‘Tiara’ looks like it is producing a lesser display, ‘Cap Sizun’ borders on looking common.


Hydrangea serrata ‘Cap Sizun’

‘Garden House Glory’ is a variety I planted only this year. A hybrid between serrata and macrophylla, it is a lacecap that I am expecting to flower pink, even in my conditions, and to be repeat flowering. ‘Izu-no-hana’ is a macrophylla variety with double flowers in lacecap heads but again it has only been in the ground since last autumn, so no pictures yet.

The Dutch Ladies series of Hydrangeas appeared in suppliers catalogues around 2010. Hydrangeas were undergoing a big surge in popularity and a good many new varieties were appearing, something of a chicken and egg affair. To my mind the most distinctive of them were the ones that combined strong red-purple colouring in the new foliage with bicolored flowers, typically white with a pink edge. Hydrangea ‘Sabrina’ is perhaps the best of the ones I have seen, but sadly I don’t have it. The old Japanese serrata variety ‘Kiyosumi’ almost certainly had a part to play in their parentage, it having these characteristics but on a rather unruly plant.

Hydrangea ‘Selina’ and H. ‘Salsa’both have dark emerging foliage, going largely green by  August. ‘Selina’ has lacecap heads with ray florets that I have seen in reddish pink and purple-pink. ‘Salsa’ is a mophead with strong pink flowers grading to white at the centre. Both of mine are young plants that haven’t really got into their stride yet but from which I expect great things.


Hydrangea ‘Selina’


Hydrangea ‘Sabrina’

Around the same time but from a different nursery, I bought young plants of ‘Dolce Kiss’. It infuriates me when I see names like this:
HYDRANGEA macrophylla DOLCE (R) KISS ‘Dolkis’ cov  Hortensia DOLCE® Kiss
Nurseries are left not knowing what to sell it as, customers don’t know what to call it. Which is a shame because it is a beautiful plant. The new leaves are strongly infused with purple, the lacecap flowers have ray florets which are white with a pink or purplish edge.


Hydrangea ‘Dolce Kiss’

Anyone who knows Cornwall will know Trago Mills. Love it or hate it, there’s no getting away from the fact that their plant centre can and frequently does turn up some surprising things. In this instance it was a large delivery of “You & Me” series hydrangeas. These are of Japanese origin and appear to be a range of compact double flowered mopheads. I suspect they have been treated to keep them compact but suffice it to say that the one I failed to resist was ‘Together’. Fittingly herself and I settled on it as the one we both liked. It’s gone in a pot, which scuppers its chances of flowering blue without treatment, so I expect it to flower pink or purplish pink next year, if we haven’t killed it before then.


Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Together’

The last three, bringing the total to fifteen, which surprised me greatly, are Hydrangea paniculata varieties. A few years ago, after quite a number of new varieties had appeared on the market, the RHS ran a trial of paniculata varieties. They concluded that a lot of the new ones were a big improvement on a lot of the old ones and made a lot of changes to the AGM status within the group. Unfortunately, breeding has continued apace and the exercise could probably do with being repeated. I have ‘Unique’, ‘Early Sensation’ and one with no label. That’s the one in the picture, trained on a 30 inch stem so it shows above the low hedge that it stands behind. Generally reckoned to flower on current season’s wood after the macrophyllas are done, this one has different ideas. I may be able to identify it when it’s fully out, but I doubt it.


Plant Profile: Camellia ‘Night Rider’

Camellia ‘Night Rider’ possesses the sort of qualities that would lead one to expect it to be massively popular, yet it is but rarely seen.


New growth 16/06/2010


Raised in New Zealand by Os Blumhardt, its parents are C.’Ruby Bells’ x C.’Kuro-tsubaki’. It first flowered in 1980. The flowers are dark red and the petals waxy textured. It flowers late; this year in May when most other Camellias had finished. New growth is also late, commencing mid May. The new leaves are dark, glossy, purple red, particularly effective with back lighting. They turn dark green as summer progresses.


Flowers 26/04/2015



Flowers 11/05/2016


The individual blooms are about 5cm across and carried quite freely on my maturing bush. Flowering occurs before the new growth commences and against a backdrop of smallish dark green leaves.

The new shoots are 10cm long and are all the growth that the plant makes in a season. There is no second flush in summer so growth is very slow compared to most camellias. It is this slow growth that makes it unattractive to nurseries and ensures it is unlikely ever to become common.

Propagation would be by semi-ripe cuttings of current season’s growth taken mid-late July. Red pigment permeates every part of the plant; the centre of the stems and the roots being strongly infused .

Growth is compact and upright such that at ten years in average conditions it will be approaching a metre in height with a width of around 75cm. Camellias are long lived and it will no doubt get to 4 or 5 metres in time. It seems to grow well in full sun as well as in part shade and will be denser and more free flowering in the former.


New growth 12/06/2016