Potentilla - an indispensable, albeit not entirely lovable, shrub
Home & Garden

Potentilla - an indispensable, albeit not entirely lovable, shrub

In some ways, writing works against me.

For instance, there is nothing blue about the word ‘blue’ when it appears here before your eyes.

And any description of a scented lily that I may give will hardly give rise to a fragrant vapour from the words you read.

Regretfully, I only deal in symbols. I am of course always conscious that something more is expected of good garden writing if it is to jump up and seize your imagination.

So once again I ask you to imagine a warm summer’s evening (any month from now onward) as the light gently fades.

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A walk around the garden at this time is quite a different experience to what it might have been even an hour earlier, for in the half-light some plants recede into the gloaming and others stand out.

A star performer at these times could easily be the shrubby potentilla P. fruiticosa.

I doubt whether anybody could emotionally love this hardy shrub.

The best that can be said of it, is that it is quite indispensable - and that’s saying a lot for anything or anybody.

Potentilla fruiticosa and its varieties are certainly indispensable if you want to have a show of flowers in either white, yellow, red, or orange, during the months May to October.

For all that, I have often advised that newcomers to gardening have a fundamental choice to make when it comes to garden shrubs: evergreens or deciduous?

Potentilla is deciduous and I must confess it looks miserable during winter.

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Thankfully, this is the best time to prune and shape it. It is only going to grow to three feet or thereabouts anyway, so it’s worthwhile shaping properly.

In spring, the stems fill thickly with grey-green leaves to create a rounded mound of foliage.

Initial growth is rapid but slows as the shrub ages. All varieties prefer a sunny garden which can boast well-drained soil.

As to hardiness, these are used a lot in Sweden, which is evidence enough of their hardiness.

They develop branch frameworks where flowers grow year after year, and generally require minimal pruning.

As outlined, the shrubby potentillas are the longest flowering of all, supplying a succession of coloured blooms like miniature single roses from May to autumn.

Many of the horny-handed use it as a hedge, and a mixture of the white Abbotswood with yellow Goldstar or plain fruiticosa would make a much more permanent feature than lavender.

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It should also be considered as a replacement for topiarised box balls that may have been infected with box blight or worse still the caterpillars of the box moth.

If you inherit an unwieldy potentilla shrub that flowers poorly, rejuvenate the plant now by pruning off all the stems. Cut as close to the ground as possible.

The shrub will regenerate but not flower this summer. It will however be vigorous and full of blossom next year and thereafter.