Exotic colour in April

by Adam Pasco

...sometimes you don't want your garden to look like everyone else's, and would prefer a plant or two that few others have.

Yellow flowers of Sophora 'Sun King'So many shrubs are popular because they're easy to propagate and grow by the nurseries, cheap to buy, reliable performers, and grow in many types of soil and situation. But sometimes you don't want your garden to look like everyone else's, and would prefer a plant or two that few others have.

One that caught my eye when it was first introduced by Hillier's 14 years ago is Sophora 'Sun King'. A chance seedling turned up in Hillier Arboretum, growing into this new garden-worthy shrub, and what a stunner it is. These bold golden bells have an exotic feel, developing in tight clumps close to shoot tips, and flowering for 4-6 weeks through the second half of April into May.

S. 'Sun King' is a reasonably hardy evergreen shrub, and mine has reached about 3m (10ft) in 14 years. It doesn't have a neat or compact shape, so now the stems at the base are bare, with leafy tips and flowers high up. It certainly attracts attention when in flower; although it's pretty widely available it's still unusual to see it in gardens.

Quite why so many of the flowers in our gardens during these early months of the year are yellow, I don't know. Winter flowering jasmine has been followed by forsythia (don't get James Alexander-Sinclair started on this again), daffodils have provided carpets of gold for weeks, and my perennial wallflower 'Fragrant Sunshine' is also in bloom. My neighbour also has drifts of dwarf yellow snapdragons, and even the dandelions popping up in my lawn are yellow!

Not that I'm complaining (not even about forsythia), as they catch the sunshine when it's shining, and brighten dull days when it isn't.

Reliable and even predictable plants have a place in our gardens, but everyone should find space for a few more unusual things.

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Gardeners' World Web User 28/04/2009 at 07:26

I agree, the garden 'supermarket' mentality is sad really. Reminds me of shopping in a once vibrant and diverse local highstreet that is now a replica of every other highstreet in the UK. Having said that though I am lucky to have a couple of excellent, if small, local nurseries run by plant addicts. Where the rare and unusual are the norm and prices don't break the bank...well not totally!

Gardeners' World Web User 28/04/2009 at 12:26

The large yellow flowers on my tree peony and the prolific single yellow roses on my "Canary Bird" shrub rose are buzzing with bees, which makes me think it is because the yellow is attractive to bees that we see so much of it in the spring. Similarly with blue flowers - grape hyacinths and camassias have joined the forget-me-nots. There are no endemic blue flowers in New Zealand - not even blue gentians, but introduced lupins are taking over they are so well pollinated!

Gardeners' World Web User 30/04/2009 at 17:42

My wallflowers,second year plants/huge, floppy,,full of flowers and perfume. my best ever.and still blooming. bettall

Gardeners' World Web User 30/04/2009 at 21:51

Adam, I seem to remember a horticulural course teaching us that spring flowers are often yellow because the insects that are around to pollinate in spring can see yellow most easily. So for a flower, it makes sense to be yellow then.

Gardeners' World Web User 01/05/2009 at 07:36

I,ve had a sun king in my garden for 5yrs.It survives our winters. Its now 8ft tall.It is covered in flowers every spring. My neighbour can,t find one in any local garden centre.

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