Plant of the month: ghost bramble

An otherworldly bramble lights up the winter garden for many months

Rubus thibetanusHalloween may be dead and buried for another year, but there are still ghostly sightings to be seen along the Winter Walk here at Harlow Carr. More specifically the ghost bramble – also known as Rubus thibetanus.

For most of the year this bramble relative appears as an ordinary or slightly more handsome version of the hedgerow blackberry, having characteristic green pinnate leaves, five-petalled white flowers and juicy (inedible) blackberry fruits, but from the onset of winter, it sheds its green foil of leaves to reveal a striking cage-like framework of bright white prickly scrambling stems.

Rubus thibetanus stems offer stark contrast against its leafier and more colourful neighbours. Being deciduous, these plants look great when underplanted with spring flowering bulbs, such as winter aconite, snowdrops, Narcissus and Scilla, making the best use of limited garden space and increasing garden seasonality.

Rubus thibetanusOriental origins

Native to East Asia and western China this plant can reach an impressive 2.5m (8ft) by 3m (9ft) at a medium growth rate. It is suitable for most soils types but prefers moist, well-drained soil. It will grow in full sun or part shade - get these conditions right and the plant will thrive. Provided with ideal conditions this plant may, in fact, become a bit invasive, leaving its allotted space in its border and swamping neighbouring plants.

Fortunately this plant is quite easy to control, as it can be cut right back to the ground in late winter. Doing this periodically will refresh the plant causing it to produce new strong, bright white stems in the following year. After cutting feed liberally with a balanced fertiliser or manure. This plant is relatively pest free and can be easily propagated by hardwood and root cuttings in winter.

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