Extraordinary elaeagnus

Elaeagnus has proved to be a shining star in the November garden

Elaeagnus × ebbingei is a shrub that quite often doesn’t get a second look, I even wrote it off myself many years ago, as dull and boring, when my brother brought one home as a surplus plant from his first building project. This drab plant got planted, eventually, in probably the most difficult spot I could find, under a huge Lawson’s cypress that was most likely planted when the house was built in the 1930s.


The beauty of elaeagnus revealed

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I even noticed it again, coming back home one term break from horticultural college. Despite the fact that it was planted in permanent shade and received hardly any moisture due to the impenetrable canopy of the looming conifer, it had matured quite well. I was surprised by how glossy green and healthy the foliage was, and then, when caught by a breeze, the vibrant silvery underside was unveiled, adding flashes of light to a previously dark and shady part of the garden.

I decided at this point to start to give it the love and treatment it deserved, tipping the new growth every now and then to keep it compact, as well as watering and mulching it to help it to establish further.


Planting for winter interest

During the autumn, I realised that elaeagnus is a hidden treasure. In November it produces tiny, fairly insignificant white flowers, hidden amongst the foliage, emerging from the leaf axils. These flowers would go almost completely unnoticed if it wasn’t for the sweet and heady fragrance that fills the air. Quite often I get asked; “What’s that lovely smell, and where is it coming from?”

It’s safe to say that I have come to love this plant, and to value it for its toughness and undemanding qualities. I now have a decent sized planting of it on the Winter Walk here at Harlow Carr, where its dark evergreen foliage is the perfect foil for several different varieties of willows (Salix) and dogwoods (Cornus).

I’ve seen it planted in deep shade, full sun and used as a very impressive hedge, where the silvery tone to the newly emerged foliage looks particularly striking and unusual. It is a great plant which probably isn’t appreciated quite as much as it should be.

More information

Shrubs for year round interest
AGM shrubs for autumn berries
Winter flowering shrubs

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