“Pieris – a shrub with year­round in­ter­est,” says Gra­ham

For a shrub with year-round in­ter­est, pick a pieris, says Gra­ham Rice. Here are the ones to choose

Amateur Gardening - - This Week In Amateur Gardening -

LET’S get one thing out of the way first: namely that, like rhodo­den­drons, pieris pre­fer acid soil. But if your soil is neu­tral or limy – don’t turn the page! Pieris are very ac­com­mo­dat­ing shrubs.

First, they’re less par­tic­u­lar than rhodo­den­drons about the acid­ity of the soil; and, se­cond, they’re among the finest of all shrubs for large con­tain­ers. Pre­vi­ously called An­dromeda (and some­times still re­ferred to as such), pieris are well-branched ev­er­greens reach­ing up to 6½ft (2m) in 10 years. Some are more com­pact, while oth­ers will keep on grow­ing – although they are easy to keep to size if that’s what you need.

The leaves are dark and glossy, car­ried in clus­ters or, al­ter­nately, up the stem. In some va­ri­eties the fo­liage is dra­mat­i­cally coloured red, pink or even a creamy-rose as it emerges in spring – a strik­ing fea­ture that brings a whole ex­tra sea­son of colour to the dis­play.

The flower buds form in au­tumn and then sit there, hap­pily brav­ing the worst of the win­ter weather, wait­ing to ex­pand and open in April and May. In some, the colour of th­ese buds pro­vides in­ter­est dur­ing the colder months.

The flow­ers strongly re­sem­ble those of lily-of-the-val­ley, but are firmer and tougher, far less frag­ile, and held in more re­peat­edly branched sprays. Like lily-ofthe-val­ley, too, many are pure-white,

although a few are pale-pink or even dark-red. And in some va­ri­eties they ap­pear on pink or red stems.

Not sur­pris­ingly, pieris are of­ten men­tioned in the same breath as rhodo­den­drons when con­sid­er­ing shrubs for neu­tral or acid soil (I’ve just done it my­self). How­ever, in many ways I pre­fer them. They flower for longer, are much less hit-you-be­tween-the-eyes in their colour­ing and – although the shade range is lim­ited – pieris are more sub­tle.

It’s true that some rhodo­den­drons have at­trac­tive fo­liage, but none has the shrimp-coloured young shoots of pieris. What’s more, very few rho­dos are var­ie­gated, and none of those that are have the charm and el­e­gance of a var­ie­gated pieris.

Don’t get me wrong, if you need vivid colour then rhodo­den­drons are the plants for you. But if your soil is acid, pieris will give you more sea­sons of colour­ful ap­peal. And if it’s not? Then they are among the best shrubs for con­tain­ers that you’ll find. And fi­nally, if deer are a prob­lem in your gar­den, they will al­ways leave pieris alone.

With its dainty flow­ers and glossy (some­times var­ie­gated) fo­liage, of­ten emerg­ing in shades of red, pieris has much to rec­om­mend it

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