My friend Trevor emailed me last week, wanting to know what the name was of a certain shrub growing in his garden.
It is in flower at the moment, and is covered every day with bees and butterflies.
My heart always sinks when I get queries like this, as I dread that I won’t be able to identify the plant in question.
However, this was a comparatively easy one – the shrub is escallonia ‘Iveyi’, a large, vigorous, evergreen with glossy leaves that are very large for the genus and a profusion of white flowers throughout the second half of summer and autumn.
It was originally found in Cornwall, which is a clue to its preferred position, as it thrives in coastal areas; inland it is not always completely hardy, and during the two hard winters we saw recently it has even shown some frost damage round here, especially in shrubs that have been hard-pruned the previous summer.
I’d never really thought of this plant as one high up on the list of essentials for attracting butterflies and beneficial insects like bees and hoverflies to the garden, but I immediately inspected the one growing next door that I recommended as an easy-care shrub for our neighbour many years ago, and, sure enough, there was a swarm (is that the right term, I wonder?) of peacock butterflies covering hers.
Trevor wanted to know how to make more of his – I find the least complicated and most reliable way is to peg down some more pliable branches so they are in contact with the soil, cover the pegged area with soil or compost, and wait.
By next autumn (2014) they should have rooted, and the following spring can be detached from the parent plant and replanted.
There are many other varieties of escallonia, a lot of them more hardy than ‘Iveyi’ that make good garden shrubs.
Most of them have flowers ranging from pale pink to deep crimson; there are a few with white flowers which are hardier, but the flowers are generally smaller and less showy.
Escallonia var. macrantha makes a superb, gale-proof, evergreen hedge which withstands clipping well, but is often overlooked when choosing screening plants or windbreaks.