Now that I have been awarded the National Collection status for my Corokia collection, I would like to promote this largely unknown and undervalued genus.
I think the Corokia genus is a very useful plant which is particularly suited to seaside conditions being drought wind and salt tolerant and quite hardy up to -8degrees C provided it is given good drainage.As a plant originating from New Zealand it shares similar “island conditions” to the UK. It is a very versatile evergreen shrub, easy to grow, able to withstand semishade and not susceptible to diseases. Corokia species and hybrids have a delicate, attractive foliage, and come in a great variety of colours from subtle shades of green through to bronze, yellow and silver, even variegated foliage. They reach different heights, and can be clipped being a good alternative to box, as ‘buxus’ is prone to ‘box blight’, and therefore can be incorporated in any size garden.They can be used as attractive specimen plants, or as a hedge, or be part of a mixed border.
There are still few cultivars available to the general public, but a forward looking nursery like Trevena Cross in Cornwall is selling some interesting and unusual ones.
I started growing them over 15 years ago having first been introduced to Corokia x virgata ‘Yellow Wonder’ by a friend growing one by the seaside in Suffolk. I feel that Australasian shrubs and trees in general and Corokias in particular provide structure, all year interest, and their shapes and foliage bring an interesting dimension to any garden.
Last February the friend who introduced me to my first Corokia more than fifteen years ago (See Blog April 20th) came to visit me. I told her of my intention to apply for a Corokia National Collection and showed her all the plants I had acquired in the last few years. She was suitably impressed and told me to go for it. She then drove back to Suffolk. I also went out leaving my mobile behind. Within minutes of my return home my mobile rang, it was my friend: “Mona, I’m in Waitrose near Ipswich.” ‘So she is shopping in Waitrose, why is she telling me this?’ I thought. “Yes…?” I said.”The thing is there is a plant stand in front of the store, and they are selling Corokias. They look different from the ones you showed me…The label says Corokia “Limey”,she replied. “There is no such Corokia in existence,I should know!” I said rather tersely. “Well, that’s what it says,do you want it or not” she countered.” “Of course get them anyway,please,” I said.
She brought them down to London the following week.In all my research I had never come across a Corokia ‘Limey’. After peering at the label through a magnifying glass for a considerable amount of time I finally came across a website address in minute print: www.sonkoot.nl which proved to be a very large nursery in Holland.I rang them immediately,they were most charming and helpful and they confirmed that they had indeed introduced this brand new Corokia hybrid “Limey’.
Moral of the story: The most exciting new discoveries hang by a thread, or rather by a few minutes. Had I not returned home when I did, my friend would not have been able to contact me, she would have left Waitrose without my precious new Corokia, and I would not have acquired this exciting new plant to add to my collection, or discovered this Dutch nursery which incidentally has introduced other new Corokia hybrids.
About six years ago I discovered “County Park Nursery” in Hornchurch Essex. My internet search revealed that they grew a great variety of Australasian plants including Corokias. So I decided to pay them a visit. Behind a 30s bungalow within a dilapidated and overgrown site I discovered a veritable treasure trove of rare and extraordinary plants, many of which I had never seen before.
As soon as I met the owner Graham Hutchins I realised that getting him to part with his precious plants, and prize them away from him would be like drawing teeth! Every time my eye fell on a desirable specimen he would firmly state: “This is for trade”! Two of us can play this game, I thought, so after a long battle of wills I managed to extract some wonderful shrubs from him, a “Pittosporum pittiodes”, a lovely “Malaleuca” and quite a few Corokias, including one he had bred which still had no official name.
I returned a year later and managed to come away with a few more plants. Sadly Graham who was in his eighties passed away over four years ago. Thankfully his grandson Paul Boosey has taken over the nursery and is keeping his grandfather’s legacy going. With his help I added considerably to my Corokia collection as well as to my other Australasian plants. The idea of a National Collection started germinating…
The May Garden openings are now behind me. The NGS events on May 16th and 17th went very well: the weather was lovely and 200 people came. They all admired the variety of the plants and were intrigued by the rare and unusual ones, particularly the Pseudopanax and the Corokia collection (see Photo gallery and Plants of interest).
The colour and texture as well as the pruning and shaping of the plants also attracted favourable comments, as did the general layout and design of the garden.
Unfortunately the Garden opening in aid of the Red Cross on
May 31st was not such a success: the weather was cold and miserable and it had been raining all morning until lunchtime. Only 20 people came, nevertheless those who did come were very appreciative. I must say the garden did look its best with most of the Roses and Clematis in bloom.
My love affair with Corokias started nearly fifteen years ago. It was not a sudden flash in the pan which then promptly burned itself out, but a gradual discovery which has now culminated in an overwhelming passion.
A friend of mine who lives by the seaside in Suffolk had been growing a “Corokia x virgata Yellow wonder” with great success and was pleased with its tolerance to wind and sea salt. So I acquired one and planted it in my front garden and over the years pruned it to give it a parasol shape.
After an inspiring trip to Cornwall and the “Lost Gardens of Heligan” amongst others, I discovered Burncoose Nurseries and bought a couple more varieties namely” Corokia cotoneaster” and” Corokia x virgata Frosted chocolate”.
At first I thought that Corokias comprised only a few varieties, it’s only in recent years that I found out that the genus consisted of three species of evergreen shrubs, namely “Corokia macrocarpa”,” Corokia buddlejoides” and “Corokia cotoneaster”. The many varieties of “Virgata” are a cross between” C.cotoneaster” and “Corokia buddlejoides”.
My passion for Australasian plants started many years ago. I was always drawn to them I suppose because of my Mediterranean background. A trip to Australia in 1995 lead to the discovery of Eucalyptus trees, in their amazing variety. I was bowled over by the variety, the beauty and the sheer exuberance of all the Australian plants I encountered.
So when I moved to Muswell Hill at the end of 1999 I resolved to have a go at growing some of them here. I found that plants from New Zealand also adapted very well to our climate as theirs is closer to ours than the Australian one. It also helps that there is a mind boggling variety of these plants that can be found in the UK. And as for their decorative value, you just have to look at a Callistemon or at a Sophora microphylla in full flower, to name but two, to be convinced.
The fact that a great number of the shrubs and trees are evergreen means one has the great benefit of year round interest . Also many of them give an architectural or exotic dimension to our gardens, and add that magic of far away places (Pseudopanax.)
One of my great discoveries about ten years ago was a very unusual conifer from New Zealand: “Dacrydium cupressinum”. However at the time I managed to lose the label soon after havin
g planted it and promptly forgot its name. It’s taken me all this time to rediscover it. What I find astonishing is the filigree like delicacy of its needles which is a characteristic of quite a few Australasian shrubs or trees which have very thin and pointed leaves or small delicate ones (Grevillea Canberra Gem, Olearia odorata, Olearia virescens, Melicytus angustifolius to name but a few.)