EUCALYPTUS, along with Leyland cypress, suffers from a bad reputation. It seems that they trigger our ire by growing too well. It is certainly true that many species have an amazing growth rate. It would be foolhardy to plant one near a wall. But to dismiss the entire genus as a bunch of thugs would be a mistake.
Gum trees have many merits. I am thinking of Eucalyptus coccifera and Eucalyptus pauciflora subsp. Niphophila, with their glaucous, narrow, pendulous leaves set against a peeling trunk of ghostly grey and white. It is true that they are not all hardy. Certain species are only for the milder garden, and some would need a cool conservatory in this country.
Two years ago, I planted a new variety of Eucalyptus gunnii, “Azura”. It had come about through a French Forestry Commission breeding programme, and was a reject from their point of view: it was compact and slow-growing.
Luckily for gardeners, the French acknowledged its beauty, and “Azura” entered the ornamental market. I can vouch that, while it has the airy rounded silver foliage from its E. gunnii parents, it seems much more biddable. I pruned it in the spring to create a single trunk with bushy growth atop, but it could equally be kept as a shrub or even used as hedging.
I came across Grafton Nursery, which exhibited a wide range of gum trees at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival. In Australia, New Zealand, and Tasmania the span of latitude and altitude of any given species will vary hugely. Grafton sources seed from the colder regions; so their plant stock will be hardier, and more varieties can be grown outside in UK gardens.
Chatting to its co-owner, Hilary Collins, I explained my desire for hardy evergreens to give a touch of “Mediterranean” to my gravel border. She recommended Eucalyptus kybeanensis. It shares the attributes I admire in “Azura”, but, being greener, sits better in the rural British landscape. At the same time, it bears more than a passing resemblance to the botanically distant olive. This was the selling point for me.
Sooner or later, my real olive will succumb to a harsh Midlands winter, whereas the “Kybean Mallee Ash”, as it is commonly known, should sail through. I also came away with Eucalyptus moorei subsp. Moorei. It has lovely bark, a certain elegance, and can be grown in a container on the patio. Both were growing in futuristic plastic pots covered in holes: Air-Pots.
Eucalyptus can easily become pot-bound, and do not readily spread their roots to anchor themselves when planted in the open. By encouraging a mass of fibrous roots, and preventing root-circling, Air-Pots ensure establishment in the plant’s new home.
Grafton Nursery has clearly done its homework. I recommend its website for advice on selecting and planting from this misunderstood genus.