THE MODERN MINT BLOG
Phillyrea is a shrub I came across a fair few years ago, in my search for clippable topiary shrubs for my own topiary work.
It seems to have been out of favour a long time – this piece about the plant by Mary Keen is from 2004, encouraging gardeners to try it out. But those 13 years pale in comparison to the last time it was popular – in the 17th and 18th centuries!
This Blog About Phillyrea Teaches You…
- Why it might be unpopular now
- Shows photos of it as beautiful topiary, as well as a mature plant
- Suggests the tool you need to prune it
- Takes advice from Architectural Plants on how to grow it
- Considers its role as a valuable plant for bees
Why Is Phillyrea Unpopular Now?
This is a tough one to answer, especially when you see how lovely the plant is…
It is a member of the olive family
Looks amazing clipped into topiary!
The fact it isn’t used more may have something to do with cost and availability. Most places who say they stock it will not have any available, while prices seem to vary greatly – a pre-clipped, cloud-pruned shrub will cost a lot more as you are paying for the topiarists time making it into that shape, while a normal 2 litre pot will be in the £8-10 range.
We heard from a nurseryman it is incredibly difficult to propagate, which is backed up by the Mary Keen piece on this lovely shrub.
We do not agree with her on one thing she says though…
“It seems a pity to clip the larger leafed form (latifolia) – if you must, tackle it with secateurs as you would laurel, so that the leaves are never sliced in half; this makes evergreens look dreadful. P. angustifolia can be clipped in the same way as box or holm oak.”
Nope! Shears will do just fine on this tree! Especially good shears….
Like a large head of broccoli.
How To Grow Phillyrea
Here is what Architectural Plants (where you are most likely to get a pre-cloud pruned plant) have to say about it:
“Tough as old boots. It’ll grow in sun or shade and on any soil but to get the best out of these trees they need space and light. You could say, the more exposed, the better.
It clips beautifully.
It’s only peccadillo is a terrible weakness for white fly. They’re inconvenient but there’s little you can do so ignore them.
We often sell these when restoring Tudor, Elizabethan or Mediaeval gardens. There’s masses of evidence to show that Phillyrea was used extensively hundreds of years ago. The diarist John Evelyn writes of them frequently – as if they were then as common as box, yew and holly.
What happened? They used to be so widespread and now they’re rare.
Garden historians are perplexed and so are we.”
Fantastic piece from a lovely nursery.
Phillyrea – Good For Bees?
John Worlidge (who smartly advocated we make cider, not wine here in the UK, because that suited our climate better… oh how times have changed with English wine becoming the thing!) wrote in 1676:
“above any tree, the bees most affect the phillyrea; one sort of them beareth in those months (spring) an abundance of greenish blossoms, which yield great plenty of of gummy rosinny sweat, which the bees daily transport to their hives…. nothing can be more acceptable to your bees than a hedge of this tree about your apiary.”
If you can get Phillyrea cheap enough as a hedging plant, would this be worth a go?
We think so!
Finishing Up On Phillyrea…
This really is a useful plant – easy to grow, easy to keep in shape if you have a small garden, allows you to have fun with pruning tools when you give it the topiary treatment, reflects light from its leaves to brighten up the garden and can be a boon for bees.
We have planted it for one client, but will be making sure Phillyrea is down on the list of any plant schedule in the future.
And you should try growing Phillyrea too!
If you need help with any topiary or pruning in your garden, Phillyrea or otherwise, do contact me.
Brought By Bike is an excellent website I found last month, where businesses offer their services by (of course) bicycle. Modern Mint and my topiary work is now live on the site offering my topiary services, via bike, to the following two postcodes – CM1 CM2 Now I can imagine I will need to borrow a ladder should anyone have a larger shrub, but most town gardens in the Chelmsford area have a need not just for privacy but to let light into the house… so a balance must be struck when shaping hedges and shrubs to cover both needs. …
Transforming Topiary – a video made for the European Boxwood And Topiary Society by Charlotte Molesworth and I, in her garden. We take a dog topiary and work out how to update it, turning it into a bird. Worth a watch I think, and hopefully useful to you! You can see more of my clipping on the topiary page. Or read my Spring 2021 Topiary Provocation here.
Phillyrea is one of my favourite plants for topiary. I have been using it for quite a few years as a specimen shrub, mostly due to the fact it clips well and has a tough habit – all good characteristics for a topiary plant. It also has a reputation for being an excellent nectar source for bees… Read more about Phillyrea here. Mentioning this to Malcolm Thicke, a market garden historian and writer, he sent me a some photos of topiary and phillyrea mentioned by John Worlidge in Systema Horticulturae from 1682…. incredible! He also mentioned to me that in …