How to grow: Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Irene Paterson’
Pittosporums, like their fellow New Zealander the hebe, are generally happy with the climate in these islands – particularly in the south and west, and near the coast. In mild gardens they form an excellent windbreak or hedge. In colder gardens they do best in the shelter of a house, or against a south- or west-facing wall. Here they can be used as a climbing-frame for lightweight late-flowering clematis.
These shrubs can be manipulated in various ways by pruning. As they are small leaved they can be sheared over – almost topiarised, like box – in midsummer. This makes them easy to accommodate in a formal setting.
Alternatively, by giving only an occasional trim or by removing the shoots from within the woody framework, you will encourage the form to become bushier and more relaxed. In this way pittosporum will work as a permanent structure in a mixed border – particularly welcome in these bleak days of winter. Another advantage is that the foliage is highly ornamental when used with cut flowers.
Pittosporums do not seem to attract aphids or suffer greatly from disease, but any appearance of a fungal leaf-spot can be dealt with by spraying with Systhane.
In common with all evergreen shrubs, there is a somewhat alarming period in late spring, coinciding with the appearance of a great flush of new foliage, when the bushes have a mini autumn and messily off-load their oldest leaves.
P. tenuifolium seems to tolerate all manner of growing conditions. I grow mine under the canopy of a willow in a north-facing border that gets absolutely no sun in winter, and facing south in soil that is very wet in winter but dries to a crust in summer. An annual mulch of organic matter is all they seem to need to flourish.
In an unsunny border ‘Irene Paterson’ looks lovely in spring with Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’, Helleborus x sternii and snowdrops. Here it is trimmed to a roundish shape to coincide with the long flowering period of a neighbouring cream-budded, white-flowered Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Madame Emile Mouillère’.
In sun, I grow the same pittosporum next to feathery green fennel, under pink climbing roses and the soft-blue Clematis ‘Perle d’Azur’; while in dry dappled shade, under a thin-canopied tree, another specimen sits sturdily next to purple sage, a flash of Bowles’ golden grass – and double white rugosa roses. The purple-leafed Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Purpureum’ makes a great statement when grown against a clean white wall.
Where to buy
Burncoose Nurseries, Gwennap, Redruth, Cornwall TR16 6BJ (01209 860316; www.burncoose.co.uk). Stocks more than a dozen different varieties of Pittosporum tenuifolium, including ‘Irene Paterson’, and has no minimum quantity for mail order.
RHS Wisley Plant Centre, near Woking in Surrey GU23 6QB (01483 211113; www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/shopping/wisleyplantcentre.asp) lists several varieties on its website. There is no mail order available, but staff will take orders and reserve stock for people to make personal visits.