Drawing up a list of Family Favourites to grace the acres outside the window

There should be a gardening equivalent of Family Favourites where people write to ask for a mention of their most-loved plant.

Certain plants would appear every week – roses, perhaps rhododendrons, and plenty of spring bulbs.

But any plant which can brighten up the darkest months is something which should be treasured – and ought to be included.

So it would be hard to disagree with those people who couldn't do without the likes of Elaeagnus pungens 'Maculata' whose big green leaves are splashed with gold; Euonymus radicans 'Silver Queen', which does a similar cheery job; and Ilex altaclarensis 'Golden King', the holly with a heart of gold.

And then there's honeysuckle – everyone knows the climbing, flowering, magnificently scented varieties, but few associate the family with the comparatively bland form of Lonicera nitida 'Baggesen's Gold'. But in extreme cold, the tiny yellow leaves never fail to impress and can often be tinged with purple. And when the sun shines...

This is one honeysuckle which is not grown for its blooms. People cultivate it as a single specimen or else grow it as a hedge. It's dense, easy to clip to shape, simple to propagate and fully clothed and working for all 12 months of the year.

And although it prefers a well-dug, rich soil and plenty of sun, it can tolerate most sites and situations. All in all, it's a worthy acquisition for any garden.

Buy a container-grown plant, grow it on for a few months and then take a load of four-inch cuttings. Plunge them into a shallow trench out of direct sunlight, water them in, and within weeks the majority will have formed new roots.

You will have all the ingredients for a small hedge at the fraction of the price. It's far quicker than holly, far more upright than euonymus and far more compact than elaeagnus.

Other great shrubs deserve to have a little space in every garden, but they don't really compare with the likes of Lonicera.

Mahonias tend to be planted with the best intentions but they can rapidly go downhill to become straggly and ugly specimens. Sad, because they have their merits. They are evergreen, their foliage takes on a purplish hue in winter, they have fragrant flowers and they even produce berries.

They have the great advantage of being happy just about anywhere. Got a shady spot? Plant a mahonia. Soil a bit on the chalky side? Plant a mahonia. Got a site in full sun? Plant a mahonia.

So, you have a family of plants which can fit in just about anywhere, provide decent, year-round interest and colour, and which won't threaten to take over the entire garden.

But on a really depressing December day, the likes of M aquifolium and m 'Charity', with all their wonderful attributes, are drab when stood alongside 'Bagessen's Gold'in all its winter glory.

YP MAG 11/12/10

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