Currant affairs

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These flowering shrubs will grow just about anywhere, says David Overend, and with some of them you might get a pie too.

It’s been a good year for the flowering currant – blue skies always help emphasise the vivid scarlet of Ribes sanguineum.

In late spring, the blooms explode in a mass of colour; which is why it’s such a popular shrub. Sadly, for the rest of the year, Ribes sanguineum – which can also be persuaded to become an in formal hedge – is either clothed in dark green, somewhat unpleasantly aromatic leaves or just stands there, naked and twiggy.

Other reasons for its popularity are that it will grow just about anywhere, is propagated with ease and normally needs just a light going-over with the shears after the flowers have faded. But there’s a bit more to this family of hardy plants. Ribes can be deciduous or evergreen shrubs, and although many are grown as ornamentals, a few are cultivated for their berries (blackcurrants, for example).

Among those grown just for their flowers, ‘Pulborough Scarlet’ is far and away the most common. It’s a medium-sized, bushy deciduous shrub packed with drooping clusters of small, deep crimson flowers and probably the main reason why most people believe that all ornamental currants have red blooms.

But they don’t; there are pink-flowerers and there are those, like ‘White Icicle’, which, unsurprisingly, has white flowers. It still smells pretty gross, but it’s worth suffering the aroma just to enjoy the blooms.

Like most ornamental currants, ‘White Icicle’ is a vigorous deciduous shrub which can quite quickly grow to six or seven feet in height. Grow it in full sun and give it a rich soil and it could get even taller, so it’s important to plant it in the right position to keep it under control.

But it’s a hardy beast. Even in poor soil and facing due north it will still grow tall – and produce flowers, so it’s no wonder that it is still such a popular shrub.

Pruning is the key to keeping it under control, whether it’s being grown as a hedge or just a specimen at the back of a border.

A healthy plant will put on several inches of fresh growth each year, so it’s best to cut it back after flowering – and perhaps trim it again if it throws out too much fresh, leafy growth. It’s virtually impossible to kill an ornamental currant like Ribes sanguineum, so don’t be afraid to wield the secateurs or pruning shears.