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Nature takes its gorse; Roger Clarke looks at the pyromaniac's dream.

I was walking through Sutton Park the other day and the gorse really did look a picture.

Common gorse, Ulex europaeus, is really a bit too... common. Attractive as it is from a distance, does not warrant a place in most gardens.

In a large garden, especially with a dry, sunny boundary or bank, with poor undernourished soil, it can provide a colourful and intruder-deterring barrier which can reach 6ft.

Named varieties are more compact and with more upmarket flowers.

Flore Pleno is much slower growing reaching only about 2ft or so.

It has double, yellow flowers which really pack the shoots. In time it can reach a staggering 3ft - if it manages to survive that long unscathed.

Gorse are the pyromaniac's dream. In drought they become a tinderbox and will catch fire if they get the merest hint of an opportunity.

With that in mind they are not a plant to have in long runs by the house, a fence or a shed.

The fire is not as destructive as it seems - unless of course it is by your house or shed, for instance. In the wild fire not only prepares the seed for germination but provides a place to grow.

The fire clears the land so the seed has no competition for light and nutrients, and provides a potash-rich topsoil. Come the first sprinkling of rain and the regeneration starts.

Regeneration by fire is one of nature's standard tools, where even forest fires are by design, clearing out undergrowth and dead wood, giving new plants the room and light to grow.

In many parts of the USA this fact is now being recognised. After years of preventing forest fires the forestry service is now looking at ways of controlled burns.

Natural fires are regular events, sweeping through with no lasting damage to trees, turning the forest floor debris into potash and generally cleaning everything up every 10-20 years.

Forest fire prevention, in some cases forests have not had a fire since the 20s, means that the forest litter and undergrowth builds up to the point that when the blaze eventually comes, whether by act of God, accident or arson, it is a disaster.

Instead of being scorched by a quick surface burn, the forests have enough stored fuel to burn fiercely for days.

The damage can be total. Instead of regeneration we have destruction.

In the garden there is less likelihood of trial by fire horticulture but it pays to be safe.

Ulex gallii Mizen is a dwarf gorse, only reaching about a foot high and wide, and flowering slightly later.

Spanish gorse, might carry the name and the bright yellow flowers, but is a broom, Genista hispanica, which unlike gorse, does not have spikes and in many varieties carries the flowers later.

Spanish gorse is a prolific bloomer with masses of upright racemes and produces a rather floppy, rounded bush which will eventually reach about 2ft.

In the garden it is useful in that it prefers a dry site, in full sun and with poor soil. It not only survives drought, but thrives on it.

Genista lydia is a dwarf broom, reaching only about a foot, again with masses of yellow flowers in late spring and early summer

At the other end of the scale is the Mount Etna Broom, Genista aetnensis which hails, not surprisingly from Sicily.

It is quite slow-growing in its early years but once it has a head of steam going will reach about 25ft tall and once they reach that size, Mount Etna brooms look magnificent when they are in full bloom.

I remember seeing one in bloom in the west of Scotland, where it towered to about 25ft making a stately tree smothered in yellow.

Genista x spachiana is a cross which has the novelty of being fragrant with a scent which in some plants can be quite powerful.

Rather like Clematis montana plants might all have the same name but there are variations in terms of fragrance.

The plant has delicate racemes of blooms up to about 5in long which appear over quite a long period from later winter to early spring.

It is not the hardiest of the brooms so needs a sheltered spot away from winter winds and out of frost pockets to have a chance.

In cities we are lucky in some respects in that temperatures are a couple of degrees higher, which might not seem a lot, but is the equivalent of being a few hundred miles south in open land.

Which is why mimosa can exist in gardens in places such as Moseley.

With April here work in the garden should be in full swing.

In the greenhouse prick out seedlings as soon as they are large enough to handle to prevent them becoming leggy and to minimise root disturbance.

Seedlings are easy to tease apart with the point of a pencil. Just remember to hold them by a leaf.

Seedlings might not appreciate it, but they will survive with a leaf damaged, but damage the shoot or growing point and you have an ex-seedling.

Space is usually limited in greenhouses so invest in shelving.

If you have a wooden greenhouse then the job is easy. Shelf brackets and planks from any DIY store.

With an aluminium structure you can still use cheap shelf brackets rather than the more expensive proprietary greenhouse shelving if you fasten them to the frame with cropped head bolts.

As plants become established then move them out to the cold frame to harden of or just make more space.

If the weather turns cold with heavy frost forecast then either cover the cold frame or move the trays back into the greenhouse at night.

Containers and hanging baskets with tender plants should not really go outside, for safety, until the end of May.

Planting them now gives the plants the chance to grow and become established so you have a decent sized display ready to go out.

The danger is cold weather, particularly frost, but as long as you can provide some sort of protection when needed the plants will be happy.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 4, 1998
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