Growbag Blog

Euphorbias: the Dave or Boris dilemma

Summer’s arrived and it’s hard to believe that two weeks ago we were battling through driving snow in Scotland. It’s been grisly and if I was wondering quite why I was lifting turf to create a new shady bed  in nose-drippingly awful temperatures last month, the new plants were even more distraught. They spent the next four weeks  literally horizontal, fighting for their lives – all apart from the plucky Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Robbiae’ – which remained stalwartly unbowed throughout it all.

What fabulous plants euphorbias are, and a bigger selection of them than there is of gin – and that’s saying something these days. My very first plant when I was in the Highlands was a euphorbia – a tough, utilitarian thing donated by a neighbour and wholly characteristic of euphorbia’s dour common name – spurge. Since then, a wonderful E wulfenii I got from Elaine has provided stoical grace and colour all year round, for 20 Northern winters and counting.  The E ‘Black bird is a green and purple velvety pleasure which took a time to settle in my back border so when Laura came north on holiday and demanded a

And its glorious seed pod
And its glorious seed pod

division a la King Herod spotting a baby boy, I trembled slightly but with true euphorbic tenacity the black bird withstood the assault and sings on today.
I can hardly talk though. I coveted Laura’s E mellifera and she, with far more good grace, surrendered a plant she’d propagated. It died, even in my south facing sheltered bed. Bad luck I thought, and she gave me another one. See above. She gave me another one. I over-wintered it in my hall. I all but shared my electric blanket with it between November and March – but ultimately, see above, it was just too cold north of Inverness. I saw it flowering quite happily in an East Lothian garden last week – it’s amazing what a difference location makes.

While my gin tasting is certainly gaining momentum, I haven’t discovered anything like the 2000 different types of euphorbia in the world – I imagine there are more varieties in evidence in Sussex…..


Certainly, as you say, Caroline, it’s all about Location, Location, Location – I have two glorious E mellifera flowering in the Eastbourne garden at the moment; it’s a walled garden, and the honeyed scent from them on a warm day is almost overwhelming.

They are so happy on our mild chalk downland, that their seedlings pop up everywhere.  A very hard frost a couple of winters back killed the leaves, so I chopped off their great long stems (protected by long gloves – the white sap is extremely irritant) and they both sprouted fabulously from the base again.

An architectural and scented triumph - E mellifera
An architectural and scented triumph – E mellifera

A dry, rooty, gloomy corner seemed a good spot for the E amygdaloides ‘Robbiae’ that you mention, and indeed it did look rather marvellous in April/May with its sparkly lime-green flowers, but frankly mine is not a big garden, and it INSISTED on endlessly wandering under the paving stones and waving a cheery hello from the middle of the Geranium psilostemon when my back was turned.  So it had to go.  I am trying E griffithii ‘Fireglow’ there instead which flowers a little later, looks jollier with its orange flowers, but may yearn for more sun, once the trees are in full leaf. In France, I grow E corrigera ‘Goldener Turm’ which strikes me as a very handy addition to the stable – it has the architecturally-satisfying white-ribbed leaves of

The jolly E griffitthii 'Fireglow'
The jolly E griffitthii ‘Fireglow’

E mellifera, and the smack-in-your-face brilliant lime of E characias wulfenii or E epithymoides.  It’s also summer-flowering (which many are not) and happy in sun or shade – just the job. The plant company Crocus sell this paragon of euphorbic glory.

As Caroline says, a splendid family of plants, no question, but I tell what has never floated my boat in any way at all, are all those hundreds of creepy, snaky, cactus-y-looking jobs that make up the ‘rockery’ side of this genus.  Laura has tried to sell me the merits of these peculiar plants in the past, and I have tried, I’ve really tried.  They look marvellous in her garden, but in mine, they look stringy, resentful and unloved (how perceptive of them)……

Oh dear I’ve got bad news for you Elaine, replacing E amygdaloides with E griffithi is a bit like replacing David Cameron with Boris Johnson. The former is quietly pervasive and yes does pop up all over the place but in quite a polite way and cuts an understated dash with its jaunty lime green attire. The latter is a much more rumbustious affair which will initially delight, with its gaudy burnt orange topknot and ‘look at me’ presence, but it too has a running rootstock and a much more vigorous one. It won’t be so much popping up in other plants as ruthlessly barging them out the way. Before very long you will realise that it is actually a wayward show-off and like Boris Johnson COMPLETELY OUT OF CONTROL.

But I love both these spurges and am working on a system of integrating them into the garden in isolated sites next to paths or lawns which are regularly mown. Here is E amygdaloides happily colonising the base of our beech hedge.
E amygdaloides happily colonising the beech hedge
E amygdaloides happily colonising the beech hedge
I share my sisters’ love of E mellifera  and actually introduced them both to this wonderful plant via a batch of plants I raised from seed given to me by the Botanical Gardens of Madeira – it’s native home – so a particularly good strain. Rather like the parable in the bible with  one sister it thrived and went from strength to strength and with the other it withered on the vine (sorry Caroline).
Elaine doesn’t really do alpine and rockery species, I think she actually rather despises them, and plants have feelings too so E myrsinites has never really performed for her. Here it is tumbling out of a stone sink in my garden where it knows it is loved and appreciated.
E myrsinites - loved and Laura at least
E myrsinites – loved and appreciated…by Laura at least

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3 replies on “Euphorbias: the Dave or Boris dilemma”

Loving your writing – I didn’t know that reading about gardening was such fun! You could throw in a few more analogies with politicians I am sure. What is the Firage or the Corbyn in the plant world? Can’t wait to find out.

Haha! Love your comment. Yes exactly gardening in Scotland, England and France must be appropriate for Bexit analogies – thanks very much for the suggestion….

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