27 March 2010

golden transformers

The golden-leaf variant of the common stinging nettle - Urtica dioica 'Good As Gold' - has made some good stands in the past couple of years since arriving as small rooted pieces, wrapped in damp kitchen roll, from Rosie Castle's nursery Alter-natives (Rosie specialises in unusual forms of native plants).   Despite a pernicious parentage it seems to stay reasonably clumping and has not run about like the vicious green stingers do, it is sting-y but not overly aggressive.  It is, I think, a good garden plant and definitely not your average nettle but I do have the beholders eye.  The very first new shoots appear above ground looking little different from the green but they soon extend and the green of the new leaves is increasingly suffused with bronze highlights. 
In just a couple of weeks the bronzed areas brighten to a luminous gold that shines out as bright as daffodils and it is transformed.  Later in the season as they mature the leaves lose their intensity and the stems will take on reddish tones.  I will still like it then for its unmistakable nettle form. 
More commonly grown is the golden hop - Humulus lupulus 'Aurea' - a tough herbaceous climber that will rapidly twine its annual stems clockwise up any support to ten feet plus each year.  It has intense yellow foliage in full sun and will hang swags of papery flowers late in the season.  In part shade it is a softer green-yellow and I think nicer here
The shoots emerge from the soil a deep red,
but the first leaves open and show the colour to come.

Both of these are as easy to grow as you would expect in any reasonable soil.  They are greedy and much improved by chucking the occasional bucket of liquid feed on them through the growing season. Hops are easily increased from root cuttings taken in winter but the nettle is surprisingly slow to establish from small rooted pieces taken in early spring being vulnerable to molluscs until they toughen and get stingy.   

Throughout the summer I will no doubt hear many disparaging remarks concerning the nettles.  I may respond with a reminder that, like the nettles, silence is golden.    

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