Plant Focus: Pittosporum tenuifolium & its cultivars

As any ALDA Landscapes customer will tell you, I am a great fan of Pittosporums, and they feature in some form or another in just about every garden I design. They are an attractive and incredibly useful group of plants, with many uses in gardens.

The parent plant, Pittosporum tenuifolium is a fast(ish) growing neat conical evergreen shrub and a native of New Zealand, with grey green glossy leaves with wavy edges. It prefers sun or light shade, and is perfectly hardy. It may suffer in really hard winters, although it copes well with hard pruning, so frost damaged leaves can easily be removed, and the plant will regenerate. It does, however, prefer to be sheltered from really cold north east winds. It also sheds some of its older leaves in late Spring, which can alarm clients, but then soon shoots new ones.

Some of the taller Pittosporum culitvars

Pittosporum tenuifolium has many cultivars, often with variegated foliage such as Silver Queen and Garnetii (silver variegated), Variegatum (small leaves and creamy variegated), Irene Patterson (more white than green in its variegation), Abbotsbury Gold (green, with gold hints, especially in winter), and Tandara Gold (a light, wispy plant, with black stems and little golden leaves – a super plant to plant next to a stodgy big leaved plant in a glade setting).

Small is sometimes better…

The cultivars above are all taller varieties, but some of the most popular Pittosporums are the smaller forms. Tom Thumb is probably the best well known, with its bronze leaves, which start off green and turn bronze as they age. This is a good plant at the front corner of a border, or to mix with silver variegated or grey leaved plants, or those with red, white or purple (or even yellow!) flowers, or to plant either side of a path. Golf Ball, can similarly be trimmed to form a small to medium glossy green evergreen ball – it also has a variegated relative, Silver Ball.

How can they be used?

With such a huge variety of forms, Pittosporums have many uses in the garden. The taller plants provide neat attractive evergreen (yet soft) all year structure. They are great at anchoring the corners of a planting scheme and provide fantastic foliage interest, particularly when planted near plants with contrasting flower and/or foliage colour and texture (e.g. Pittosporum Silver Queen next to Physocarpus opulifolius Diabolo, next to…).

They are elegantly shaped (and not too wide) in their own right but can be hard pruned if necessary (they will regenerate from well down the branches). Gently pruned, they can also make an informal hedge. Left to their own devices, they will eventually form a small tree – as a designer, I am just hoping that one day more nurseries will sell Pittosporums pre-trained as small trees in the same way that Photinia Red Robin is so often seen these days.

The smaller forms are incredibly useful as dot plants along border edges, to mark the entrance and exits of paths, to add all year low level structure and foliage contrast at the border front – they just need the odd clip to keep in shape and in bounds.

Of course, Pittosporum foliage is also much loved by flower arrangers. And finally, Pittosporums also have tiny purple black flowers in late Spring – often overlooked as they are so small. But if you get up close, they are deliciously scented.

So, what’s not to like? And how many other garden shrubs are so universally useful and attractive?

 

Image credits: Pittosporum tenuifolium, Pittosporum ‘Silver Queen’ (behind Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum’), Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Irene Patterson’, Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Abbotsbury Gold’, Pittosporum ‘Tandara Gold’ 1, Pittosporum ‘Tandara Gold’ 2, Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’ 1, Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’ 2, Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’ 3, Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Golf Ball’ 1, Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Golf Ball’ 2, Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Magic’ pruned into a hedge, Pittosporums and other hedging plants at Wisley Gardens, Pittosporum hedge, Pittosporum ‘Tandara Gold’ being pruned to create an arch, Pittosporum tree in the New Zealand Garden at Ventnor Botanical Garden, Isle of Wight, Pittosporum ‘Irene Patterson’ in flower.

Special thanks to Laura (Ellie) Enking – all but one of the photos in this post came from her Pittosporum gallery on Flickr.

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