I love finding out about things and I had a few surprises in the garden last week.
Firstly, I was planting some self-seeded Hollyhock plants in front of my Elaeagnus in the back border when I noticed a beautiful jasmine perfume. The Elaeagnus was bought about six years ago as a workhorse to protect and conceal the garden from brambles and overgrowth on the other side. It cost only a few euros and has performed its function as backdrop without complaint or problem despite being overshadowed by tall Ash trees. A couple of years ago two of the Ash trees were blown down in a storm and I now noticed the Elaeagnus had shot up some new branches and was looking happy.
I was surprised that the wonderful perfume was coming from my Elaeagnus. In fact disbelieving is more truthful. I had to search on the internet to convince myself I hadn’t mistaken its name. I discovered that I have probably got Elaeagnus ebbingei.
The leaves start out with this curious speckled pattern.
As the leaf matures it loses this silvery scaling and becomes a dark shiny green.
Now there are lots of little white flowers on the leaf axils.
The outside of the flowers is spotted with brown bark-like dots but the interior is waxen white.
Not perhaps the most beautiful of blossoms but the perfume carries for a distance and the bumble bees appreciate the nectar although I have not, as yet, seen them gather any pollen. I haven’t seen any honeybees on the flowers but the ivy is flowering in the woods around about and they are probably targeting that feast at the moment.
It is interesting to note the different techniques the two bees are using to obtain the nectar. The carder bee is sticking his head inside the flower to reach the nectar and will thereby help to pollinate the flowers by carrying the pollen on his body from flower to flower. The white tailed bumble bee, on the other hand, has a shorter tongue than the carder bee and finds it easier to pierce the tubular flower near its base to reach the nectar. By “stealing” the nectar in this manner it is less likely that she will pollinate the flowers.
While checking out the identity of my Elaeagnus I discovered that the fruits were often edible and that the Elaeagnus angustifolia produced similar yellow, fragrant flowers and a date shaped fruit called senjed. I hadn’t thought about senjed for many years and had never given a thought to where they grow. I like this strange fruit with its dry powdery centre, I suppose because I have always enjoyed trying unusual fruit and I have been rarely disappointed. So Elaeagnus angustifolia is another plant for my wish list as it is listed as having yellow fragrant flowers producing both nectar and pollen for the bees. I just have to find a suitable sunny position for it.
My next surprise is on the front garden wall on the right of the Heptacodium jasminoides which is still in flower and can be seen on the far left of the photograph.
Once again it was the perfume that alerted me that something else was flowering.
This time the flowers are as delicate and beautiful as their perfume but I have never seen a bee on them. In fact, the carder bumble bees fly directly overhead feeding on the hardy fuschia and then returning to the Heptacodium. It seems strange that such perfumed flowers do not attract pollinators but it is not a native european plant so perhaps it has been separated from its pollinating partners.
There are plenty of branches to snip and when brought indoors and put into water the flowers will perfume the room and keep for several days and the leaves for even longer.
From just a short distance away the flowers can hardly be seen but the Osmanthus heterophyllus “Goshiki” is another workhorse, staying evergreen throughout the year, accepting a day long shady position with minimal care in a fast draining soil. The flowers could easily be missed if it wasn’t for the perfume. Such nice surprises!