Plants with variegation in their foliage give colour and interest at this time of year when flowers are rather scarce in the garden. Two presently catching my eye are both of Irish origin, Griselinia littoralis ‘Bantry Bay’ and Luma apiculata ‘Glanleam Gold’. Peculiarly, neither has showy flowers so it is a testimony to their attractiveness as garden plants that they are popular despite what might generally be regarded as a disadvantage.
Griselininia littoralis, a species with plain green foliage from New Zealand, is commonly used as a hedging plant and is valuable as a wind-break plant by the seashore, given its tolerance of salt-laden winds. As a hedging plant it is fast growing and easily maintained and generally came through our recent particularly harsh winters unscathed. The variegated form was spotted by Murdo McKenzie in the garden at Ilnacullin, Glengarriff, Co. Cork, in 1950 growing as a sport on the species. He removed the green shoots over time, leaving only the variegated sport and transplanted it to the garden at his cottage where it grows to this day, now to a height of more than 20 metres. It was named Griselia littoralis ‘Bantry Bay’.
The leaves have attractive cream patches in the centre with light green and darker green outside. This gives the shrub a bright and attractive appearance in the garden, something especially valued in the darker days of winter. I have noticed over the years that there is an inclination in this shrub to revert to green shoots following pruning when is occasionally necessary as this is a strong-growing plant. However, these are very easily rubbed out and do not dominate the variegated growth.
Those who grow Luma apiculata (syn. Myrtus apiculata), the common myrtle native to Chile and Argentina, will know how prolifically it self-seeds in the garden. Among innumerable seedlings in the gardens of Glanleam House on Valentia Island in Co. Kerry Peggy Uniacke, wife of Colonel Richard Uniacke who had purchased the property from the Knight of Glin, spotted one which was variegated. The leaves had creamy yellow margins, tinged pink when young, and it made a very attractive plant for the garden. The flowers are small, practically insignificant, and the shrub carries red berries through winter. It also has the attraction of colourful peeling bark and in time forms an attractive small tree which would suit the smaller garden very well.
Cuttings were distributed to various nurseries among them that of “The Glen o’ the Downs’ in Co. Wicklow, who quickly put their name to the plant, Myrtus apiculata ‘Glen o’ the Downs’ , however the name was not to last as cuttings had also been given to Neil Treseden of Treseden’s Nursery in Truro, Cornwall, and he had already applied the name Myrtus apiculata ‘Glanleam Gold’ and this name had precedence and is used to this day.
Neil Treseden had also received material of the variegated Griselinia from Murdo McKenzie and had suggested they use Murdo’s name for the plant but he declined and left the naming to Neil who settled on Griselinia littoralis ‘Bantry Bay’.
So, in the oftentimes peculiar wanderings of plants, two Irish plants went to Cornwall and came back to us to be grown and treasured in our gardens. Both are reasonably common plants and you should have no trouble sourcing them for your garden.
You can read of these and many other Irish heritage plants in “A Heritage of Beauty”, written for the Irish Garden Plant Society by Dr. E. Charles Nelson. It is for sale here on our website: A Heritage of Beauty