Last weekend I spent a grey, wet November morning wandering around the Ventnor Botanical Gardens. Although the weather was dull and gloomy the gardens were guaranteed to lift your spirits. The Isle of Wight benefits from a very mild climate and so many late summer perennials such as heleniums and penstemons were still in full swing. But what really caught my eye were some of the beautiful tree trunks whose colours and textures were glistening and glowing in the autumnal drizzle.
One of the most spectacular sights was the almost luminescent bark of Arbutus 'Hybrid Seedling'.
The Arbutus family is often overlooked despite offering evergreen trees and shrubs with ornamental bark, clusters of creamy flowers and colourful fruits. Surely ticking the boxes of providing year round colour and interest. They are largely tolerant of most soils and aspects and only ask that you protect them from cold winds and water-logging.
The fruits are long lasting and you will have new ones forming alongside the fully ripe , resulting in a wonderful mix of green, yellow and reds. Although they are said to resemble strawberries, to me they resemble fluffy Christmas baubles. They are also edible although an acquired taste. Needing minimal care they offer a lot in return for little input.
Arbutus unedo (AGM) is probably the smallest and can be grown as a shrub or trained to form a small tree (simply prune out unwanted lower branches to create your main trunk) . The tree Arbutus x andrachnoides will provide wonderful bark, similar to the Hybrid Seedling or if those colours are not quite to your taste try Arbutus menziesii. below, delicious in cinnamon and pistachio shades.
Native to temperate climates, they bring us a taste of the mediterranean without the tenderness and difficulties associated the popular Olive tree.