Alabama Slammer

Fothergilla monticola (1)Today I have been working on a piece for Devon Life magazine about Castle Hill Gardens.  Sorting through the masses of photos I took last April of this enchanting Palladian House with its extensive landscape gardens, I came across this photo of Fothergilla major Monticola Group, sometimes known as the Alabama Witch Alder.  This shrub, and indeed all of its relatives, has been on my Lust List for a while, certainly since moving to the acidic soils North Devon.  When I came across this fine specimen I undoubtedly stood and stared for a while, I may have even dribbled a little.

This, to my mind under-rated, genus was named after Dr John Fothergill, an 18th century Quaker.   He was an eminent physician, philanthropist and botanist with a penchant for American plants, a very busy man but I don’t expect he had to wash his own socks.  This deciduous shrub is native to the Allegheny Mountains in the US which span from Virginia to South Carolina.  Related to the witch hazel, in the family Hamameleoaceae, the scented fluffy white/golden flowers bloom in April and May and are much-loved by bees and other pollinators.  After a summer providing a valuable backdrop to the summer shiners, in autumn the fun begins again.  The foliage turns firework shades of yellow, orange and red just in time for bonfire night.  This plant will give you joy early and late in the season, performing well in both the opening scenes and the finale.  It is slow-growing but can reach 2.5m x 2.5m, which admittedly is quite large but definitely not in the leylandii league. It really is easy to please, enjoying sun to part shade, is hardy to -15C, prefers an acidic soil but will tolerate neutral with a yearly acidic mulch applied.  The only things to avoid are limy dry soils.  So why isn’t it grown more often?  To my mind it is worth a place in any garden, preferably mine.  One day perhaps ……

21 thoughts on “Alabama Slammer

  1. It is lovely, and what a great name; a lust list.
    I have tried Fothergilla but it didn’ t thrive for me. I expect it is much better suited to your soil and climate. You probably need one.

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  2. You make an excellent point regarding Dr Fothergill and his socks. I often remind myself that the great polymaths and pioneers of yesteryear were not required to change beds, take their empties to the bottle bank, fend off telesales people or make their own dinner, thereby freeing themselves up for more esoteric pursuits. These things I blame for my own lack of achievement!

    PS. Unless Castle Hill is made of a very rare and precious silver metal (which would be wonderous indeed), I think you mean Palladian rather than Palladium. I hesitated to point it out, but if it were me I’d have wanted you to tell me 😉

    Off to think of a title for my next post that will be anywhere as near as gripping as yours x

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  3. Indeed under-rated, even here on the North American continent. Why is that, I have no idea. A gorgeous shrub in all seasons (the fall colouration is also superb); a bit fussy but so are many others 😉 (and much more cold hardy than the saying goes)

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  4. I am from Georgia, where these are native. We always found they are more difficult to grow than they appear.
    F. gardenii was popular and suffered unless growing in topsoil (rare in Georgia) and partial shade., once carefully established they are drought tolerant. If treated well they are beautiful. Just keep them out of parking lots!

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  5. Just to make you green – I have two, both wonderous (new spelling) spring and fall, and sitting this week with their feet under some 18 inches of snow, at night temps of -25 C to -30 C. (It’s Canada…) The flowers remind me of deliciously fragrant little bottle brushes. And in the fall, the leaves glow in intense shades of gold and orange and red, like shards from a stained glass window.

    I too think you need one.

    Fancy Fox

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