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Flowering currants and roller skates!
If there is one aroma that conjures up my childhood more than any other, it’s that of tomato plants basking in the warmth of a sunny greenhouse (in my grandad’s greenhouse to be precise). Running a close second is the scent from the flowering currant Ribes sanguineum. When the spring sun clothes the leaves, they pump out a perfume which unlocks my memory banks and immediately I’m taken back to the seventies - roller-skating along uneven pavements, a free spirit on rubber wheels. I have no visual recollection of this shrub but have to assume that it was growing somewhere on my skate route because the smell is unmistakeably entwined with that time of my life.
There are two flowering currants outside our sales ‘shed’ and when the sun shines, brushing past their fragrant foliage provokes in me a smile as intense as their olfactory outpourings. The smell isn’t to everyone’s taste but I find it woodsy and warm, spicy almost.
Resembling fruiting currants, R. sanguineum are tough plants and are excellent for difficult conditions as they grow in just about any soil. However, to get the best out of them, position in a well-drained, sunny spot. They make excellent, informal hedges but place them at the back of the herbaceous border and they’ll repay you with a much-needed splash of colour at the start of the season. Their flowers are also an excellent form of early nectar for the bees (so all together, a great addition to the garden!).
If you’re looking for something bright, then 'King Edward VII’ – known as the winter currant - has clusters of intense crimson red flowers followed by blue-black fruit and is popular for its compact upright habit. If pinky-red isn’t your thing, then try ‘White Icicle’. Considered one of the best white flowering currants, it has the RHS Award of Garden Merit. Both types grow to just under 2m in height.
An alternative to sanguineum, is the striking Ribes speciosum. It's known as the 'fuchsia-flowered gooseberry' for obvious reasons with its prominent spikes and glossy foliage which contrasts beautifully with exotic looking, cherry-red tubular flowers which hang in abundance from the stems in April and May. It’s easy to grow but avoid planting in really exposed areas of the garden. It looks fantastic trained against a wall.
‘King Edward VII’
‘King Edward VII’