Nandina domestica

This graceful Chinese shrub, the heavenly bamboo, is not a true bamboo, but a member of the berberis family. It makes an evergreen thicket of unbranched stems covered with long, pinnate leaves divided into delicate, pointed leaflets, and is usually grown close to the house for shelter, as E.A. Bowles grew it in his famous garden at Myddeltoh House, near London. In Japan’, wrote Mr Bowles, ‘every garden, however small, possesses a specimen close by the door’. But this was not so much for its beauty, he explained, rather knocking the poetry out of the conception, as for its aromatic wood, which was ideal for toothpicks. His own plant was 5 feet (150 cm) high, and beautiful all the year round, ‘most especially when the young leaves are every imaginable shade of crimson, copper, and bronze, and contrast with the deep green old ones’. In summer he enjoyed the long panicles of white flowers close to the morning-room window, and in autumn the purplish tinge taken on by all the foliage, and the fruit, which sometimes ripens.

Nandina domestica was for long considered too tender for the open garden, but is now found to be hardy in most parts of Britain if given a sheltered position. It is grown in the Rock Garden at the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Wisley, in Surrey, where the climate is far from mild, with the protection of tall conifers in the background. It needs good lime-free soil and a shady place, and is well worth trying if the gardener is prepared to take a risk for the pleasure of growing something special.

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