Elaeagnus x ebbingei (Fragrant Mouseberry)
One of the toughest evergreens on the planet. Left to its own devices, a wild disorganised thing so whatever we do with it, clipping is always involved.
The frost hardiness plus the ability to withstand salty winds is what makes this so outstanding. It also has surprisingly fragrant little flowers in August and September and they are born on the old wood which means you have a piece of topiary that flowers. (Most unusual – normally you’d be removing the wood that produced the flowers).
Apart from being so tough and reliable, it grows quite fast (it’s a hybrid between two species and you often get what’s known as ‘Hybrid Vigour’ – the offspring is more vigorous than either of the parents). Excellent for a hedge by the seaside or anywhere else but our main use is as clipped trees and stilted hedges.
We get the trees from Italy where they graft Elaeagnus ebbingei on to a 6ft trunk of Elaeagnus angustifolia (Russian Olive), a deciduous tree that forms a stouter trunk. It’s an excellent arrangement except that you have to look out for what we call ‘water shoots’ : vigorous shoots that come out from the trunk and need removing from time to time. You don’t need a ladder – just a pair of secateurs. Look up through the foliage and follow the water shoot down to where it emerges from the top of the trunk. Cut it off as close to the trunk as you can and yank the shoot out from underneath. You might need a saw if the water shoot’s enormous but usually secateurs will suffice.
For formal evergreen clipped trees these are perfect. They may not be as posh as Holm Oak and they’ll need clipping more often than Holm Oak but they’ll do the job quicker and cheaper than anything else. When using for a stilted hedge (a hedge on legs) we plant about 1.6 metres apart – never more if you can help it. If you clip 4 times a year (remember that when it comes to topiary, the more often you clip, the sooner you’ll get what you want) you should have them all joined up and looking nice and dense and finished in less than 4 years from planting. Mice love the berries.
Unfussy about soil as long as it’s not waterlogged. Best in plenty of light but not essential.
N.B. When clipping several plants with the same tool, have a bucket containing a 5% bleach solution and swish your blades around for 30 seconds between plants to sterilise them. This will help avoid the chance of cross contamination of disease.
As with all woody plants, plant high, exposing as much of the taper at the base of the trunk as possible. Allowing soil to accumulate round the base of a tree can be fatal. Keep very well watered when first planted.
Hardiness level Green