Plant of the month

Plant of the Month - Amelanchier

Each month, OGV sub-committee member, Gayle Parkes presents the 'Plant of the month'. She also posts to OGV's Instagram - make sure you check back regularly for her latest post. This month Gayle brings us the Amelanchier.

Amelanchier, also known as shadbush, shadwood or shadblow, serviceberry or sarvisberry, juneberry, saskatoon, sugarplum, wild-plum or chuckley pear, is a genus of about 20 species of deciduous-leaved shrubs and small trees in the rose (Rosacea) family. 

During my love affair with anything and everything to do with the designs, plant selections, gardens and ethos of Edna Walling, I discovered Amelanchiers! 

Although not often promoted today, these dainty but tough, shrubs/small trees are still able to be found by the keen gardener. It’s a pity they are not more widely available as they are a worthy addition to any garden, offering a feature in every season. Edna writes… “The Shad Bush, Amelanchier canadensis, has a good landscape effect, flowering very early in spring. The greyish white flowers wreathe the bare branches and make a glorious picture against the deep grey clouds of early spring.” But for me, it is the magnificent blaze of orange/red foliage in autumn that is my favourite feature of my Amelanchier.

Amelanchier is a woodland genus of shrubs and small trees, known for their wonderful star shaped spring flowers and striking foliage that changes colour from spring through to autumn. The two varieties most commonly found here are the deciduous A. canadensis and A. lamarckii.

Their fine five-petaled star-shaped, showy racemes of white-to-pink-flushed flowers appear in spring, a feast for the bees, often just before, or as the coppery pink finely toothed, elliptic, medium to light green young leaves unfold. 

The slightly perfumed flowers give way to small, round, green berries which turn a glossy red and finally mature to a dark purplish-black in early summer. These edible berries resemble blueberries in size and color and can be used in jams, jellies and pies. Birds will feast on the berries if not picked soon after ripening.

In autumn, the oval shaped leaves turn a brilliant orange-red before falling, so striking, equal to any of the popular shrubs that we favour for autumn colour these days.

In winter, the spreading crown of fine shoots make a satisfying, dense, shrubby shape. The bare branches are dainty and very attractive and it is now that you could lightly trim your bush to shape if desired or prune out any wayward or damaged/dead branches.

Amelanchier trees are hardy and will thrive in a sunny sheltered position. They will also grow well in other situations, including light shade and damp-ish sites, so long as the soil is moderately light and moist. They won't do well in lime or chalky soils. Typically growing between 10 to 16 feet (3 to 5 meters), they need to be watered well in dry weather until established.  They are generally pest free. 

This great, under-utilized plant is an ideal choice for the smaller garden, being a really versatile all rounder. The bees adore the flowers and the birds are attracted to the rich purple berries. It can be used in landscapes as a standalone, but its most relevant use is as a mixed hedge or a flowered hedge. I grew them in the borders around the fence lines on my large previously owned property and now have one in a large rusty coloured pot in my small garden. It is just outside our dining area window, giving me pleasure throughout the whole year. Look out for one. It was one of Edna’s favourites, and definitely one of mine as well!