Gardening Journal: Plant of the Month: Pittosporum tenuifolium


Pittosporum tenuifolium Tom Thumb is a slow growing, mound-forming, evergreen shrub. It has glossy deep purplish/bronze foliage, with the new spring growth starting a light green which gives the shrub an unusual two-toned effect at this time of year. The green soon fades and the foliage darkens to match the purple tones present on the older leaves.

There are over 200 species of Pittosporum with differing heights, hardiness and general features. The most popular used in the UK would be Pittosporum tenuifolium and its many varieties, sometimes called the New Zealand Pittosporum. They originate from coastal regions of New Zealand, where they are called Kohuhu and vary in height, from dwarf forms up to small tree size.

Tom Thumb is a small shrub, making it perfect for the smaller garden or low maintenance scheme. It grows to about 1 metre high and wide, taking at least 5 years to get there too. The flowers, if they are present, are small and white with five-petals and have the faintest of scent. They are insignificant, so this little shrub is all about the foliage.

As with most of the Pittosporum grown in UK, it should be planted in a sheltered non-exposed position. It doesn’t mind a bit of shade but will also cope with full sun too. It is a versatile little plant that can be used in a manner of different ways in different garden schemes. It is not fussy about soil type either, as long as its feet are not sitting in waterlogged soil through the winter.

Tom Thumb is probably one of the easiest additions to the garden, as it requires little maintenance and doesn’t really suffer from any disease either. It can be clipped to shape to provide a more formal look; I have often used it as a low maintenance option to replace Buxus topiary balls in a scheme. It can also be used as a low hedge too. Left unclipped it has a more informal habit and suits a more relaxed planting scheme.

Ultimately this plant is all about the foliage, making it a great evergreen addition to any scheme. The splash of purply colour in the garden provides interest even in the depths of winter.

Jobs to do this month include:
Ornamental Garden:

• Give the borders one last tidy before Christmas by removing any debris, leaves etc.
• Check newly planted shrubs for wind rock (loosened soil around base) after strong winds by firming the soil.
• Avoid any pruning when frost or snow is forecast.
• Replenish bird feeders as soon as they run out.
• Plant winter flowering shrubs like daphne and sarcococca.
• Prune acer, betula before mid December to avoid bleeding cuts.
• Mulch if the weather is still mild.

Vegetable Garden:
• Harvest winter vegetables like sprouts etc.
• Clear any remaining plant debris and compost.
• Prune free standing apples, pears, currants and gooseberries.
• Do not prune stone fruit until spring to avoid silver leaf disease.
• Prune grape vines by mid December.
• Continue to plant fruit bushes etc.
• Divide and re plant rhubarb.
• Lag outdoor taps and pipes to avoid them freezing.
• Ventilate greenhouse on mild days.

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