If your garden is too dry, too cold or too windy for shrubs, then think about planting a flowering currant. The common Ribes sanguineum is one of the toughest flowering shrubs you can plant and, in spring, the clusters of pink or red flowers cheer up your borders whatever the weather.
The pink flowering currants are understandably popular and ‘King Edward Vll’ is one of the deepest reds. The foliage is a little dull in summer but there are two varieties with yellow foliage, low-growing ‘Brocklebankii’ and taller ‘Brianjou’, which look good all summer.
And if you crave something different, without that infamous ‘catty’ smell, Ribes aureum could be for you. It has neat leaves and masses of yellow flowers that are sweetly scented. It has been crossed with the pink currant to create the unusual salmon pink R. gordonianum.
If you have a sunny wall try the spectacular, but spiny, R. speciosum, the fuchsia-flowered currant that drips with vibrant red flowers in early summer.
Fact: The black fruits of all the ornamental currants are tasty treats for wild birds, and the flowers are visited by early flying bees.
Flowering currants do not need any special soil and will grow in clay soils. Make sure you plant them well by mixing in garden compost and keep them well watered until they are established, especially if you plant them when they are in leaf.
They grow and flower best if planted in full sun but they will tolerate a little shade too. Pruning is not essential but it will keep your plant more tidy and compact.
Prune out some of the older stems or give them a prune all over immediately after the flowers fade. If you prune them in autumn or winter you will remove all the flower buds. Give the plants some general fertiliser in spring, especially if they have just been pruned.
Flowering currants are trouble free but they can sometimes get mildew in very dry weather. This rarely weakens the plants so it is not necessary to spray them.
Five Ribes sanguineum to try
‘White Icicle’ – Dainty white flowers dripping from the stems make this a fine alternative. Height: 1 – 2m.
‘Brianjou’ – The bright gold foliage contrasts with vivid deep pink blooms. Height: 1.5m – 2m.
‘Pulborough Scarlet’ – Perhaps the most bright and eye-catching variety with magenta flowers. Height: Up to 3m.
‘King Edward VII’ – Dainty bright pink sprays cluster on the stems. Height: 1.5m – 2m.
‘Elkington White’ – Wonderful grape-like droops of flowers. Good as a hedge. Height: Up to 2m.