• People in Helmsley Walled Garden

November 2016 – Discovering the Korean spindleberry


I recently visited an arboretum and discovered a Korean spindleberry (Euonymus oxyphyllus), the name of which brought a flashback of my life prior to gardening when I would attend management seminars and training events where you introduced yourself suggesting which TV character would best describe you. I always chose ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce, the surgeon who worked in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital or MASH unit during the Korean War. An individual committed to achieving his role but with little respect for managerial orthodoxy or hierarchical authority.

This Korean spindleberry with its winged seed pods and bright orange seeds was an open multi-stemmed tree which I think is ideally suited for the garden situation. The specimen I was viewing was some 20 years old and barely 3 metres tall by a similar width but it had a lovely open structure whereby you could grow spring flowering herbaceous plants such as hellebores, epimediums, dog tooth violets along with spring bulbs underneath it.

This tree is very slow growing, eventually reaching a maximum height of 4 metres. In May it has white flowers often with a purple tinge, complementing such understorey planting such as I mentioned earlier. In autumn, depending on the weather its leaves will have rich autumn colours. The only down side I could find was that the berries if eaten in quantity can cause sickness and diarrhoea or convulsions. For growing conditions the tree will grow in any general loamy soil that is free-draining and ideally acidic. In any soil add a generous amount of garden compost or bonemeal. For location the tree will grow in full sun but prefers some sheltered shade, perhaps reflecting its native location as a forest edge plant so either a west or east facing border would be ideal.

This is not a common plant that you are likely to find in the local garden centre. But some searching on the internet helped me locate a number of suppliers selling young plants at under £20. The tree is deciduous and usually grown in the ground not in a pot. When dormant between November and March they are lifted and sold bare-rooted. Prepare the ground before you buy as the tree will need planting within a week of arrival. If the ground freezes before you can plant then they can be temporarily potted up in a plant pot. This small tree will certainly find a place here in Helmsley.

I discovered that M.A.S.H. is being reshown on TV and I have caught a number of episodes and now find Hawkeye somewhat irritating as he fails to see that some organisational structure has to be endured to achieve your aims. What I have found is Colonel Sherman Potter the officer in charge hugely entertaining and in his own way as successful at securing the well-being of the injured soldiers. I know it is fictitious but perhaps Colonel Potter as a young officer was once a Hawkeye Pierce. Note to self, visit more gardens and no more management training events.

Mike I’Anson November 2016