Woodland gardens, especially here at Harlow Carr, are often known for their spring colour. Familiar and colourful bulbs such as snowdrops, daffodils, bluebells and wild garlic appear. Summer brings with it the yellows, pinks and whites of campions, buttercups and numerous airy umbellifers within the wildflower meadows. As summer progresses, however, everything becomes a bit green. Until, that is, a relative of the hydrangea, Kirengeshoma palmata or yellow wax bells, makes its appearance.
Kirengeshoma palmata is an unusual flowering perennial, native to mountainous areas of Japan and Korea. It’s one of only two species in its genus. The plant has attractive, glossy, maple leaf-shaped leaves borne upon tall, arching, ebony stems that reach up to 1.2m tall and spread to 50cm. From August to early September, it bears perfectly spherical yellow buds unwrapping to reveal pendulous, shuttlecock-shaped, sherbet lemon yellow flowers with pointed tips.
This plant is very versatile and well worth investing in. In addition to its architectural leaves and striking flowers, it is frost hardy and thrives in conditions other plants struggle to perform well in. This plant works best in cool, damp, humus-rich, acidic soil. Kirengeshoma palmata has even been awarded an AGM. Here at Harlow Carr Kirengeshoma can be found all over the garden, predominantly in the woodland with patches along streamside.
To perform at its best, it needs shelter from the wind, and dislikes high alkalinity and thin, dry soils. Provide a regular liquid feed, a generous helping of leaf mulch or well-rotted compost and protection from slugs and snails and it will reward you with a healthy plant. Kirengeshoma palmata continues to actively grow late into the autumn, so division in spring is best.