Introduced in 1986 by the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, Ribes sanguineum 'White Icicle'* is one of the best white flowering currants. It forms an upright shrub with pendant racemes of tubular white flowers, followed by bloomy, blue-black fruit. The flowers which come from pink flushed buds, are long-lasting (often up to June) and have a spicy fragrance. The rounded shallowly lobed leaves are slightly aromatic, smelling of blackcurrant. Ribes comes from the Persian or Arabic word ribas, meaning acid-tasting which refers to the edible but tart fruits.
'White Icicle' is a cultivar of the species introduced from western North America by Scottish botanist David Douglas in 1817. It is quite easy-going as far as soil is concerned (avoiding extremes of wet and dry) but does best in full sun. It should be pruned after flowering, as flowers form on the previous years’ wood, cutting back shoots to strong buds and removing 20% of aging stems. It can tolerate being cut by a hedge trimmer so can be used to make an attractive, fragrant hedge. As with its relatives, found in the fruit and vegetable garden, such as blackcurrants redcurrants and gooseberries, this Ribes can be trained as a wall shrub to make an attractive spring feature.
The nectar rich flowers are a magnet for bees and early butterflies, so it is perfect for adding wildlife value to a small garden. It is low maintenance and will suit gardeners with busy lives. At Rosemoor we grow it in the Cottage Garden surrounded by primulas, tulips and delicate Narcissus 'Jack Snipe' AGM. Rosy pink Camellia 'Cornish Spring' (cuspidata × japonica) AGM blooms nearby. In the Long Border, Narcissus 'Yellow Cheerfulness' AGM with double golden yellow flowers grows around the base, lifting the white of the Ribes and domed Hebe rakaiensis AGM adds contrasting form.
R. sanguineum 'White Icicle' is a wonderful addition to any spring garden for its fragrance, simple beauty of its flowers and of course wildlife value, providing nectar for early pollinators.
*NB this plant is correctly styled as Ribes sanguineum
White Icicle 'Ubric'