Think of raphiolepis as the black t-shirt of the plant world – versatile, good-looking, and no trouble. Use it in semi-formal or completely informal situations and team it with everything from floaty florals to sleeker more minimalist styles.
Raphiolepis is commonly called Indian hawthorn, despite the fact that the plant is native to southern east Asia, not the subcontinent. The species, Raphiolepis indica, is a tough shrub to 4m with dark green leathery leaves and pink-tinged white flowers in spring. It’s eminently prunable so is a favoured species for bonsai. That also mean it’s good as a hedge, or in a mixed shrubbery screen to hide the fence and the neighbour’s garage.
Even more useful in our view are the new dwarf cultivars of raphiolepis. Two of our favourites are ‘Oriental Pearl’ and ‘Snow Maiden’. ‘Oriental Pearl’ makes a compact low mound of dense, dark green leathery foliage. It looks a bit like a dark green boulder that from winter until the end of spring is covered in white flowers with prominent pink stamens. (There’a also a pink variety, called ‘Oriental Pink’). ‘Snow Maiden’ is a bit more upright in habit, to about 75cm tall, with white flowers and glossier leaves.
Plant them in groups, contrasting with soft-textured plants like grasses or Mexican salvia, or with harder, architectural plants like flax or agave. Alternatively use these neat plants as a low informal hedge, planted 60cm apart, in gardens that need just a little bit of structure.
For the best results, give raphiolepis a good start in well-drained soil in either sun or part-shade (the more sun they get the more flowers they deliver) improved with compost and manure. Dig a hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the pot the plants have been growing in, and after planting mulch with a chunky mulch kept clear of the stem. Water deeply and regularly for the first two months or so to help the plant establish a good deep root system.
Once established they are tolerant of salty winds, swimming pool splash, long periods of dry weather and frost. Remove any berries that form after flowering. A feed with all-purpose fertiliser after the flowers have finished in early summer will set them up for the year ahead.