Ribes - Featured Genus for the Spring Plant Sale
This spring, our chapter's plant sale features Ribes, a popular genus for the garden that comprises the currants and gooseberries. Most of the species on offer grow natively in our county, which means they have high value for local wildlife. All provide early spring nectar for hummingbirds, and their berries are relished by cedar waxwings and other local birds. And they are so pretty!
These lovely currants and gooseberries are suitable for coastal gardens from shoreline to ridge top, as well as for Bay Area gardens. All are easy-going, fairly pest free, thrive in many different soils, and require little water. Only pink flowering currant likes moderate water; the rest are drought tolerant. Pink flowering currant and catalina current prefer some shade; the rest do well in sun or partial shade. They are all tolerant of pruning-but remember that blossoms grow on last season's stems-and they are easy to grow from cuttings.
At the spring plant sale, you'll find many showy cultivars and selections of the species I've mentioned. In fact, I purchased most of my Ribes at prior sales-and as you can guess, I have never regretted it.
Let me tell you about the ones in my garden and the conditions they prefer. There's quite a wide variety of colors and forms among the species, and each has its own particular characteristics that suit different garden niches - maybe there's a niche or two in your garden waiting for a nice currant bush.
Pink flowering currant. Many cultivars, such as 'Barrie Coate', have longer clusters
The early pendulous pink clusters of blossoms of pink-flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum, and the delicate unfolding apple-green leaves on its graceful vase-shaped form, lift my spirits on dull February days. Showiest of all the ribes, I find it prefers light or partial shade and likes a little more water than some. Actually, the best specimens I've seen were in a park in London-it's popular in the U.K.
Golden currant - prune, or let it grow tall and lanky as an
Ribes aureum, the golden currant, also has a loose
branching habit. It can get very tall and can thicket to fill
a large area. It's the only Ribes on my property that the
deer have eaten--and they have not touched it for several
years. Deer can munch on any young juicy plant though,
so it's a good idea to cage any young plant or spray with a
White-flowered currant, grows large and wide, with
Earliest of all in my garden is a large Ribes indecorum,
white-flowered currant, whose lovely full and open form
lights up with creamy white clusters in late January,
lasting through February. It likes sun and is very drought
Chaparral currant, tough and pretty
Under some coast live oaks, R. malvaceum, the chaparral currant, grows without any attention at all, tough and drought resistant, shorter and perhaps less elegant than pink-flowering currant, but also radiantly pretty with soft pink clusters.
Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry--A beauty, but watch out
for those spiny branches!
Ribes speciosum, fuchsia-flowered gooseberry, stuns me
year after year with its small jewel-like pendulous
flowers, vivid scarlet, running in rows all along its bristly
stems, startling against the smooth green leaves. I keep it
on the edge of a bank where I don't have to pass by, or
prune it much! It doesn't like summer water, but you have
to get it established before you can totally ignore it in
summer--it's a balancing act, the first year, then it is
Catalina currant, lovely foliage, sprawling over a wall.
Likes shady locations
On the same bank, I enjoy the only evergreen member of
the genus (in California that is), Ribes viburnifolium,
catalina currant (also known as catalina perfume),
endemic to Santa Catalina Island. Grown for its fragrant
foliage, its nickel-sized glossy round leaves are quite
atypical of the genus as a whole, whose leaves are
typically three- or five-lobed, sometimes velvety,
resinous, and aromatic. Catalina currant has a branching
habit and roots where the tips touch the soil, which I
enjoy--but you can also prune it as more of a ground
cover. Surprisingly drought tolerant for such a glossy
plant, it's also good under oaks.