Five-star gems
Amateur Gardening|October 02, 2021
Cinquefoils, also known as potentillas, are floriferous perennials and shrubs that provide cottage-garden charm throughout the summer months, says Hazel Sillver
Hazel Sillver

CINQUEFOILS (potentilla) may not be the most dramatic plants in the garden, but they are border stalwarts, producing a colourful show of flowers for months. The pink, red, white or yellow blooms of the perennial forms open in generous succession from June until the end of August, while shrubby potentillas can flower from May to October.

The heavily veined leaves are usually divided into five – hence the name cinquefoil, stemming from the Old French for five leaf and one of the plant’s common names being five fingers. Their strawberry-like appearance makes it unsurprising that they are closely related to strawberries. Being a member of the Rosaceae family, they are also cousins of geums, which the perennial forms resemble, and wild roses, which the shrubby forms are reminiscent of.

One of most well-known perennials is ‘Gibson’s Scarlet’, the offspring of P. atrosanguinea, which produces fabulous single scarlet flowers above bright-green leaves. There are also double red forms, including orangecrimson P. russelliana ‘William Rollison’ and sumptuous-claret P. ‘Volcan’. But for softer cottage-garden charm, go for pastel varieties, such as salmon-pink P. x hopwoodiana and primrose-yellow P. recta var. sulphurea. Growing to 16-24in (40-60cm), they sit well at the front of the border with low grasses and perennials such as lamb’s ears and cranesbills.

Shrubby potentillas have fallen out of fashion somewhat, but they deserve their place. P. fruticosa ‘Sunset’ produces warm apricot blooms, P.f. Princess (‘Blink’) has soft-pink flowers and P.f. ‘Elizabeth’ is butter-yellow. Reaching 24-36in (60-90cm), they work well in the middle of the border, providing structure and colour among perennials (including large nepeta), as well as other shrubs, such as lavender, cistus and roses.

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