I’ve grown to appreciate euphorbias more and more. Their slightly exotic-looking foliage adds strong evergreen structure to a garden, but it’s their brilliant lime green flowers in spring and early summer that really wow and look amazing with purples and blues. There are many varieties to choose from, whether for height or ground cover, sun or shade. Here’s my pick of the best.
I The biggies
This is perfect if you want a bold architectural plant in your garden – it reaches up to 2m. The attractive bright green evergreen leaves are complemented in spring by rusty orange, honey-scented flowers (mellifera is Latin for honey- bearing). Try it with large leaved plants for an exotic look or bold pinks, oranges or reds. It likes full sun or partial shade.
- x pasteurii
This is a good choice if you want something with the virtues of mellifera – exotic long leaves, (though slightly darker green) as well as orangey flowers in early summer, but in a more compact form.
- characias wulfenii
You see this euphorbia a lot, and it’s popular for a reason. It’s has a useful upright shape, with tall stems of grey green leaves providing year interest that look great with silvers and purples. In early spring it has fabulous billowing lime green flowers that perfectly complement purple plants such as Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ or alliums. Sun loving and drought tolerant once established it’s perfect for a Mediterranean-style garden. E. characias ‘Black Pearl’ with dark black eyes in the middle of yellow flower heads is a more unusual option, or for a more silvery colour-scheme try E. characias ‘Silver Swam’ with a white leaf margins and mainly white flowers.
II Lower growing
With its fresh green foliage and mass of bright green flowers throughout the summer months, this rounded compact euphorbia is great for a sunny border and will tolerate part shade. It looks amazing with blues, such as Iris ‘Jane Phillips’ or Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’.
This is another euphorbia to add zingy acid green to the garden throughout the summer – March to July.
- x martini
What’s striking about this euphorbia are the red-eyed flowers from March until late June, which can be picked out with other dark red/pink early flowering perennials such as aquilegia.
III Shade lovers
- amygdaloides var. robbiae
Fab for brightening up a shady spot, this low growing (60cm) euphorbia is one of the earliest to flower, with dark glossy green leaves and fresh lime green flower that look great with ferns or early flowering geraniums such as ‘Brookside’. It’s useful ground cover for a tricky spot, but can be a bit invasive, so keep an eye on it.
- amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’
This variety also has dark glossy leaves and bright green flowers in early spring but with crimson stems. It’s also a low growing shade lover.
…A word of warning
The stems have a milky sap that can be a skin irritant, so wear gloves and long sleeves. Wash off immediately if you do get some on your hands. Euphorbias do have a tendency to spread or self seed – some more than others, but they’re easy enough to weed.
All part of the plant are highly toxic so avoid if you have pets and be aware if you have small children.
Barbara Samitier is a garden designer who lives in Peckham Rye.
This article first appeared in the November 2016 issue of SE22 magazine.