The currant family, or Ribes to give them their botanical name, consists of about 150 species of plants from the northern hemisphere. It includes several cultivated types of fruit – blackcurrants, white currants, redcurrants and gooseberries, as well as hybrids between these. There are also several grown purely for ornamental purposes, known as flowering currants (although of course the ‘fruiting’ ones also carry flowers). While most of the ribes family grow in open, sunny positions, the evergreen ribes laurifolium is the exception, preferring part shade and a well-drained soil, plus shelter from cold winds. It also flowers earlier than the others, usually starting in late February or early March for me. Growing to about three feet tall, it makes a sprawling bush, reaching five feet across at maturity, but give it sufficient space as it does not like competition or being cut back.
The flowers are not showy, being a bright green in colour, but are sweetly scented. The plants generally carry either male or female flowers (‘Rosemoor Form’ is hermaphrodite and said to be a better shaped plant). You need both sexes to get any fruit of course, which are carried by the females, but the male flowers are larger. This is not a fast-growing shrub and will take a year or two to settle in to its new position. The variety ‘Mrs Amy Doncaster’ is slightly more compact and has the biggest flowers, but the differences are slight.
It is probably best suited to being teamed with subtle tones, such as white primulas. I grow heuchera ‘Circus’ nearby, the colour of its leaves almost matching the flowers of the ribes, and some seedlings of the brown grass uncinia unciniata have recently appeared which I have decided can stay.