Abelia is an old-fashioned shrub. Chances are your grandparents knew them as 6-foot plants with green leaves and small flowers. Now however there are so many varieties they may not even recognize the new cultivars. Abelia is available in compact sizes and in a wide spectrum of foliage color. Depending on the cultivar, foliage can be variegated green and cream or green and yellow or even red, bronze, and orange. Sometimes the new growth is a different color than the old growth.
A member of the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae, abelia has sweetly scented, funnel-shaped flowers that attract pollinators. They bloom from spring to fall. Right now in the Washington DC metro area the bushes are covered in flowers.
Abelia plants are deer resistant with minimal pest and disease issues. They are called “semi evergreen,” which means they will drop leaves in areas such as ours with cold winters but will retain leaves in the south. The shrubs are ideal for borders, foundations, screens, and hedges, and for erosion control on banks and slopes. Now is a great time to purchase them while you can see how they bloom and look. Select the variety you like best at your local independent garden center.
A single blossom on a young Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite” in my Virginia garden
I have been admiring Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus) in other people’s gardens for a few years, taking photos whenever I can. This is such a beautiful plant I don’t know why other people don’t grow it more often. A native, deciduous shrub, Carolina allspice grows to 5 to 8 feet tall, is deer resistant, and has no major pests/diseases. The leaves are green and large for a small bush and the brown red flowers bloom all summer long. Pollinated by beetles, the 2-inch flowers look like a cross between a star magnolia (outer strap-shaped petals) and a lotus (curved inner petals with a central, raised button). In the fall, the leaves turn golden yellow.
Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ at High Glen Gardens looks like a cross between a star magnolia and a lotus blossom
Fortunately Spring Meadow Nursery read my mind and sent me the cultivar Aphrodite two years ago as part of their Proven Winners ColorChoice collection. Aphrodite’s flowers are redder than the species and are supposed to smell like apples. In my Virginia garden, my 3-foot tall youngster is thriving under the edge of a red maple’s canopy, so it receives partial sun. This past week, Aphrodite bloomed for the first time.
I cut the flower and put it in a vase. There was no scent but I have read that young plants do not always have a fragrance. Apparently this attribute comes with maturity. I did crush a leaf though and the camphor scent was nice, almost lemony. It reminded me of a friend who would put eucalyptus branches in her car so the heat would release a pleasant scent. The bark too was aromatic when I scratched it. Mark Catesby said the bark was as “odoriferous as cinnamon” although I think the scent is more like a cross between lemon and camphor. When my plant matures and I get more flowers I will use them for flower arrangements. In addition to the flowers, I could use the leaves and branches for potpourris. But I think I will pass on the car trick, it may create a strong odor, more like a disinfectant.
Regardless of its scent, Carolina allspice is a great shrub for the Washington DC metro area. Aphrodite certainly holds great promise in my garden.
Mature shrubs of Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite” at High Glen Gardens, Frederick, MD
Baptisia ‘Lemon Meringue’ photo courtesy of Proven Winners
Baptisia, also called false indigo, is an herbaceous perennial shrub that performs well in our hot and humid summers. Recent breeding efforts have expanded the range of flower colors requiring a new look into an old favorite. I myself have falling in love with two top performers according to Mt. Cuba Center’s 15-page report, Baptisia for the Mid-Atlantic Region. The Mt. Cuba Center’s Trial Garden, managed by George Coombs, research horticulturist, evaluates native plants and their related cultivars. From 2012 to 2015, staff evaluated 46 selections of Baptisia including representatives from 11 species to determine which performs best in the mid-Atlantic region. Over 60 percent of the plants tested receive 4 or 5 stars. Among those, 10 superior cultivars outperformed the rest. Fortunately for me my two recent Baptisia additions to my garden are included in the ten.
Pea-like flowers, photo courtesy of Proven Winners
This year I acquired two Lemon Meringue and two Dutch Chocolate plants. They are small now so a photo won’t give you the full flavor of their beautiful flowers but I was able to borrow Proven Winners‘ photos of what my plants should look like when they grow up. Baptisia plants die back every fall and comes back in the spring. By summer, the plants will have grown to their mature height of about 3 x 3 feet each year. However, they do not like to be moved so give them plenty of space when you do plant them. Chances are the nursery plants will be young thus small but they will grow into full bushes once established in the garden. In May, pea-like flowers bloom on tall spikes, similar to lupines. In the fall, pods appear, which can be used for dried flower arrangements. Baptisia plants are deer resistant, heat and humidity tolerant, and drought tolerant once established. These natives make great additions to the garden and the new cultivars increases the color selection.
Baptisia ‘Dutch Chocolate’, photo courtesy of Proven Winners
Posted in flowers, plants
Tagged Baptisia, deer resistant, Dutch Chocolate, herbaceous, Lemon Meringue, Mt. Cuba Center, native, perennial, Proven Winners, shrub, trial
Years ago I lived in Maryland in a new townhouse development with stringent homeowner association rules. No fences were allowed and if that weren’t bad enough, the back of the property led into a forested area. Deer were rampant; they thought nothing of coming right up to the back door. When I told the local nursery folks, they suggested beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis). Sure enough, beauty bush was deer resistant but it provided color and interest just once in the spring when it bloomed small pink flowers. For the rest of the summer, it was just a green bush.
When we moved to our Northern Virginia home a dozen years ago, there was an old beauty bush next to the neighbor’s property. The bush has bloomed faithfully every spring and is really a small tree, about 7 feet tall with several narrow trunks. The neighbor’s house existed during the civil war, I think the beauty bush is that old. I would have never bought a beauty bush again but a few years ago Proven Winners sent me a new cultivar called ‘Dream Catcher’.
Dream Catcher is a find, it is worth buying regardless if you have a deer problem or not. In the spring, the new leaves unfurl a bright lime green color. In April and May, the bush is covered with small, pink buds and pale pink flowers with yellow centers. By summer the flowers disappear and the bush remains chartreuse. It really lights up a shady area. In the fall, the leaves turn orange bronze, providing three-season interest.
My bushes are about 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide. I don’t do anything to them other than prune lightly after flowering to keep the height manageable. No disease, no pest, no fertilizer. They are hardy to zone 4, can tolerate poor soil, and seems to live in a range of light from full sun to morning sun-afternoon shade to light shade. Here in Virginia in zone 7, they do best with a little shade to maintain the chartreuse color during the hot summers. I nominate Dream Catcher for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day; it is a eye-catching, dream shrub for the landscape.
Today is Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day where garden bloggers across the country post photos of blossoms on the 15th of the month. Although it is snowing today in Virginia, I am happy that spring is around the corner and “snow” in another form will appear soon in my garden. For many years now I have enjoyed Deutzia ‘Chardonnay Pearls’, a small, deciduous shrub that leafs out in March and covers itself with tiny, pearl-like buds in April. From April through May, the buds open to white, bell-shaped flowers, complementing the light green leaves. When my Deutzia ‘Chardonnay Pearls’ is in full bloom it looks like a snow-capped hill. Like snow, the flowers gently fall to the ground as they past their prime, melting and disappearing within the soil.
In the summer, the small shrub provides light green color in an otherwise dark corner of the garden. Some people say the leaves are lemon-lime colored; some say chartreuse, but mine are light green (I have another true chartreuse shrub near it so I can see the difference). The species has leaves of a darker green and grows taller, about 5 feet. Although the flowers are delicate, all deutzia shrubs are well-known for being pest, disease, and deer resistant. Proven Winners sent me my plant 9 years ago when it was a baby, only a few inches high. Since then it has matured into a 3-foot shrub and I do not expect it to grow any more. Mine is on the east side of the house where it receives morning sun and afternoon shade. Although that particular garden bed has well-drained soil, high in organic matter, the plant can tolerate a wide range of soils. Hardy to zone 5, Deutzia ‘Chardonnay Pearls’ thrives despite snowy winters and dry summers.
Sugar Tip double flowers
Today is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, the 15th of the month. Seven years ago, I was given a cultivar of the rose of Sharon shrub called Sugar Tip (Hibiscus syriacus) by Proven Winners Color Choice. I was unsure as I knew rose of Sharon plants were weedy, self-seeders. Like tall, thin cowboys, they provide lanky silhouettes across our Virginia countryside, too common to actually purchase and plant in one’s garden. But I had a particular space against the back fence that needed shrubs in full sun so I planted the cowboys, knowing they could take anything. Fortunately for me, my Sugar Tip plants grew to be large, robust shrubs, about 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Although their shape is still vase-like at the bottom, at the top they are broad enough to screen out the view of the neighbors in the back forty. Unlike the species, Sugar Tip’s foliage is variegated green and cream and the entire bush is studded with pink, double flowers that look more like roses than the few simple, hibiscus-like flowers on the species.
Sugar Tip buds
In addition to beauty, my Sugar Tip shrubs grow in full sun, too far away from the garden hose, so the only water they receive is rain. Rose of Sharon is a “low maintenance,” deciduous shrub, tolerant of our Virginia heat and humidity. I never fertilize and I don’t prune (or worse, spend time deadheading the spent flowers), yet my Sugar Tip bushes thrive in the summer and bloom continuously until the fall. Try growing a variegated rose of Sharon cultivar such as Sugar Tip instead of the species and you will be pleasantly surprised.
Sugar Tip variegated leaves