This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
If you are looking for a shrub for your garden that is drought tolerant, blooms most of the summer, takes full sun, has fragrant flowers that attract pollinators and hummingbirds, is disease free, and is even deer resistant, look no further that the genus Abelia (which, just to confuse you, I recently discovered has been renamed Linnaea, I hate it when they do that).
Abelia is a woody shrub in the honeysuckle family that has tubular flowers that can be either white on the straight species or shades of pink to light purple on many of the new cultivars.
Abelia grandiflora has one-inch glossy green leaves that will either remain on the plant year around, or depending on the winter, drop some or all of them. In the trade, we refer to this as being semi-evergreen. I have found that plants that display this habit sometimes look their best if they are cut back hard in the spring, so they can have a fresh start on the season.
Abelia grandiflora can form into a large shrub and function nicely as a hedge or privacy barrier, but the reality is that this straight species is hardly ever found in the garden centers any more, being replaced with a plethora of new, “improved” selections that boast more colorful foliage, tighter, more compact growth habits, and showier flowers.
These new introductions function better in the more typical small garden spaces and can even be used in containers as seasonal fillers - keeping in mind that they will need to be transplanted into the garden after a season or two.
Of the dozen or so new flavors to come on the scene in the last ten years or so, here are four that I would recommend you try out…
Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’ — This dwarf variety (three to four feet tall and as wide) changes color over the seasons, starting in spring with bright yellow and lime-green glossy leaves that turn golden yellow in summer and mature in the fall to a glowing orange and fiery red. It is literally a kaleidoscope of colors throughout the season!
Abelia ‘Magic Daydream’ — According to Monrovia Growers “Abelia ‘Magic Daydream’" is a total knockout, from the glossy, green and white variegated foliage with a pink splash to the large, fragrant blooms that change color from white to pink.
Use in shrub borders, mixed containers or as a single potted specimen on a balcony or terrace. At only two feet tall and as wide, this is even more compact than the above Kaleidoscope and therefore appropriate for the front of the bed. The cooler green and white variegation is perfect for the gardener who prefers the blue, pink, and pale-yellow tones and shies away from the hot oranges and reds.
Abelia ‘Lucky Lots’ — This variety has lively green leaves with generous silver-white margins. The sweetly scented white flowers add to its summer charm. Useful as a small hedge (grows three to four feet tall and as wide), along a foundation or even in a large container.
Abelia ‘Sunshine Daydream’ — Similar to ‘Magic Daydrea’ only the foliage is warmer, emerging dark pink with green and white variegation and softening in the summer to a dreamy pink with golden yellow and green hues. It sports the same fragrant pink flowers that deepen in color as they mature.
All of these newer Abelias are tough as nails and well suited to our northwest gardens. Check them out now and see if you don’t fall in love with them too. Stay safe and keep on gardening!
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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