Flowering ornamental trees and shrubs vary greatly in their value, or lack of it, the season long.
In the latter case, there are flowering cherries, which, if it doesn’t come a spanking breeze or heavy rain, last about a week at best. They don’t deserve valuable space on a small property.
But this discourse is about the other end of the spectrum, shrubs that offer unusually lengthy flowering time.
Among the most worthy of the shrubs for length of flowering is Abelia x Grandiflora, the glossy abelia, and some of its relatively recent derivatives.
The botanical handle there includes an “x,” which indicates it is a hybrid, and indeed it is. The common one that has been around for many years is actually a hybrid of two oriental species.
I say many years. Well, at least 70 or more. I can attest to that.
My friend, Crockett Mathis, and I were budding (no pun) lepidopterists, collecting butterflies and moths avidly, when we were kids on the corner of the street.
One day, we spied a giant swallowtail butterfly, very unusual in this part of the country, on a glossy abelia bush at the corner of East Wood and North Highland streets.
We got into a frenzy and manned our nets, fighting off one another to get to the prize. Crockett won, and I dare say he might still have the butterfly in his collection.
My own collection fell into ruin when a cousin of mine stuck his finger into every specimen.
All that to say this. The glossy abelia is, after all these years, one of the best and longest flowering shrubs around. Cranking up in June, it stays in flower almost until hard frost.
It will, if left to its own devices, grow to eight feet or more, but is better when pruned back every few years.
Plant breeders have, in the past several years, tinkered with it and crossed and re-crossed it until now there are numerous varieties around, most of them smaller than the original.
I will start first with the best of them, ‘Rose Creek.’ This little jewel grows to about two feet, or less if cut back in spring, and is smothered with white blossoms with pink calyxes, giving the plant a soft pinky-white effect at a distance.
The bush is so ample of flower that little foliage is seen when in full bloom. This keeps up until hard frost, and even after that, the calyxes hang on for a long time and present a decorative effect in themselves.
Another in the “Creek” series is ‘Canyon Creek,’ that grows taller, to about four feet. It sports foliage that is a pale yellow with a tint of pink and produces clusters of flowers that are a bit larger than ’Rose Creek’s.’
And, before I forget it, a distinct possibility, I would mention that the flowers of all these abelias are fragrant and well-suited to cutting.
There is, indeed, a slight hint of privet in the aroma, but not enough to give you a headache.
An older variety is ‘Francis Mason,’ with distinctly yellow foliage, even in the shade, and plentiful typical abelia fragrant flower. It is a medium grower to four feet.
I have it sited in shade, where it performs well, with maybe a few less flowers.
Another medium-sized one is ‘Little Richard,’ with green foliage and numerous flowers on a three-foot bush.
It is in a mixed border and pays more than enough rent with its long flowering at the same time as many surrounding perennials.
There are plenteous new varieties with degrees of variegation in their foliage. I have not had much success with them, but it may just be me.
All of these abelias are evergreen in average winters. In severe cold they might defoliate, but seldom are killed to the ground.
Even if they were, they would rebound quickly in spring.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Mondays at 642-1162.