Abelias – Garden Treasures with a Multitude of Jewels

            The abelias are a delightful group of plants that continue to gain popularity in contemporary landscape.  One of the desirable characteristics of these plants is their size.  All too often plants are sited too close to one another or a structure in the garden .  The placement appears appropriate at the time, but soon proves too close for comfort and leads to unnecessary pruning and increased chance for pest problems to occur.  Abelias, due to their naturally compact habit, help gardeners avoid this problem since they grow from 3’ – 6’ tall and as wide in the landscape.  Although this is not necessarily diminutive, their quick rate of growth generally means people are planting specimens that are about half mature size and therefore, provide sufficient room for growth.  In addition, abelias respond well to periodic severe cut-back.  This enhances the plant density, flower production and serves to reduce the size.  Effectively, abelias can be maintained at 3’ – 4’ with biennial cut back to the ground. 

Abelias offer many features that provide multiple seasons of unique interest.  The foliage is one such feature.  The small leaves are extremely glossy, so much so that the common name of Abelia x grandiflora is the glossy abelia.  The foliage glistens like diamonds in the summer sun.  The variegated cultivars add their own splash of color to the summer garden.  The bold multicolored foliage is just the remedy for that shady corner that needs a little help.  With the approach of autumn, the leaves turn various shades of bronze, red and purple resulting in a colorful display that remains effective throughout the fall, into the winter and often until spring.  The fall coloration is even more impressive when superimposed on the variegated foliage.  Abelia retains its foliage throughout the winter, although in more northerly regions may drop one half or more of its leaves.  The small leaves and wispy stems create a fine textured plant that adds a soft, graceful texture to any garden.

The flowers are quite possibly the most attractive feature of the plant.  The approximately 1” flowers are very attractive because of their visual appearance and sweet fragrance.  They are produced in great abundance from late May or June into the fall.  The numerous flowers throughout the summer provide the garden visitor a sweet fragrance rivaled by few other plants at that time of year.  Flowering is reduced with the onset of cool temperatures but is still significant up to the first hard frost.  The white to pinkish colored flowers, depending on species and cultivar, are produce on new growth so that they are always obvious on the ends of the branches.  This shrub rivals herbaceous plants for summer display.

Culturally abelias are as easy to care for as they are beautiful in the landscape.  There are no significant disease or insect problems that plague these plants.  Actually, the plant’s flowers provide a virtual smorgasbord for many insect pollinators.  Students in the entomology classes spend hours observing the myriad of insects that visit the flowers on a warm summers day.   Abelias are adaptable as to their location in the garden.  Plants will grow well in full sun and reward the gardener with dense, heavily flowered plants.  They also will grow in shade with a slight reduction in density and flower production.  It is best to avoid both extremely dry and wet locations but the plants are, on no way, picky as to their ease of growth.  Late winter or early spring pruning before the onset of vegetative growth will assure a neat appearance and remove any dead tips from the winter.

These plants are amazingly useful in garden design.  They may serve a very utilitarian  role as a hedge or to accent the curve of a path.  They can be used as a specimen shrub mixed in a summer perennial border.  The only drawback to this use is that the perennials may become jealous and refuse to perform on the same stage.  Abelias are also compact shrubs very useful in foundation plantings, masses and shrub borders.   The abelias are truly a plant for all seasons.

Abelia 'Edward Goucher' – Edward Goucher Abelia.    This hybrid between A. x grandiflora and A. schumannii has the deepest color of the abelia cultivars.  The flowers are lavender to purplish pink, distinct from the other cultivars, and begin in June and continue to frost.  The plant is intermediate between the parents in growth habit maturing 5’ tall by 5’ wide.  This cultivar often dies back to the ground in cold winters but rebounds with great vigor in the spring producing abundant flowers on the new growth. /     m!  1 gal    $15.00

Abelia x grandiflora 'Compacta' – Variegated Glossy Abelia.    Although abelias are anything but giants, this cultivars has a more diminutive habit, 3’ tall by 4’ wide, for those tighter spots in the garden.  It retains the glossy, semi evergreen foliage and dense habit of the species.  It produced fragrant white, tinged pink, flowers throughout the summer until frost. with pinkish flowers. /                          1 gal    $15.00

Abelia x grandiflora 'Conti’ Confetti ™ – Variegated Glossy Abelia.    This cultivar originated as a branch sport of A. x grandiflora ‘Sherwoodii’.  It has variegated foliage with creamy white margins occasionally tinged pink. The white portions of the foliage turn rose red in the winter providing considerable color to the often dreary winter landscape.  The fragrant white flowers are abundant in the summer and fall garden.  Plants grow 2’ tall and 3’wide. /     1 gal  1-2’  $15.00

Abelia x grandiflora 'Little Richard' – Glossy Abelia.  This cultivar is named for the compact habit, 2-3’ tall by 2-3’ wide, and dense growth.  The lustrous foliage emerges red then fades to a shinny dark green.  The leaves are retained through winter better than other cultivars. The dark foliage is the perfect foil for the white fragrant flowers.  /    1 gal    $15.00

Abelia x grandiflora 'Sunrise' – Glossy Abelia.  Another variegated abelia but with crisp golden yellow margins and a green center in the leaf.  This cultivar is a more vigorous grower than ConfettiTM maturing at 3’ or slightly more in height.  The white summer and fall flowers add to the display of this striking plant.  The royalties generated by sales of this cultivar go to support the J.C. Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University. /   1 gal    $15.00

Abelia mosanensis – Fragrant Abelia.  This species was discovered in Latvia, so it shows excellent hardiness but is completely deciduous.  What it may lack in winter foliage display, it more than makes up for in flower fragrance.  The deep pink buds open to rich pink flowers that are abundantly produced in late spring and early summer.  The glossy summer foliage changes to an orange red fall color that provides a colorful display in the autumn.   /    1 gal    $15.00

Abelia schumannii 'Bumblebee' –  Large-flowered Abelia.   The Latin name gives this plant away.  It is a dazzling new selection that has significantly larger flowers which look like small foxglove flowers.  The lavender  pink flowers are also distinct from other abelias. Combine this with an extended flowering season and attractive foliage, and you have an outstanding plant for the summer garden.  /    1 gal    $15.00