In the nick of time: albizia

The nights are drawing in, my feet are cold and the golden rod (solidago ‘Fireworks’) is suddenly in flower. The start of the week was wet and windy and I didn’t pay much attention to the garden turning instead, to household matters. But high pressure has brought calmer conditions and clear nights (but not so much sunny days) that are cool. However, the effects of the warm summer are still with us and that brings me back to albizia.

The first time I ‘experienced’ Albizia julibrissin was in the garden of photographer Derek St Romaine and his wife Dawn. I worked a fair bit with them and I remember visiting their garden, in Surbiton, best known as the setting for ‘The Good Life’ (Surbiton, not their garden). It must have been August. I remember it was a hot, sunny day and we sat under a row of mature albizia. They were covered in a froth of delicate pink blooms and the ground under them was litter with the fallen flowers. It was like discovering an explosion in a candy floss factory. It was quite magical.

So it was with excitement that, many years ago, I got a ‘Summer Chocolate’ (previous post here). It is grown primarily for the finely divided dark foliage, of course, but I did hope that, one day, I would see flowers. Unfortunately, it was one of those plants that I was too worried about to actually plant (another tomorrow). It is totally stupid to buy a plant and then be scared to plant it in case it fails. It is like prevaricating over something that takes a long time to ‘do its stuff’. These should be planted immediately! So the albizia remained in a pot. As it turns out it was wise, to a point, because it meant it could move with me. But, at last, it has its place in the garden. It needs a hot summer to ripen the wood or it dies back a lot in winter. I don’t have a south- or west-facing wall which would suit it so well. But it is planted to the south of an evergreen, cotoneaster hedge. Of course, there was a problem because the hedge was planted at the same time and it had no benefit of protection at first. But plants grow, and the hedge is now 1.5m high and must be providing some protection if not the needed reflected and stored heat of a wall.

But in the heat of this summer, buds formed. I have seen buds before but they did not develop and just dropped off. But this year they have developed and a few clusters have opened.

I think the flowers are deeper pink than the normal form but they don’t seem as big as I remember – what does?

There are more buds to open but I am not sure if, with the current cool weather and northerly breeze, these others will actually open. It may be just a bit too late.

It would be nice if they did open but the foliage is the real reason to grow it and, now I have seen the flowers once I won’t cry if I don’t see them again for a while.

‘Summer Chocolate’ foliage and hips on Rosa pomifera

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13 Comments on “In the nick of time: albizia”

  1. Chris Mousseau
    September 16, 2022 at 10:28 am #

    The foliage is beautiful, as you indicate, very similar to the Popcorn Plant (Senna didymobotrya) I’ve grown as an annual. Same family. Theoretically, Albizia could be grown here, according to info I just read about it…

    • thebikinggardener
      September 16, 2022 at 4:37 pm #

      The foliage of Senna didymobotrya is much coarser but a lovely plant with great flowers.

  2. tonytomeo
    September 16, 2022 at 3:08 pm #

    ‘Summer Chocolate’ seems to be less vigorous than the common green sort, particularly the feral sort that grow wild. They are not naturalized here like they are in some regions, but there are a few feral sorts. I did not like its less vigorous growth at first, but then realized that it is more appropriate than the common sort for more confined spaces, such as atriums. In town, it can work nicely for those narrow spaces between the houses. A neighbor here put one in the garden, so I am watching it. After a few years, it continues to grow quite vigorously, so I expect it to slow a bit soon. At work, there is a green silk tree that we do not know the origin of. I mean, we do not know if it was intentionally planted, or if it is feral. Except for the ‘Summer Chocolate’ that was planted only a few years ago, there are no others in the neighborhood. I suspect that is was feral in the garden of whoever brought it here. Anyway, it blooms white. It looks interesting at first, but gets grungy fast. I may take cuttings from it.

    • thebikinggardener
      September 16, 2022 at 4:36 pm #

      I don’t like the sound of a white one – I bet it looks dirty the second day of flowering. The pink is surely preferable.

      • tonytomeo
        September 17, 2022 at 6:25 pm #

        I would not recommend it. I only like it because white is my favorite color. Pink is such a natural color for silk tree, and is still pretty as it fades to that rather tan canteloup pink color. It seems to me that the blooms with richer pink color last longer, and that ‘Summer Chocolate’ takes quite a while to fade. The white bloom, although ‘sort of’ interesting is not exactly as pretty as the pink. Furthermore, because the bloom fades so fast, portions of the canopy bloom and begin to fade before other portions of the canopy begin bloom.

  3. Paddy Tobin
    September 16, 2022 at 9:06 pm #

    That’s a great success. Well done!

    • thebikinggardener
      September 17, 2022 at 7:43 am #

      I am not sure how much of it is down to me! But a timely post since it was just 3c last night and I am nervous about tender plants that are still outside.

      • Paddy Tobin
        September 17, 2022 at 9:25 am #

        Mary moved succulents into the glasshouse over the last few days – again, in fear of frost. It was clearly cooler here but without frost. There’s a good-sized albizia in the Pleasure Garden at Mount Congreve which flowers each year.

        • thebikinggardener
          September 17, 2022 at 11:51 am #

          that was wise. Hopefully we will escape frost for a while yet. I had not noticed the albizia at Mount Congreve. I will look for it next time I am there 🙂

  4. Summercloud
    September 21, 2022 at 4:59 pm #

    Wait, is that a mimosa?! They invasive here in North Carolina—as they are in much of the US—and I just cut a big one out of my woods. People still plant them too! They’re so gorgeous it’s hard to convince folks that they’re displacing our native trees. I guess that’s not a problem for you?

    • thebikinggardener
      September 26, 2022 at 8:15 am #

      Albizia is not mimosa (Acacia dealbata). It is only just hardy enough to grow here – well both of them. Mimosa struggles in my garden and because the flower buds form in late summer in the shoot tips they have, so far, not made it through my cold and windy winters. However, in a nearby bed there is a small plant that has appeared – It cant be a seedling because I have not had a flower! I am rather confused at the moment.

      • summercloud
        September 26, 2022 at 2:00 pm #

        Hmmm. Well, whatever the common name, it seems that Albizia julibrissin is indeed invasive in a lot of the US (source: http://bonap.net/Napa/TaxonMaps/Genus/County/Albizia). It looks like what we call the invasive mimosa and my quick google search bears that out… invasive to the entire southeastern and south-central US. It’s so interesting what is a problem here but not in your area, and what you view as exotic but I don’t–one of the reasons I love reading your blog!

        Common names are so curious. I hadn’t heard of your “mimosa” which is Acacia dealbata, but bonap.net tells me it’s present but exotic in California. It’s called either “silver wattle” or “winter mimosa” and seems to be planted ornamentally but not an invasive problem. I guess if it’s happy in CA then it makes sense that it’s not grown in NC, and won’t flower for you.

        • thebikinggardener
          September 27, 2022 at 8:19 am #

          There seems little chance of albizia becoming a nuisance here but I appreciate that it could be where it sets seeds. Many acacias too are invasive in milder, hotter areas.

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