There is no shortage of flowering shrubs in gardens at the moment. While it is the time between the true spring shrubs and the summer-flowering rush of weigela and philadelphus, there are some interesting things in bloom in the garden. Three are new in this garden and were planted in the past few years.
The biggest surprise is Dipelta floribunda. It is still young but is showing potential with a mass of delightful flowers. It is obviously related to kolkwitzia and abelia but, in this garden at least, flowers considerably earlier – my kolkwitzia is covered in buds but will be several weeks before it blooms. Dipeltas are named for the winged seed cases, dipelta meaning ‘two shields’. They are native to Western China and they are generally hardier than abelias. The most common species in gardens is D. floribunda, and it is a remarkably lovely thing in flower, though it is a large shrub in time, which may be why it is not often seen. For most of summer this is not a showy shrub and can reach 4m high so takes up a lot of space. But the seed ‘pods’ are attractive and turn pink or red as they age in late summer. It is hardy, tough, has attractive, peeling bark similar to deutzia and tolerates chalky soil, not that that bothers me here. The flowers are supposed to be fragrant but I have not noticed much smell. But they are pretty and they are larger than abelias. I have one abelia and it is struggling a bit. My kolkwitzia was slow to get going but is now doing fine.
I have mixed feelings about olearias. When I was a student and visited the gardens of Scotland’s south west I fell head over heels in love with Olearia semidentata with its glorious lilac daisies. Of course it is not very hardy and I probably wouldn’t risk it even if I found it for sale (oh yes I would!). But then I was brought back to earth with a bump when I discovered that the most common olearia was O. x haastii which is the most miserable of shrubs. The flowers are dull white and remain in a scurfy brown state when they die, making this rather drab shrub even more unpleasant. Admittedly it is tough and neat and withstands coastal winds. Olearia phlogopappa and its descendants are gorgeous things, looking like shrubby Michaelmas daisies when in bloom, but unreliable here – they need perfect drainage. I admire O. macrodonta for the holly-like leaves, and the flowers, though the default dull white, are held in showy clusters and are fragrant. And despite being far from native (coming from New Zealand) the flowers attract lots of bees. It is easy to roots from cuttings, like most species, and my plant was grown in this way and planted as a tiny plant, and is now 1.5m high and I am hoping for flowers this year. But the apple of my eye at the moment is O. cheesemanii. It is potentially a large, evergreen shrub with dark green oval leaves and masses of white flowers. The buds survived the recent late frost and have now opened and completely cover the plant – there is no room for one more bloom! I don’t understand why it is not seen more often but perhaps time will tell! For now, it is shockingly showy!
Viburnum plicatum were some of the first shrubs I planted in the garden, in pretty primitive soil. They have done amazingly well and delight me with their flat flower clusters set along the horizontal branches. I probably did not give them enough room, half-expecting them to die, but things are fine for now. Because of this success I added ‘Popcorn’ which is a cv with all-sterile florets, forming rounded flower clusters rather like the snowball bush Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’. ‘Popcorn’ is supposed to have a more upright habit than the others and it is already making a wonderful display. Of course there is not much for pollinators here, but they can go and visit the olearia that is only a few seconds’ flight away!
A very nice selection, especially the Dipelta which I have never grown but have admired at Altamont Gardens.