Weigela: new twists on an old favourite

I mentioned a weigela the other day and promised to mention the others I have planted in the garden now so here goes. As I rushed round, between some serious weeding, to take some photos, I realise the failings in my plantings so far. I still have to add some of my favourites, so this selection is not really representative. One that I used to have, that I must add, because I admire it so much, is BRIANT RUBIDOR (‘Olympiade’) which has brilliant yellow or yellow-variegated leaves, often edged with red, and bright red flowers.

Weigelas are deciduous, hardy shrubs with opposite leaves and tubular, five-petalled flowers. There are about ten species, mostly from Japan. They are in the Caprifoliaceae, the honey-suckle family. It was probably Weigela florida that reached the ‘West’ first, in 1845 and nurserymen quickly saw potential in them and started to produce hybrids. The genus is named after Christian Ehrenfried von Weigel and is not weigelia, as so often said – that missing ‘i’ makes it sound wrong but it is correct.

The famous nursery of Victor Lemoine, best known for philadelphus and lilacs, had produced 60 cultivars by 1930. Introduced in 1861 from The Netherlands, W. florida ‘Variegata’ is one of the commonest of all garden shrubs and still a favourite with its white-edged leaves and pink flowers.

I am starting to wonder why I planted ‘Wings of Fire’. It is primarily grown for the foliage which is bronze, turning red in autumn. The flowers are dark pink but not freely produced. In fact, although my plant is now almost 1m high and wide, I have not seen a single flower. It seems ridiculous to grow a weigela for foliage only, but most of the new kinds have anything but green leaves. I have mentioned ‘Olympiade’ already but another that I once grew is ‘Verweig’ (MONET) which has purple leaves with variegated edges that create a fussy mass of pink, cream and purple and it blooms well. It is dwarf and, although a bit too visually confusing for me to love, is a good thing.

I am in serious danger of planting too many white flowers in the garden but I find them impossible to avoid. I could have planted something newer but I added ‘Candida’ which dates from 1879. A better choice would have been ‘Bristol Snowflake’ a seedling of the wonderful ‘Bristol Ruby’ (1961) which has larger flowers over a longer period. Both are large.

‘Milk and Honey’ is a new one to me with white flowers and leaves with a central gold splash. I like all variegated plants (well most) and particularly admire those with white or yellow central blotches on the leaves. I can’t find out much about this one and it either reaches 1m or 2m and it appears to be new although one site uses the name for what appears to be W. middendorffiana – a yellow-flowered species. Although my plant is young I like the combination and I can’t wait for it to mature to whatever height it decides.

‘Kolmagira’ (MAGICAL RAINBOW) has it all, with cream-edged leaves that are flushed with pink and quite decent pink flowers. It should mature to 1.3m so is a good compromise for size and should make a show all summer.

‘Rumba’ is one of the new kinds that has narrow flowers with lobes that don’t spread as much as the older kinds. For this reason I am not as keen on them but they do have the advantage of being floriferous and compact. This one has green leaves, flushed purple and should reach 1.7m high. At present I can’t quite see that, because it is very compact, but we will see. It was raised in Ottawa, Canada and introduced in 1985.

‘Alexandra’ (WINE & ROSES) is much better than the old ‘Foliis Purpureis’. It grows to about 1.5m high and is possibly the best of the dark leaved kinds. Like them all, it is best in a fairly sunny spot. Most dark-leaved shrubs look dowdy and depressing in shade and don’t develop their richest colouring. Even so, I don’t think you should go too mad with purple foliage unless you live in a sunny clime or can leaven it with some white flowers or silver foliage.

Having said that, I also have ‘Velda’ (EBONY AND IVORY) which I mentioned the other day, and ‘Bokrashine’ (NAOMI CAMPBELL) which is similar to ‘Alexandra’ but has fewer flowers and is a bit slower growing, in my garden at least.

I also planted ‘Slingco1’ (ALL SUMMER RED), which promises the bonus of flowers all summer, after the initial flush but, probably through no fault of its own, it is struggling badly. There is a small range of these perpetually-flowering kinds but they all have small flowers. These are probably fine in the USA where weigelas are loved for being attractive to humming birds, but I am not sure a good fat bumblebee would manage to get into the flowers. Worse still is ‘Purple Rain’ a variety that has showy buds that never open. Not sure I fancy that at all!

A quick note on pruning. After flowering, trim back flowered shoots to tidy and remove a few of the oldest stems to near the base to thin out the bush and allow room for new shoots from near the base. If you cut the whole thing down you will get new growth but will miss flowers for a year – not always a bad thing if you have a variety grown for attractive foliage. Always prune after flowering and avoid doing it in winter if you want flowers – its OK if you just want vigorous, leafy shoots or need to rejuvenate the bush.

If you clip your weigela into a cube or sphere it will get full of dead twigs and you will not get many flowers. Even worse, I will come round and confiscate your shears!

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5 Comments on “Weigela: new twists on an old favourite”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    May 18, 2023 at 1:25 pm #

    A great selection.

  2. tonytomeo
    May 18, 2023 at 9:21 pm #

    Several ‘Alexandra’ (which we know as ‘Wine and Roses’) were added to one of our landscapes last year. I prefer weigela with green or variegated foliage, but this particular cultivar happened to provide the best color combination for the particular application. I am certainly pleased with them now, and pleased that they are an old fashioned species, even if a more modern cultivar.

    • thebikinggardener
      May 19, 2023 at 7:41 am #

      That is good to know that you are liking Wine and Roses – It is reassuring that I am not alone in liking it so far

      • tonytomeo
        May 19, 2023 at 5:03 pm #

        I did not intend to like it. The foliar color just works better than the sort that I would have preferred. The second bloom phase, even if less profuse than the primary phase, will be nice.

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