Plant breeders have been working for several years to increase the appeal of flowering shrubs for gardeners. We’ve seen advances in bloom size and length of bloom. We’ve seen shrubs that were formerly too large for the average lot reduced in size to make them easier to fit into small spaces. Foliage has been variegated or enchanced with brighter colours. And then there are shrubs like Kolkwitzia amabilis, aka the Beauty Bush. It blooms for but three weeks, it’s huge and it looks rather coarse for some 49 weeks of the year. But for those three weeks you fall in love with it. We’re a strange species, us gardeners.
Kolkwitzia amabilis is a member of the honeysuckle family and is closely related to the Weigela, a group of shrubs that has been subjected to all of the breeding work described above. It grows two to three metres tall and is covered with foxglove-like pink flowers with yellow throats in May, to the point where you see very little of the foliage. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil, so Kolkwitzia does well in our growing conditions. The bark on older stems often peels away in strips; not exactly a redeeming quality to some gardeners. The shrub should be pruned every few years, removing the oldest stems right at ground level after its bloomed. This will control its size and help to produce new blooming wood. Hardy to -30 deg. C.
If everyone had a 50 metre long shrub border Kolkwitzia amabilis would be an ideal candidate for the back portion. It looks spectacular in bloom but really needs to be worked in with other shrubs so it can fade away in the background after its bloomed. It’s not a shrub that wants to be on its own. A recent introduction called “Dream Catcher” features a kaleidoscope of foliage colour, beginning with copper tones, changing to yellow in spring, then to green-tinted chartreuse in summer before turning orange and gold in the fall.

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