As the opening entry in The New Southern Living Garden Book, abelia is not only alphabetically first in our gardening estimation, it is also one of our favorite plantings of all time. This Southern-favorite plant belongs to the family Caprifoliaceae. It’s a graceful shrub with small, delicate blooms, and it has long been a reliable plant for borders and shrub plantings. It can also be a great choice for foundation plantings and hedges, as long as it is tended appropriately. A hearty shrub, abelia can grow densely enough to become a hedging or screening plant in the yard, a coveted characteristic in Southern landscape design. Some grow low enough to the ground to be effective ground cover or plantings for sloping and hilly areas. Still other gardeners simply appreciate abelia as a single planting, its foliage and flowers attractive enough to stand on their own as a centerpiece. Learn more about abelias below, and consider planting some in your garden this year.
This shrub can be found throughout the South, and its popularity just grows and grows. The New Southern Living Garden Book describes, “This old-fashioned favorite has renewed popularity due to its more compact selections, deer resistance, and abundant blooms that attract butterflies.” It has an attractive form that can grow to be substantial. The Garden Book says, “The graceful, arching branches are densely set with oval, glossy, ½– to 1½-inch long leaves that emerge a handsome bronze and then turn green. Tubular or bell-shaped blossoms cluster among the leaves or at ends of branches, typically from spring until fall.”
This plant thrives in the sun with regular water. It can stand up to the heat of the Southern climate, but it does need some care, so be sure that your garden hose can reach your abelia plantings, or fill up your watering can and check in on your growing abelias. Because it is such a hearty and reliable planting, abelia requires occasional pruning to keep its shape and ensure it doesn’t send out stems into wonky tangles. The New Southern Living Garden Book recommends, “To retain abelia’s naturally graceful shape, use hand pruners to cut a few of the main stems to the ground each winter or early spring. This produces more of the vigorous, arching stems that create the plant’s pleasing form. Do not shear.”
A. chinensis is a showy abelia. It flowers in a big, beautiful showing, and it’s often used as a garden centerpiece or in a big container. It takes to either application and can be counted on to grow 5-7 feet tall and wide. Its flowers are white and tinted with pink. In addition to A. chinensis, A. x grandiflora, or glossy abelia, is another popular planting, perhaps the most popular planting in the South. It grows to 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide with white or pink flowers and leaves that fade to bronze in the fall. Popular selections include ‘Bronze Anniversary;’ ‘Canyon Creek,’ which has fragrant pink flowers; and the compact ‘Francis Mason,’ ‘Golden Fleece,’ and ‘Kaleidoscope.’ The last, ‘Kaleidoscope,’ is striking with its bright red stems, yellow variegated leaves, and white flowers.
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Do you have any abelias growing in your garden? What’s your favorite classic Southern shrub?