The Hibiscus For You if You’d Prefer Not to Have Hibiscus Hedges

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Remember this photo from last Wednesday? This is a lovely hibiscus syriacus called Sugar Tip and not only does it have variegated leaves but it has double flowers. The double flowers are sterile so they don’t have that tendency to self-sow the way older varieties do.

There’s an “improved” variety of this plant as well called Sugar Tip Gold that has even more variegation in the leaf.

I am of two minds about this plant. I love the fact that its sterile and doesn’t seed itself all over my property. But I do see bumblebees all over it. I hate to see them wasting their time for a plant where there’s nothing for them.

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Still, there’s no denying how lovely this flower is!

Non-Native Shrubs for Wildlife

This may look like an out of control mess (more about what’s actually gone on here in a moment) but this wild hedge of hibiscus syriacus actually serves a wonderful purpose. As you might actually be able to tell from this photo, the land approaching this garden–which is not mine–in a slope. You can see the hibiscus flowers lying on it.

My neighbor mows it with a riding mower. For years I struggled with this garden and with painfully hand pulling the grass that his riding mower threw into the garden (actually it was the grass seeds, which then germinated–but I digress). Now that I have the Great Wall of Hibiscus, it fairly impenetrable.

Ironically, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. (And in another digression, isn’t this what gardening is all about? Happy accidents–and some not so happy ones?) That huge white hibiscus you see is one that was sent to me as a test shrub. It is called Lil’ Kim and was supposed to be 3-4 feet tall.

So, as I always say, plants can’t read–but in this case, Lil’ Kim apparently reverted to her parentage, whatever that was.

Here’s the true Lil’ Kim. You can probably tell that her foliage is more delicate and her flowers are smaller than anything in that gargantuan hedge.

By comparison, here is her “reverted” sister, parentage unknown. Same color scheme, same type of flower, just much larger.

So why do I let this behemoth stay? Simple–the wildlife love it. Bees and hummingbirds adore it. The fact that it has created a hedge from the grass clippings is an unintentional bonus.

And you might have noticed some purple hibiscus in my photo too. Both these plants, when they self-sow, occasionally throw off purple seedlings. I let them stay on the idea that purple is a desired wild life color.

Here’s a close-up of the the “purple” one. I guess it’s more lavender. Anyway, I like it. Coming up in the kolkwitzia, it makes it look as if it’s blooming a second time–almost.

Paniculata Type Hydrangeas

On Monday I talked about hydrangea arborescens, a type of hydrangea that blooms on new wood. Once upon a time they were called snowball hydrangeas because they only bloomed in white. As my lovely hedge of pink hydrangeas shows, that’s no longer true. That variety is called Invincibelle Spirit. It was one of the first of the pink arborescens varieties. There are now deeper pink varieties, and “ruby” varieties–everything gets “newer” and “improved” in gardening.

But of course there are other varieties that bloom on new wood as well. One of the first that I have had was an old fashioned variety called “PeeGee” (which is short for paniculata grandiflora). The “old-fashioned” or non-hybrid types of these shrubs can get quite large–up to 20 feet tall and wide at maturity.

Of course, most of us don’t have lovely old mature specimens like this because we’ve planted them in the wrong spots so we are always cutting them back–which we can do–in the spring.

Newer dwarf varieties might only grow to 6-8′. This is my neighbor’s shrub. You can see that this is a later flowering variety as well. It only begins to bloom in August or so here in the frozen north, which is nice because not a lot is going on in the garden at that time.

Other cultivar types–which have a similar flower and leaf structure–are finishing up their bloom about now in my climate. Again, this is my same neighbor’s shrub. You can tell the blooms are nearing maturity by the blushing pink color they are taking on. I am not sure which cultivar this one might be. There are a few that are pink, like Vanilla Strawberry, Fire Light or Strawberry Sundae  but this one doesn’t appear to be those–it’s not pink enough. It’s still quite lovely though!

And the beauty of these is that if deer nibble them, or snow (or your snow plow) damages them or whatever might happen over the winter (should you live in the frozen north, as I do), it’s just fine. They do come back and bloom on new growth.

These plants are hardy to Zone 3, by the way, so they’ll take a lot more cold than my climate can dish out. They will also grow as far south as zone 8 (which these days isn’t as far south as we think). But again, in warmer climates, I know they’ll want more shade than we give them where I am!