Abelia is just one example of my ongoing love affair with “old fashioned” plants. We provide landscape design and landscape installation for a lot of historic properties, especially old farms, so I like to use the plants you’d expect to see there. Just how “old” of an old fashioned plant is abelia? It’s named for Clarke Abel, a naturalist who went to China with Lord Amherst in 1816 and collected and plants to send back. Clarke had as much luck with that as I do playing the lottery, and the ship filled with his botanical booty sank. But, he was still honored when the first Abelia chinensis hit British shores in 1844.
Abelia x grandiflora, or one of its many cultivars, is what you’re most likely to encounter in the garden center. They’re drought tolerant, easy to grow, and the deer don’t like to munch on them. The pinkish-white blooms show up in the summer and last pretty much all the way through frost. Depending on the cultivar, you can expect abelia to reach between 3 and 6 feet tall and wide.
You can plant abelia in areas ranging from full sun to part shade. Most sources will say that abelia wants moist, well-drained soil, but that they’ll also tolerate crappy clay soil – you know, what we have here in Virginia.
Here are some abelias I like:
Abelia x grandiflora
This is one of my go-to plants for creating mass plantings. Around here it’s not uncommon to see them around 4-5 feet tall and wide. In terms of pruning, less is more. If you turn this beautiful shrub into a box or a gumdrop I WILL find you and chuck your pruners down a storm drain. This beauty deserves better than that!
Abelia x ‘Edward Goucher’
A little more compact than the grandiflora, ‘Edward Goucher’ grows in the 3-5 ft range. Leaves and flowers are similar.
Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’
If you’re looking for a dwarf variety of abelia, you’ll love Kaleidoscope. It grows to around 2-2.5 ft tall and 3-3.5 ft wide and has beautiful variegated foliage.
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