Friday, 07 November 2008
These shrubs asked nothing more than to be cut back after their profusion of blooms had finished. Sure, they resembled a dead bundle of sticks in winter, but few evergreen shrubs can provide the lavish abundance of flowers that these graceful classics do, and they require minimal maintenance once established. Further, they suffer from no diseases or pests. Sadly, these shrubs have fallen from favour in recent years as evergreen shrubs have taken over in popularity. But their deciduous nature means that they mark the passing of the seasons so dramatically, as their bare branches suddenly become swathed in buds in mid-spring and their fresh leaves unfurl to background greenery through summer.
All enjoy a position in at least half sun, with reasonably moist but well-drained soil in their early years: once established they can tolerate considerable dryness. Primarily of Asian origin, they are often the stars of English summer gardens, but they do equally well in our Sydney gardens.
Perhaps the most commonly seen, and the first of these shrubs to bloom is Weigela, sometimes known as fairy trumpets (Weigela florida, ht 2.5-3m) with a mass of arching canes smothered in rosy-pink trumpets in late September and October, which are good for picking for a vase. Various hybrids and cultivars are available in flower colours of white and crimson, and with different coloured leaves.
Similarly caney shrubs are mock orange blossom (Philadelphus) and wedding bells or bridal wreath (Deutzia), which begin to flower a little later than the Weigela, in October to early November. All Philadelphus are strongly fragrant, with exquisite large white single, semi-double or double cup-shaped blooms with prominent central stamens. The related Deutzia shrubs have more dense clusters of smaller flowers on similarly arching caned shrubs. Possibly the most robust in our climate is D. scabra, with a sumptuous display of single, star-shaped white blooms (ht 2.5-3m).
All these caney shrubs should be pruned immediately after flowering, by removing up to one third of the oldest, thickest canes at ground level each year, and lightly dead-heading the rest of the flowering shoots, rather than giving a severe all-over haircut, which destroys their intrinsic arching shape. All can be propagated from hardwood cuttings taken in autumn or winter, or softwood cuttings in early summer.