This lovely rounded evergreen shrub hails from East China, Taiwan and Japan. In late winter and early spring, stunning panicles of lily-of-the-valley shaped flowers appear. The species grows tall, to about 4 m, but there are numerous cultivars, including more compact specimens growing 1 to 1.5 m in height. The species and many of the cultivars have white flowers, but some have pink blooms. Some cultivars have flowers that are pink in bud and in the early stage of the blooming, but that fade to white over time. Many of the cultivars have spectacularly coloured new foliage growth in spring, usually in shades of red or reddish-bronze, that becomes glossy green as it matures. The cultivar 'Variegata' has cream-edged leaves. Cultivars in my garden are 'Temple Bells' (ht 1.5 m, white flowers and reddish-bronze spring foliage, pictured above) and 'Christmas Cheer' (ht 1-2 m, deep-pink flushed flowers and coppery spring foliage). They flower round the same time as hybrid hellebores, and I like growing hellebores of the same hue below them, as the whorled leaf formation of both plants is similar and they both enjoy cool, shaded soil.
These shrubs belong to the Ericaceae family of plants, meaning that they like fertile, humus-rich, moist but well-drained acid soil. They seem to prefer cool, moist conditions so are best in sheltered part-shade. They can be a bit temperamental but are worth a try, especially in the cooler, elevated suburbs of Sydney. They are cold hardy but don't like extremely hot days in summer, which can actually kill them. Propagation is by semi-hardwood cuttings taken in summer, though they may take a while to establish roots. It may also be possible to layer a low-growing stem.