Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Flowering Loropetalum is a Shrub for All Seasons

  Photo: Wikimedia Commons
“I was sorry because I had no loropetalum, and then I met a man who had no snowdrop.”
With tongue in cheek, the famed garden columnist Henry Mitchell wrote these words three decades ago, and I had to smile when I read them recently in an anthology of his work. The only loropetalum that gardeners knew way back then was the original species – Loropetalum chinense, sometimes known as the Chinese fringe flower, a rather nondescript evergreen shrub that wasn’t especially popular.
But things things have changed since then!
If the great man were alive today, I bet he’d trade his snowdrops in a heartbeat to get his hands on one of the modern loropetalum cultivars pictured here. The hybridizers and nurserymen have really done their magic. Today, bright flowers, burgundy foliage, and a graceful, arching habit combine to give loropetalum year-round appeal.
It was back in the early 1990s when these pink-flowered selections made their debut, and I can still remember when they first hit the garden centers. They’re usually classified as Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum, and they are currently seen absolutely everywhere where winters are relatively mild (they are hardy as far north as zone 6).

  Photo: Terry DelValle, University of Florida extension service
In early spring, usually March, loropetalum will be in its full glory. The hot pink flowers are like little tassels, made up of delicate, fringe-like petals. The show starts slowly, as just a few blossoms open at a time, but by the time the shrub reaches its peak, it can rival an azalea in full bloom. Altogether you can expect three weeks of flowers from loropetalum. At one time, I happened to underplant one of mine with a creeping veronica (Veronica peduncularis ‘Georgia Blue’) and it was a happy accident to find that the two bloom at exactly the same time. The brilliant, cobalt blue veronica combined with the fuchsia tassels of the loropetalum is probably the most spectacular plant combination I’ve ever seen – and it was especially gorgeous where loropetalum’s branches would arch down low toward the ground, so the colors could really mingle. I wish I had a picture of it, but I don’t.
More than any other flowering shrub I can think of, loropetalum has year-round appeal. After they bloom, most of these new cultivars put out reddish-colored new growth that can actually look like flowers from a distance. This new foliage eventually matures to a dark olive or purplish green that makes a nice backdrop for your summer perennials. When cool weather arrives in fall, the foliage deepens again, to a deep burgundy shade – and because it’s evergreen, it makes a nice focal point in the winter garden. During warm spells in December and January, the shrubs will even surprise you by throwing out a few colorful, sporadic blossoms – just a little taste of what’s to come again in the spring.
All things considered, you just can’t go wrong with loropetalum. It fits in everywhere and no matter what the season, as my next-door neighbor puts it, “it just always looks good.”

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