Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Variegated Rose-of-Sharon

althea-syriacus-purpureus-variegatus-overall-6

 

Foliage so colorful and so irregular you (almost) can't see who's eating it.  And then, the flowers. 

 

No, not the fluffy bits at the top of the picture below:  Those are the white version of hardy ageratum, and you can read all about it here.  I mean the burgundy crumpled-satin thing in the middle—like a fabric-covered couture button that took a deathless atelier worker hours to do.

 

althea-syriacus-purpureus-variegatus-flower-640

 

What delicious irony:  The rose-of-sharon bush—a woody hibiscus hardy enough to grow in Chicago—has given rise to 'Purpureus Variegatus', with hard knobby flowers that are any hibiscus's anti-Christ, or at least opposite.  And sparkling blue-and-white foliage that's the antithesis of the bush's usual boring green.

 

On every count—aesthetic as well as iconoclastic—I wouldn't be without it.  Neither should you.

 

 

Here's how to grow this oddball rose-of-Sharon:

 

Latin Name

Hibiscus syriacus 'Purpureus Variegatus'

Common Name

Variegated Rose-of-Sharon

Family

Malvaceae, the Hibiscus family.

What kind of plant is it?

Hardy shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 5-9.

Habit

Multi-stemmed & upright.

Rate of Growth

Medium.

Size in ten years

Hibiscus syriacus 'Purpureus Variegatus' is slower and ultimately shorter than unvariegated cultivars: To six or eight feet, and four to five feet wide. 

Texture

Dense brightly-variegated foliage on the many vertical stems makes this a showy and solid shrub in the Summer and Fall garden.

Grown for

its foliage: the leaves of variegated rose-of-sharon are heavily but irregularly margined in white, and even the "green" portions of the leaves are, instead, a couple of shades of slate-blue.  It's a vivid combination.

 

its habit: Unlike most other variegated shrubs—forsythia, Siberian dogwod, weigela, spirea, carytoperis, and boxwood—'Purpureus Variegatus' is distinctly upright, with a small footprint, making it very useful in closely-spaced plantings and compact gardens.  

 

its flowers:  Althought the burgundy buds of the double-petaled flowers open, they never expand.  This leaves the petals as a congested round knob of color, an effective contrast with the lighter-colored leaves.  To my eye, the flowers' unusually small size and distinctly non-floral solidity only enhances their appeal.  If they were the usual papery and delicate hibiscus shape, the bush could easily slide into Dolly Parton excess:  Too much color, too much garnishing, too much playing-to-the-crowd.  We've all seen quite enough of the usual hibiscus-like rose-of-Sharon flowers.  Could we ever see enough flowers that look like fabric-covered buttons?

Flowering season

July into September:  The height of Summer, just when you need it.

Culture

Plenty of sun, any decent soil with good drainage year-round.

How to handle it

I've proved first-hand the importance of planting 'Purpureus Variegatus' in soil that's well-drained, and especially in the Winter.  My current pair are my third attempts at establishing the plant—finally, with success.

 

Also, the plant has been (at least for me) a bit slow to get going, so can be overwhelmed by the very closely-planted partners it will combine with so tellingly when a bit bigger.  This isn't a shrub for shade or even part shade, so be sure it sees the sky while you wait for it to grow up above its neighbors. 

 

As you can see in the pictures, Conoclinium coelestinum 'Album' is a great partner; it's content with good drainage in the Winter, too—but can easily overwhelm a small starter-sized 'Purpureus Variegatus'.  Fortunately, larger-size plants are now more available at nurseries.  Try to buy one that's in a three or even five-gallon container.

 

Handily, this shrub's foliage and flowers go with anything.  My pair is planted in my Red Garden.  The bright-white and slate-blue leaves are an energetic counter to the Garden's (occasionally) prevailing reds and oranges, whereas the burgundy flowers bring contrast at the deeper and darker end of the hot-color palette.  In short, the bush vibes with reds and orange both coming and going.  Even so, 'Purpureus Variegatus' would also do a gentle two-step with anything in the pastel depths of the Pink Borders.

 

All roses-of-sharon bloom at the tips of new growth, so you can prune in Spring, even severely, and still have Summer flowers.  After my pair of 'Purpureus Variegatus' get big enough, I'll make them into standards by cutting out all but the thickest of the vertical branches, then pollarding it and limbing it up.  Maybe the odd flowers on that new growth will be a bit bigger, even if still unexpanded.  And the variegated foliage a bit brighter still, or at least a bit larger.

Downsides

If the normal hibiscus flowers of rose-of-sharon are a priority for you, this shrub will be quite a disappointment.  On the other hand, if your Olympian sophistication has to date forbid you to grow any rose-of-sharon on account of their shameless hibiscus blossoms that, worse, are often splotched with Kool Aid raspberry at the center, 'Purpureus Variegatus' is the one rose-of-Sharon you can embrace while leaving your aesthetic integrity unstained and intact. 

 

Truth to tell, something loves to chew on the foliage of all of my roses-of-sharon, but it's only noticeable, of course, on the one rose-of-Sharon for whom the foliage is the main show:  'Purpureus Variegatus'.  Better, then, to forgive and ignore:  You'll want to enjoy this bush's unique "fabric-covered button" flowers at close range.

Variants

The August bloom, toughness, ease of mass production, tropicalistic hibiscus flowers and—all important—ability to be in bloom while still in its pot at the nursery, or at least the very first season of planting—make rose-of-sharon a sitting duck for hybridizing and, frankly, over-marketing.  Each season brings another variant in flower color, from white, blue, and pink to deep raspberry; degree of doubleness; presence or absence of the central deep-raspberry "eye"; overall dwarfness; and reduction in self-seeding. 

 

Thank goodness there isn't (yet) a weeping rose-of-Sharon, otherwise there would soon be a dozen variants of it, in every flower color.  Call me a Calvinist, but if you don't have any rose-of-Sharon plant the all-white 'Diana', which goes with everything you already do have.  If you've already got 'Diana' and need more pink flowers in August, plant 'Aphrodite'.  And if youv'e got both of those, then plant 'Purpureus Variegatus'.  Stay away from the double-flowered cultivars, whose flowers age into a yucky wet-kleenex phase when the weather's wet. 

Availability

On-line and at retailers.

Propagation

By cuttings.  Because the flowers don't mature, there isn't any self-seeding—which is all to the good, because volunteers wouldn't be the same as this hybrid version, anyway. 

Native habitat

Hibiscus syriacus is native to China and India.

 
 
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