"… Do you have an evergreen shrub that will … grow in clay soils, take sun or shade, flower for months through spring, summer and fall, grow quickly but not get too large, make a hedge if I want one (or stay neatly in its corner), baby-sit the children, not mind the neighborhood dogs, and, oh yes, require little care or maintenance?…"
How many times have garden-center staff, nurserymen, and gardeners heard this question (or some version of it) from new home owners, busy landlords, or anyone with a difficult landscape site? It is the product of our perennial search for the perfect, bionic plant. The amazing thing is that, believe it or not, there actually is a shrub that will do all of these things (well, maybe it won't actually baby-sit).
Abelia ×grandiflora, glossy abelia, is one of the most versatile landscape plants available, combining great adaptability with year-round charm in the garden. This handsome hybrid displays the best qualities of its two parents, Abelia chinensis and Abelia uniflora. It is a dense, but somewhat fine-textured, multi-stemmed shrub reaching 4'–6' in height with a nearly equal spread in the Southeast. The branches arch up and over gracefully, creating a soft, vase-shaped outline. The bright green foliage of glossy abelia is indeed exceptionally glossy, even as it turns a beautiful wine red through the winter months. Glossy abelia is evergreen throughout most of the southeastern United States but may drop foliage in the colder areas of the mountains and is not evergreen further north. The pointed, oval leaves of glossy abelia are quite small and demure, only about 1" long, but the branches are nonetheless densely covered with these handsome little leaves.
Glossy abelia flowers continuously from spring throughout the summer and into fall with large numbers of perky, pale pinkish blossoms scattered across the ends of all of the branches. Glossy abelia in bloom looks as if hundreds of miniature Easter lilies were sprouting from the shiny green foliage. It is delicately pleasing in flower, and lacks the overwhelming quality of its close relative, Forsythia. The flowers of glossy abelia are only 1" long and are never borne in the same kind of solid mass as forsythias.
Glossy abelia will successfully grow in almost any site that is not extremely wet. It prefers moist, well-drained soils in full sun but will be quite handsome in moderate shade and tolerates a range of soils from droughty to poorly drained heavy clay. This shrub is not a good choice, however, for sites with extreme winters. Glossy abelia is completely hardy throughout the Southeast where temperatures remain above approximately -5°F. Temperatures in this range or below may result in die-back and stem damage (but probably will not kill the entire shrub with only infrequent exposure to these temperatures). Glossy abelia can be pruned back severely in late winter to stimulate new growth and flowering for the following spring. It has no significant disease or insect problems.
There are a number of cultivars of glossy abelia which are all propagated from softwood cuttings taken in the spring and summer and rooted under mist. Abelia ×grandiflora 'Francis Mason' has gold-yellow new foliage. Abelia ×grandiflora 'Prostrata' is a compact, lower growing form. Abelia ×grandiflora 'Sherwoodii' is also a compact form with even smaller leaves than the original hybrid. Abelia ×grandiflora 'Variegata' is a rare, variegated form. Abelia 'Edward Goucher' is a hybrid of glossy abelia with yet a third Abelia species, Abelia schumannii, and is considered by many to be the best garden form of Abelia. 'Edward Goucher' has somewhat larger, showier flowers than glossy abelia which are a deep, lavender-pink and are very striking against the dark green, shiny foliage. 'Edward Goucher' is significantly less hardy than glossy abelia and will not do well where temperatures dip to 0°F–5°F. At the NCSU Arboretum, 'Edward Goucher' makes an especially lovely addition to the Mixed Shrub Border.
The beautiful flowers, foliage, and form of glossy abelia make it an excellent choice for hedges, low screens, massed plantings, or even as a single solution for a difficult corner. The agreeable shape and texture of glossy abelia combine with its delicately charming flowers to make this shrub an easy plant to use in a wide range of landscape and garden settings. The marvelously long blooming season of glossy abelia offers pleasingly dependable, transitional interest from spring to summer and into fall as other more showy plants pass in and out of peak bloom. Glossy abelia is a cheerful solution to many landscape dilemmas and is one wonderful answer for that inevitable question … "Do you have an evergreen shrub that will …?"