Fire and Ice: The Flaming Red Foliage of Abelia Mosanensis Sizzles Beside Cool Blue Juniper Horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’…

Fragrant abelia (Abelia mosanensis) and Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’ (aka ‘The Blue Rug’)

They say opposites attract —think Bogie and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracy, Lady and the Tramp, Bert and Ernie— in passionate relationships.  And it’s certainly true that sparks tend to fly in nature, as well as on the silver screen, when something hot and fiery comes into contact with the cool, calm and steely. In the late autumn garden, such contrasts are particularly spectacular when blue-tinted conifers are played against orange and red-colored deciduous beauties. In October and early November, the magnetic charge between red-orange abelia and blue-green juniper produces some serious, show-stopping drama in my garden; especially on a moody, overcast day.

The Brilliant Autumn Color of Abelia mosanensis Holds Straight Into November

Fragrant, hardy abelia (Abelia mosanensis) possesses some of the most brilliant fall color in my late-season garden. Beginning in mid to late October, her lustrous foliage —medium green and glossy throughout the growing season— slowly shifts from glowing orangey-red to fiery scarlet. The color of her autumn leaves is so brilliant, it literally glows like a campfire on a foggy day. You may recall my affection for Abelia mosanensis from a post in late spring, when this delightful plant produces beautiful pink, intensely fragrant blossoms (beginning in late May here int VT) that rival the sweet scent of lilac and daphne. If you’ve never met Abelia mosanensis, you should know that this is not a beautifully shaped plant —requiring careful positioning and June pruning to maintain an acceptable presence in a more formal garden situation— but her sweet, springtime blossoms and glorious fall color more than make up for her rather scrappy form. Listed by most growers as hardy in zones 5 to 9, here on my windy, exposed hilltop (zone 4/5), she has performed very well for five seasons with no absolutely no effort on my part. When her modest requirements are met, (moist, well-drained, average garden soil) fragrant abelia can reach six feet high and wide in full sun -but she’ll also tolerate partial shade, where a gardener can expect the mature shrub to be of somewhat smaller stature.

Fragrant abelia, draped in May blossoms (Abelia mosanensis) with ‘Blue Rug’ at her feet (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug’)

And the perfect yang to fragrant abelia’s delightfully feminine yin? In both spring and fall, I adore the contrast of steely, blue-tipped conifers with Abelia mosanensis. In the entry garden, sprawling at fragrant abelia’s feet, the ‘Blue Rug’ (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’) looks particularly lovely to my eye. Tough as nails, this splendid ground-cover is extremely hardy (USDA zones 3-10) and tolerates many soil types as long as it is provided with full sun and excellent drainage. Although it may sprawl to 10 feet or more, like most juniper, the ‘Blue Rug’ is easily contained with regular pruning.

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug’ in November, with a Frosty Coat of Ice Crystals

When I’m pairing plants in my garden, I usually end up thinking about characters in a film.  To bring out the best qualities of one plant, it often helps to place it beside another with opposing charms. There’s nothing like watching the sparks fly between a feisty leading-lady and a cool and classic leading man. Why not follow suit in the garden, and watch your late-show sizzle to life.

Inspiration: Romantic Opposites…

Bogie and Bacall


Article and photographs â“’ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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3 Replies to “Fire and Ice: The Flaming Red Foliage of Abelia Mosanensis Sizzles Beside Cool Blue Juniper Horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’…”

  1. Deb Weyrich-Cody

    Wow, you’ve just gotta love her. Not quite sure which version I admire the most, those red-edged leaves are just a total knock out, but her blossoms are sooo pretty (and scented too? Decisions, decisions!) ;)
    Thanks for another amazing gift from your garden… Hmm m, now where could I put this pair at my house? xo D.

  2. Polly Thompson

    Love your site!
    I have a question,unrelated to any recent column, but I’ll ask anyway, because I value your opinion.
    I rescue plants from the yard waste dump up here in Westminster. When I’m dropping off a load I can’t help but take home the viable-looking castoffs from other gardens. So far so good, but I do wonder: Is this a bad thing to do? Do I run the risk of introducing unwanted bacteria and bugs to my own place?
    Your pictues and words are a treat. Thanks.

  3. Michaela

    @ Polly – Thank you. I love hearing such sweet feedback.
    Now, about those seductive little strays… I have to admit, I am a plant-rescue-type myself. The way I deal with it is to look everything over well, but also, to keep things in a “holding tank” —separate from other plants in the garden or house— for observation. This way, if “uninvited guests” tag along during the adoption process, I can hand them an eviction notice.
    If anything looks funky, I always pass it by – no matter how tempting. Good luck and happy diving!
    xo M

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