For the last three years, there’s been a trial of Abelia varieties at Wisley’s Deer’s Farm. This is a valuable location in Wisley village which provides vital extra space for trials, and a number of important shrub trials have been grown there in recent years.
The abelias have been grown there for the last five years and assessed regularly by the panel of shrub experts with the aim of choosing the very best to be given an Award of Garden Merit. It also proved a welcome opportunity to sort out some of the muddles in naming and this is still being completed.
With so many variegated forms introduced in recent years, this prolonged regular assessment also provided a useful opportunity to check which varieties are stable and retain their variegation and which tend to revert to plain green. Full details will be provided in a Plant Bulletin, currently being prepared. I’ll let you know when it’s published.
So which were the best?
It was agreed that the rarely seen Abelia mosanensis (above, click to enlarge) was outstanding. It was the only one with red autumn foliage, it featured lovely sweetly scented flowers in spring and was also very hardy. It’s much more popular in America than here although the plant in the trial was propagated from a specimen already in the garden. It will be given a cultivar name in due course.
Others which were rated especially highly were the lilac-pink A. schumanii (“floriferous and compact”), the well known 'Edward Goucher', also lilac-pink (“arching shoots with a natural elegance”, “wonderfully rich pink flower, long flowering”), plus a number of forms of A. x grandiflora: ‘Gold Sport’ (or perhaps it should be ‘Gold Spot’, that’s being checked – but no reversion at all), ‘Hopleys’ (“the best variegated”) and ‘Compacta’ (“attractive, floriferous and neat habit") all scored well together with another form of A. x grandiflora which is also in need of a name.
One other deserves special mention. The panel much admired ‘Sunrise’ but noted that it was never likely to be available as it does not do well in a pot while being grown up to sale size. They rated it highly, but regretted that its propagation problems preclude it from receiving an AGM.
I looked the trial over for a few times myself and generally agree: for flower (and autumn foliage) choose Abelia mosanensis and for variegated foliage choose ‘Hopleys’.