Welcome to another project of mine for this year. Now I grow a lot of plants, in my own and others' gardens: but for some years now, they've all been pretty much the same plants. I've added a few to my repertoire, but they've usually been plants I know a lot about already, so they're a pretty safe bet (and I've usually wanted to grow them for ages, finally got my hands on them... you know the drill).
It occurred to me some time about the end of last year that this might not be a very good thing. There are definite and really quite gaping gaps in my plant knowledge: I have never in my life, for example, grown a Deutzia of any description, even though they're common as muck.
So I figured this year I'd change all that. I've picked up my well-thumbed bible, aka the Readers Digest New Encyclopaedia of Garden Plants and Flowers, and I'm going to work my way through the alphabet picking a new (for me) genus for each letter to get to know in my garden. It's a bit random, as plant studies go, but it'll have to do.
So this month I've been off shopping for Abelias. A relative of the honeysuckle according to the late great Fred Whitsey, it's late-summer flowering, some borderline hardy, but relishing conditions just such as I have in my garden - i.e. well-drained and sunny.
There are lots of them but I've gone for A. x grandiflora - a hybrid between A. chinensis and A. uniflora. Mr Whitsey says all abelias are named for a Dr Clarke-Abel who worked as a surgeon to a Chinese mission in the early 1800s (now that must have been a heck of a job). For light relief he went off plant collecting, and came back with A. chinensis - borderline hardy, very pale pink, and a bit pretty for my liking. Actually he didn't quite come back with them as he was shipwrecked on the way home and lost his seeds, which seems a bit unfair, but luckily he'd already given some to a friend so they made it back to the UK without him.
Anyway: A. x grandiflora has an AGM which makes me well-disposed towards it right from the start. It's semi-evergreen, only dropping its leaves in very cold winters, and looks a bit like a slightly chunky evergreen spiraea, if you can imagine such a thing.
Browsing around the garden centre I could only see variegated abelias with leaves in bilious shades of mottled pink and cream which rather put me off. But luckily in a corner there was a little shrub with vibrant non-variegated yellow leaves: promising, except abelias are known to be pink, and yellow leaves with pink flowers is the combination from hell (hide your head in shame, Spiraea japonica 'Goldflame'). On closer inspection, though, the label says the flowers on this one are white: and what's more it has "bronze-gold" leaves in autumn. Mmmmm.... sounds lovely.
Clutching my purchase I made a bee-line as soon as I got home for my online RHS Plantfinder only to find that the cultivar, 'Brockhill Allgold', isn't listed anywhere. I appear to have chosen a fictitious plant.
Well, it's not the most promising start to my voyage of discovery. But it'll have to do. I shall keep you updated with how I'm getting on with all my new kids on the block later in the year.