"September shrubs"

September sees some beautiful and easy-going shrubs come into bloom in Sydney.
Sunday, 05 September 2021     

Rhapiolepis Springtime

Spring is here and is showing its usual capricious nature: bestowing a warm, picture-perfect, sky-blue day some days, then catapulting us back into winter on Saturday afternoon with miserably cold, rainy weather. Nevertheless, spring shrubs are powering into bloom and it is a joy to see gardens everywhere illuminated with flowers. I don't have much of a spring garden (as I have tended to concentrate on summer and autumn) but I do have some spring shrubs here and there to give me that seasonal boost. They are in general very low-maintenance plants that only need occasional fertiliser and a quick prune after flowering, and they will put on a show year after year. The evergreen sorts help provide permanent structure in a garden where many other plants are cut almost to the ground at this time, and there is a diversity of shapes in their floral form, which adds to their interest.

There are some classic Sydney shrubs that have proved their worth over the years. Interestingly enough, most of the hail from China or Japan and they are very at home in our climate. Azaleas are one of the commonest flowering shrubs to be noticed in Sydney in September; as I have written in a previous blog, I am deeply ambivalent about these plants. They are truly gorgeous in full bloom yet they are victims of a variety of pests and diseases that really need an artillery of chemicals to keep them under control, so I have given them up, apart from two old stalwarts at the top of my long driveway, that I do not spray with anything. They are the old-fashioned sorts, and seem a bit more resilient to some of their attackers, but they still do get petal blight and red spider. I tend to deal with these problems by pruning back the whole plant severely once the petal blight takes hold and disposing of the stems in the green waste bin, to try to get rid of the petal blight spores from my garden.

More favoured in my garden are shrubs like the lovely arching may bush (Spiraea cantoniensis, ht 2 m) from China, which is a froth of tumbling white blooms at the moment. I always liked to see this deciduous shrub able to show off its weeping habit to its full potential, by just removing a few old stems at the base and just lightly trim the remainder when pruning, but in recent years I have shaped mine into a large oval form by trimming every so often during the year but stopping as soon as the buds form, as it took up too much space with the weeping habit where I had it. I grow mine near white-striped Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegatus' as a colour echo - the new grow of the grass is starting to appear now. I have admired some may bushes growing with some dark-leaved Phormium in a garden in my suburb, providing a nice tonal contrast.

Rhaphiolepis species and cultivars (ht 1-2.5 m) are good little evergreen shrubs blooming now (pictured at the start of the blog) with simple pink or white flowers. Known colloquially as Indian hawthorn, they do actually come from China. They are completely undemanding but look good all year round and can be grown as a hedge. There are some more compact cultivars available these days, including 'Cosmic Pink' and 'Cosmic White', which are very useful. Rhapiolepis can grow in sun or part shade and can put up with quite ordinary soil and conditions.

Another of my favourites from China (it is also found in Japan and Myanmar) is Loropetalum chinense (ht 2 m) and these shrubs are looking particularly good this year, perhaps because of all the rain we had during winter. It has an interesting horizontal habit and naturally grows quite wide, though it can be pruned (after flowering) into any shape if preferred. The original species has pretty creamy-white spidery flowers, but my favourite ones have burgundy-coloured leaves and pink flowers. There are various cultivars, including 'Burgundy' and 'China Pink' - their foliage is stunning in spring and early summer but does tend to turn green eventually. A new cultivar called 'Plum Gorgeous' is said to retain its coloured foliage all year round. 'Purple Pixie' is a dwarf cultivar growing to around 50 cm tall and makes a good low hedge.Loropetalum is another undemanding shrub, which will grow in sun or part-shade. I am enjoying my dark-leaved one with bluebells and Iris japonica growing around its base. It would also associate well with some of the dark pink or plum-coloured hybrid hellebores. This is another shrub that I now clip - the lower branches have been removed and the top shaped as a dome, so it looks like a small tree.

An unusual shrub flowering now belongs to the Acanthaceae family and has the hooded blooms typical of that group of plants, closely resembling those of the oyster plant (Acanthus mollis). Justicia adhatoda (ht to 4 m) is not spectacular but its puple-netted white blooms are interesting and it has gorgeous quilted, limy-green spring foliage, which is looking very lush at the moment. It is a good background plant for a semi-shaded position and like most of the Acanthaceae plants, grows quickly and easily, and it has no special requirements. I chop it back very hard after flowering.

Other spring shrubs I am enjoying at the moment include the scented pink posies of Rondeletia amoena, the floriferous bells of Abutilon in many colours, the brilliant orange flower clusters of the marmalade bush (Streptosolen jamesonii), the brilliant purple pea flowers of Polygala 'Little Charmer' and the fluffy orbs of the purple mist flower (Eupatorium megalophyllum).

Enjoy your spring garden!

This blog was originally posted on 11 September 2011; updated 5 September 2021.

 Reader Comments

1/11  Lilia oppen - Argentina Monday, 12 September 2011

Fantastic!!!!!!I learn so much from you....Thanks from Argentina.

Thanks, Lilia. I think our gardening conditions may be similar in some respects. Deirdre

2/11  Malle - 2570 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 12 September 2011

I have learn about new plants from your blog but I dont know a good nursery that has the variety you have in your garden. When I have time I will go nursery hunting.

I know it is harder to find plants these days. The Friends Nursery at the Sydney Botanic Garden has a good range of more unusual plants. Deirdre

3/11  Robyn - 2282 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 12 September 2011

Hi Deidre, I really look forward to reading your blogs and I have added new plants to my garden that you have written about. I went to the Kariong Spring Festival where I found the paintbrush lily and I found the iris japonica on e-bay. Thanks again, Robyn.

Glad you were able to find some plants you were looking for. My paintbrush lily is in full bloom and it seems to have one extra flower each year. You can also plant the seeds that form after flowering, to propagate more. Deirdre

4/11  Pamela - 2158 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 06 September 2021

I have to agree with you re azaleas! I removed most of mine from my main borders, too much disease & spraying for only a few weeks of bloom in a year, not earning their space and dull for most of the year.I grow all the shrubs you mention except that Justicia which Id love to find and they are all great easy care valuable shrubs which give good structure to the garden. I grow all varieties of Lorapetalum, superb in our climate especially Plum Gorgeous with burgundy foliage all year, love them. Thanks, Pamela. I am sure your garden must be looking gorgeous at the moment. The weather is simply beautiful this week. Deirdre

5/11  Kerrie - 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 06 September 2021

I don't grow azaleas because I have a very sunny north facing garden. I do love them though & was under the impression, maybe incorrectly, that the new cultivates didn't have the pest problems? They were certainly a shrub every garden in Sydney had, like Frangapanis, that you rarely see now. I am not sure if there maybe are some disease-resistant ones around nowadays. I'd love to hear from anyone who knows. Deirdre

6/11  Maureen - 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 06 September 2021

Thank you Deirdre for this lovely Spring Blog - every year I look at the 3 Azaleas I have one White Alba, one pink/white and a purple indicia as I prune them and say 'you are coming out soon' because of the affected greenery, then they show off their blooms as now, and that the end of that threat!!! Each were gifts which makes them all the more precious. I too don't spray!! Take care and stay safe. Maureen I do think the older ones are tougher. I have left my two old specimens in - cutting them right back after flowering seems to sort of rein in the problems a bit. Deirdre

7/11  Jean - 4035 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 06 September 2021

Oh yes Spring colours are in patches all around our garden. Many azaleas in 6 colours, loropetulum in 3 glorious shrubs, striking red begonias, and a tree rose with the most beautiful fragrance hanging with bunches of blooms. So much pleasure in the garden! It all sounds lovely, Jean! Deirdre

8/11  Leveena - 2099 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 06 September 2021

After reading your blog a few years back, I planted this justicia. It was hard to find: Palm Land had it. It has done so well in my 'subtropical rainforest' area (under palms & lilly pillies) that I have now grown another 2 from cuttings and they are also doing well in my semi-shaded garden close to the sea. Mine has grown to 5ft tall and about 4ft wide, even after being pruned back last year! A wonderful background bush for the shade. I'm so happy that the shrub worked out for you. It is great for those shady spots where you want a background plant. I do cut mine back really hard after flowering. Deirdre

9/11  Gaynor - 5044 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 06 September 2021

Thank you Deirdre for another thought provoking article. I am looking for flowering shrubs and was considering azaleas. Now not! But was reminded of Loropetalum, which I will now seriously consider. The diosma, lavendar, euphorbia, echium, some salvia and some hebe as well as wallflowers are all in flower and looking wonderful, so can't complain. Interested in the justicia too - my brother has it so I'll take a cutting. I did love azaleas once! Maybe there are some that are not so prone to problems. But there are lots of other good options for us, luckily. Deirdre

10/11  Vicki - 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 06 September 2021

I am looking for plants for my front retaining wall bed and the rockery that slopes up behind it. We didn't know we had a rockery there as it was always covered with overgrown large shrubs and trees, however after clearing the undergrowth we found a lovely 60's rockery which would be a shame to cover again. They get full sun. I was think ing Raphiolepis Cosmic snow for the bed. White Ivy Geranium, Banksia rose, Star Jasmine for the rockery. Would this be a good choice? Thank you for any help. Sounds like some good ideas. Some other ideas might be trailing verbena, the perennial forms of Alyssum, gazanias, arctotis, zonal pelargoniums. All can be found in white-flowered forms, if you wanted to stick to white flowers, but they come in other colours too. All suit a sunny, well-drained site. Deirdre

11/11  Chris - 2454 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 07 September 2021

I have a purple mist flower in the perfect shaded spot in our backyard but is needs to have that hard prune when the flowers are finished. Thank you for the inspiration, Ill be doing that shortly! Yes it really does have to be pruned hard after flowering, like many warm-climate plants. It's so lovely at this time of year in a shaded spot. Deirdre

Make a comment

* You can only post comments on Blogs if you are signed in. If you are already registered please go to the Home page and Sign-In first. If you are not an iGarden member please click here to register now.

My eBooks (PDF)

Plant of the week

Most-recent blogs

The power of scent
19 Jun 22
Scented plants come to our aid in winter!

Welcome to Ferris Lane
12 Jun 22
A rubbish-strewn lane has been transformed into a lush oasis

Leaves of gold
05 Jun 22
Golden foliage can brighten up a gloomy winter's day.

Unravelling grasses, rushes and sedges
29 May 22
These plant have much to offer but can confuse!

Early morning in the May garden
22 May 22
Much can be seen during a stroll in the garden now.

Previously at this time

2008 - 08 Sep
2009 - 12 Sep
2010 - 05 Sep
2011 - 04 Sep
2012 - 02 Sep
2013 - 08 Sep
2015 - 06 Sep
2016 - 04 Sep
2019 - 01 Sep
2020 - 06 Sep

Sponsor message