The amabilis in Kolkwitzia amabilis–beauty bush’s botanical name, after Richard Kolkwitz, a German botanist from the 20th century–means lovely, and that’s an apt if understated description of this old-fashioned, dependable and flower-laden shrub.
Add “fragrant” to its list of attributes. It’s sweetly, intoxicatingly fragrant. When I sit in the living room in my green chair reading the paper on June mornings, its perfume wafts its way through the window from the back of the garden, about 30 feet away, and diverts me from the latest gaffe from the mouth (or e-mail) of Peter MacKay. When I sit in the gazebo beside the shrub in the early evening, my brain’s limbic system is triggered and brings back memories of grandma’s farm.
Yes, grandma had one, too, because beauty bush showed up in North American gardens in the 1930s and became immediately popular, with good reason.
It holds its bloom (and its fragrance) for more than three weeks, longer than most flowering shrubs of my acquaintance. I admit after the blooms die it looks a little decrepit and then rather ordinary for the rest of the season except for its graceful shape and nicely peeling bark, which doesn’t show itself until fall. But for my money its cascading branches of perfumed blooms pay for themselves many times over.
According to a couple of sites I Googled (Missouri BotanicalGarden Plant Finder and Dave’s Garden ) beauty bush grows to six to 10 feet tall and has an arching vase shape. Ours –and I feel like it’s ours even though it really belongs our next-door neighbour and was here when we moved in 36 years ago, when it was small enough that I didn’t even notice it–has the shape all right, but it must be 15 feet tall, because it’s clearly higher than the gazebo.
It’s wide, too, so even if it only reaches 10 feet it would be wise to plant a beauty bush in a space where it can reach its potential. Cramming is beside the front steps or tightly in a shrub bed will mean pruning away its beautiful shape–and some of its bloom, if you prune at the wrong time (in spring, before it blooms. Prune ONLY after it blooms if you want flowers next year).
Beauty bush is a member of the honeysuckle family and is often confused with weigela, another relative with similar characteristics. For years I kept calling mine (oops, ours) weigela, now I just refer to it as beauty bush, because that describes it best.
Beauty bush blooms best in full sun and ours receives it from late morning to late afternoon, and shares some of its space with a mock orange. Who could ask for anything more? Now that it’s very mature the beauty bush needs some severe pruning. Chris, the master pruner in our family, does a little every year, but when its technically your neighbour’s shrub it’s hard to go too far, right?
But this year we’ve resolved to have a neighbourly discussion and do some severe pruning, taking out the oldest wood and thinning out the shrubs’ growth. We could take it to the ground, which could rejuvenate it, but that would mean no bloom next year and I don’t think I could live with that.