I have always had a soft spot for shrubs with colorful foliage, especially the kind which tend to form bushy mounds and respond well to pruning. This is why Japanese spiraeas take pride of place in my garden. These are excellent plants for low growing formal or informal hedges, shrub borders or used as accent plants in mixed borders (middle or front range) and rock gardens. Spiraeas can be successfully grown in containers on terraces or balconies, being very resilient plants with shallow root system. I would like to mention here, that my borders are planted predominantly with woody plants – deciduous trees and shrubs or conifers (low-growing and miniature selections, suitable for growing in small gardens). Herbaceous plants make for a minor part of the planting, and are mainly used for filling up gaps between trees and shrubs.
Foliage of many colorful japanese spiraeas undergoes spectacular colour changes through the season. Shoots on some of them appear red, eventually turning green, others start of yellow turning into orange. Other selections are lime green to begin with in spring, softening to dark lemon shade as summer progresses. However, all colorful japanese spiraeas have one feature in common – the new shoots on all of them appear very bright, turning into lighter shades as midsummer approaches. When spiraeas burst into flowering, their bright pink flowers steal the show from pale and slightly tattered leaves, bringing new colours into the garden. After the spiraeas have finished flowering and have been sheared, there is a 2 to 3 week long ‘ugly duckling’ period, while dormant buds are triggered into action. A short while later new bright shoots appear (which is exactly what I mean – not only leaves but shoots and flower stalks as well) and flower repeatedly at the end of August.
Not so profusely though, and the leaves are not as bright as they are in spring, but nevertheless quite a sight after the green period in June. Come autumn, spiraeas change their foliage colour again – even green leaved cultivars turn yellow or pink. Exact shade depends on autumn weather. In cold and wet weather foliage of spiraeas (just like any other plants) looks worse for wear, more brown than yellow. In warm and dry autumn they earn their keep with orange and red shades, as well as an occasional flower.
New foliage of spiraeas appears relatively early in spring and their bright new foliage makes a perfect contrast to the very first bulbs.
There are 3 cultivars of japanese spiraeas, which I heartily recommend and which you will be able to find in every nursery.
`Golden Princess` – grows 1 m tall and wide, however, eventual size can be easily managed with the help of pruning shears. New shoots and leaves are bright yellow in spring, softening to deep yellow later. This selection flowers abundantly, with pink flowers in flat inflorescences. By midsummer golden leaves bleach to soft green, giving way to flowers. In August they draw attention once again, with appearance of new shoots. In autumn all foliage turns light yellow.
`Goldflame` is another handsome selection. In spring its foliage appears dark orange, sometimes shaded in bronze. Thereafter, leaves soften to yellow, turning pale by midsummer (at this point it closely resembles ‘Golden Princess’). In August new pink shoots reappear turning the plant into a star attraction again. In warm dry autumn foliage turns orange, and sometimes red. Some sight to behold!
`Magic Fire` is not exactly a very recent cultivar, however it is fairly unknown in Lithuania. Since it is relatively new, you might not be able to get hold of it easily (but keep looking, you will find it eventually). Come spring, new shoots unfurl bright red – a wonderful sight indeed! Later leaves turn lighter to dark orange and pink, eventually turning green. But the new shoots and top leaves keep their red or pink coloring at all times, so I strongly recommend – do not be afraid to prune spiraeas. The inflorescences are pinkish red. In autumn leaves turn pink with shades of yellow, or occasionally red.
© Giedra Bartas, 2016