In the Garden:
New England
March, 2012
Regional Report

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The white blossoms of seven-son flower will be followed by showy red calyxes.

Made in China

Sometimes it seems that everything is made in China these days. I had to chuckle last summer when I noticed that the seeds of my 'Fourth of July' tomatoes (so named because they are an early-ripening variety, but patriotic sounding nonetheless) were grown in China!

One Chinese import I'm happy did make the trip to our shores is the flowering shrub or small tree with the unusual common name of seven-son flower, Heptacodium miconioides. Growing about 10-15 feet tall and 10 feet wide, with an irregular, arching habit, its leaves emerge chartreuse in the spring, changing to deep green as they mature. But the real show begins in late summer when clusters of fragrant white flowers come into bloom for a month or longer. The flowers are arranged in whorled sets of seven, giving rise to the plant's common name.

Flowers are not the end of the display, however. As they fade, bright red, petal-like calyxes are revealed that add an additional season of color, persisting on the plant until late fall. (The calyx is the group of modified leaves, or sepals, at the base of flower.) The pale, peeling bark adds more interest during the winter months.

The blossoms of seven-son flower are attractive to butterflies, so it makes a nice centerpiece to a colorful butterfly garden. It also looks lovely as part of a shrub border along with plants such as spring flowering dwarf fothergilla, whose vivid fall leaf color echoes the red of the Heptacodium calyxes.

Hardy in zones 4-8, this easy to grow plant has a fast growth rate, few insect or disease problems, and is tolerant of dry soils. It prefers full sun, but will adapt to part shade and does best in well-drained soil of average fertility. Its flowers are formed on the current season's wood, so prune in early spring before new growth begins.

Another Chinese import that is new this season from Monrovia Nurseries also has white flowers attractive to butterflies. Chinese snow flower (Deutzia setchuenensis var. corymbiflora) is a spring-blooming deciduous shrub from Sichuan Province in China. The finely textured, gray-green foliage sets off long-blooming clusters of small, white, star-shaped flowers in late spring and early summer. It does best in full sun and well-drained, fertile soil, growing slowly into a rounded shrub reaching 4-6 feet tall and wide.

Together these plants might serve as seasonal brackets to a white flower-themed moon garden, one designed to be enjoyed as the sun goes down. Plants with white flowers are perfect planted along the edge of a patio or other outdoor seating area, as the pale blossoms stand out as dusk falls. Summer blooming annual flowers and vines with white flowers will carry the garden through the midsummer months. Including ones that release a sweet scent at night, like moon flower vine (Ipomoea alba) and nicotiana, will add an even greater dimension of pleasure as you relax in your garden at the end of the day.

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