Friday, July 06, 2007

Some Roses to Take the Summer Heat

While our hybrid teas and polyanthus are taking a breather during the hottest part of the summer, there's another rose blooming now, not of the genus Rosa, that revels in the heat. That is the Rose of Sharon, also called "Althea." The name comes, I suppose, from the Rose of Sharon referred to in the Old Testament's Song of Solomon. Though there are, I read many flowers thought to be that rose, Hibiscus syriacus is the one to which the name stuck. It's also called "Althea."

‘White Chiffon’ Althea or Rose of Sharon is blooming now in the back bed. ‘White Chiffon’ is a relative of the old Rose of Sharon shrub that used to bloom in your grandmother’s garden, but so much better. With flowers that resemble those of cousin tropical hibiscus, which won’t survive our winter, these Hibiscus syriacus hybrids are hardy to -15ºF. They are also deer resistant, and heat and drought tolerant. They are deciduous and may be heavily pruned in late fall or early spring. The varieties offered by Proven Winners other than the Chiffon series include the Satin series- Blue, Blush, Violet, and Rose.

‘White Chiffon’ has delicate, 3-inch single white flowers with lacy centers, almost camellia-like. It will grow from six to eight feet and spreads to six feet. There is a pink variety called ‘Lavender Chiffon’ as well.

Besides its wide open appearance, this Hibiscus has other differences with the old-fashioned Altheas. The older varieties were notoriously invasive, since they bore hundreds of seed pods which were easily spread by birds and then sprouted willy-nilly all over the country. In addition, the spent blossoms would fall from the shrub and leave a sometimes slippery mess. Some folks considered it a weed.

‘White Chiffon’ is a hybrid that shouldn’t even be propagated without a license, so it won’t be included in the next edition of Passalong Plants, and it shouldn’t take over your perennial bed.
A walk around the block shows me that I’m not the only one to have discovered this great midsummer flower. ‘Lavender Lady,’ still bearing her label, is blooming now in the garden of a neighbor. It is more nearly pink than lavender, with a deep maroon center and pronounced stamens that beg for the attention of passing hummingbirds. There are other varieties as well. The Chiffons are available at Cold Creek Nursery.