Story By Carolyn Ulrich, Photogrpahy By Christopher Weber
Yes, I know it’s a mouthful, but I love it even so. When I’m feeling tongue-tied, I can always refer to it by its common name: beautybush.
I received this shrub, Kolkwitzia Dream Catcher maybe 10 years ago as a trial plant from Spring Meadow Nursery in Grand Haven, Michigan. Actually, there were two plants, seedlings really, just a foot or so tall on a single stem. A lovely surprise since I had read about kolkwitizia but never seen it in the flesh, let alone grown it. I decided to make room for the pair under the bay window at the corner of the house, a spot where my sunny front border transitions to the semi-shady side yard.
The two plants grew fast, shrugging their shoulders at the rigors of winter. But my delight in their carefree hardiness was tempered by a dawning awareness that they were perhaps turning into too much of a good thing and that one of them would surely be meeting an untimely end in the compost pile.
As the years passed, I started wondering about flowers. I was enjoying the grand arching stems as they formed an ever-enlarging fountain of handsome lime green leaves, but I had been hoping for something more. I consulted books and catalogs that waxed euphoric about kolkwitzia’s springtime profusions of tiny pink bells, but nary a blossom did I see. As it reached 5 feet tall and wide, my remaining plant was clearly thriving, and I knew I had at least lucked out with my choice of location.
Finally, three years ago, I saw the first scattered blossoms — a relief since it proved my plant could bloom if it set its mind to it and I just had to be patient. A respectable show ensued two years ago, and then came the fabled profusion of bloom last year. Glorious and worth waiting for. Talk about late bloomers.
But even when it’s not in bloom, Dream Catcher kolkwitzia is a stellar plant. The chartreuse-to-lime-green leaves stand out against the darker green of surrounding plants, and since I have a pair of yellow-leaved ‘Sunshine Blue’ caryopteris nearby, the three of them now form a line that draws the eye from one end of my front border to the other. There’s nothing like a few pops of yellow to give a flower border a bit of oomph. (The caryopteris may also be getting too big for their britches, but that’s a story for another day.)
Don’t be put off by the fact that my kolkwitzia took a long time to come into bloom. Remember that I was starting with a 12-inch seedling on a single stem. Plants growing in containers and purchased at a garden center will be much larger.
Kolkwitzia is native to central China where the species grows 6 to 10 feet tall and wide. Clearly the more contained Dream Catcher is a better choice. Kolkwitzia is pH adaptable but prefers well-drained soil in full sun. It is said to transplant easily, although I’ve never tried. After flowering you can prune out old stems. Also, it’s winter hardy to Zone 4. No wonder my plant just laughed at the Chicago winter.