I have one pair of shoes branded ‘Abelia’, as well as a vintage camisole I bought in the UK 10 years ago, and one Italian dinner plate. There are also thousands of lodges and motels with Abelia in their name, as well as quite a lot of cheap jewellery.

My interest, though, is in the plant – a hedgy-looking thing with red stems and pink flowers that grows like a weed in a subtropical climate, and like something rather better-behaved where it’s cooler.

Initially, I took abelias as much for granted as most sub-tropical gardeners do. Then someone gave me half a dozen straggly leftovers in disintegrating plastic pots and I tossed them behind the wall of the carport to await the day I might feel enthusiastic enough to plant them.

Of course that day never came, because why would you plant an abelia when there are so many more interesting things to plant, so in true abelia style they planted themselves and grew speedily into a thick, glossy, free-form hedge.

Their determination to survive has provided us with a vastly improved carport. Atop the timber sleeper wall is a double row of miniature agapanthus, and behind that, the abelia hedge. My new best friend, then.

Anything you might read about abelia will probably only reinforce the idea that it’s a rather uninteresting plant. Most of the descriptions I’ve read say: “Excellent hedging plant. Green foliage, small white flowers. Evergreen. Hardy to cold and drought. Height when mature 3m. So exciting.

But this little wonder is hiding its light under a bushel. Quite apart from its speedy growth – always a plus when you’re planting a hedge – it does absolutely everything right. It’s non-invasive. It’s easily pruned. It makes pretty little white, pink or mauve flowers all through summer and beyond. Ours were still flowering in early winter.

It’s said to prefer light shade. (Ours are planted in virtual darkness.) It needs regular watering in summer. Not at our place. We had months without real rain at the start of the year and the abelia have yet to notice. And even in our sub-tropical climate they’re not much bothered by pests and diseases.

These wee treasures are native to eastern Asia and southern North America. The species from warm climates are evergreen but in cooler climates they’re deciduous. According to the UK Royal Horticultural Society website, they may need hard pruning every three to four years. (I am yet to forgive The Partner for taking this to heart and whacking ours off at the halfway mark a year or so ago. Fortunately they regenerated in about half an hour and I managed to propagate a heap from the cuttings.)

Not longer after I fell in love with the hedge which, by the way, is Abelia Grandiflora, I was introduced to a variegated version called Abelia Snow Showers. Snow Showers is one of the few plants I’ve ever bought that has behaved exactly as the nurseryman said it would. “It’ll grow into a big bun and keep its shape,” he told me, and it has.

What’s really great about abelias is their versatility. They make great formal hedges, equally good casual hedges, you can turn them into standards or topiaries for fun, they grow in pots, they work as ground covers, they’re fantastic filler plants and they look just as good all by themselves.

If you get to like them as much as I do, you can very easily make more of them by taking softwood cuttings in early summer or semi-hardwood cuttings in late summer. Plant them into pots and throw them behind the carport and presto, in a few months you might have a hedge.


(Order number: abelia 2)