By C. Rae Hozer
It was disappointing to find none of the Wine and Roses weigela shrubs I fondly remembered from the April 2005 installation of the Tree and Shrub Garden when I came to capture photographs of purple foliage plants at Discovery Gardens/UT Gardens-Crossville on the grounds of the University of Tennessee Plateau Research and Education Center this summer. I did find a Weigela florida "Elvera" Midnight Wine, a dwarf weigela that was not in the original plot plan for that Master Gardener (MG) theme garden. It must have been added later.
This compact specimen has the same arching-branch form as larger weigela shrubs. Midnight Wine grows slowly and tops out between foot and two feet tall with an equal spread. The dark burgundy leaves on this cultivar turn a deep purple in fall as do those of W. florida "Alexandra" Wine and Roses. The foliage is a tip off that this cultivar was hybridized by Herman Geers, the same European plantsman who developed Wine and Roses.
A design note for readers considering this selection for their home landscape: in my opinion, that solitary Midnight Wine bush looks too small standing in a planted area where the standard-sized shrubs around it have been eight years in place and are nearing maturity. A mass grouping of three to five, placement in a container that subtly makes a statement like a footed stone urn or small-space surroundings as in a rock garden would be options that better feature this lovely miniature.
If you are seeking colorful foliage at UT Gardens-Crossville wander just a stone’s throw from the Tree and Shrub bed to Mary’s Garden (installed in 2012), which boasts lots of shrubs with purple leaves including three W. florida "Bokrashine" Shining Sensation. These shrubs are slightly larger (five to six feet tall by three to four feet wide when mature) than Wine and Roses (at maturity four to five feet in height with a spread of three to four feet) but have the same shiny, purplish-burgundy hued foliage. Wine and Roses (hardiness range zones 5a to 9b) is a bit less cold hardy but should tolerate heat better than either Midnight Wine or Shining Sensation (hardiness range zones 4a to 8b). All three plants have deep-pink tubular flowers which attract hummingbirds. Their blooms first appear in late-spring or in early-summer (depending on the cultivar) and all can be expected to flower again later in the season. Like most weigela they are easy to grow given a location with average, well-drained soil and full sun. (Sunlight affects both flowering and depth of foliage color.)
When I asked readers to contact me, one of the first emails was from my neighbor. He grows a sibling of Wine and Roses that is slightly smaller (height two to four feet with a spread of three to four feet) with a more rounded form- W. florida "Bramwell" Fine Wine. His son Tim Wood is the plant breeder who developed the Fine Wine cultivar and named it after his Dad, whose middle name is Bramwell. Any plant-lover can relate to how exciting and what an honor that was.
Master Gardener Beth has a probable explanation for the absence of the Wine and Roses planted in 2005 — the crazy weather of 2007. Summer-like heat started in late winter (February 2007) and lasted into early April. Outdoor plants were in an advanced stage of development caused by the warmth, which made them especially vulnerable to harm. Then came a hard freeze that lasted for days. An extended drought followed, which was the kiss of death for many freeze-damaged trees and shrubs. Unlike the Crossville MG classes of 2005 and 2006, the 2007 MG graduates didn’t plant a new theme garden at Discovery Gardens. Instead they worked damage control, removing plants that died and irrigating to prevent the loss of others.
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Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region. Contact UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (484-6743) for answers to horticulture questions, free publications and how to become a Master Gardener. Send email comments or yard and garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae, MGardenerRae@frontiernet.net.