These evergreen shrubs will provide exotic, late-winter blooms
Visit any good garden centre in late January and February and you’ll often find a maroon-red leaved shrub dotted with pinky-red, tasselled, lightly-scented flowers on sale. It’s almost certainly a variety of the Chinese fringe flower, Loropetalum chinense.
In recent years this mound-forming, evergreen shrub has been gaining profile, such is the mounting interest in developing the valuable range of plants that perform in the darkest days of the year. Part of the witch hazel family Hamamelidaceae, the three species of loropetalum come from China, Japan and south-east Asia, but it’s only the Chinese species L. chinense that can be reliably grown in the UK. Fairly slow growing and not bone hardy, it generally tolerates around -5C (23F), and does best if given a spot in dappled shade or sun and sheltered from cold, freezing winds.
Like witch hazels, it prefers a moist, but well-drained, neutral or slightly acidic soil, struggling in those which dry out in summer or are constantly wet in winter. In colder climes they can also be grown in pots of ericaceous compost, brought indoors into a cool conservatory or greenhouse when the weather turns more seriously cold. Although loropetalum can achieve a height of 4-5m (13-16ft 6in) in the wild, in Britain they rarely get above 1.5m (5ft), depending on the variety, with new growth produced from summer. Selections from red-leaved form L. rubrum, with pink or red flowers, are generally seen, while the wild species has white, tasselled flowers, as found in variety ‘Carolina Moonlight’. Besides flowering in late winter, blossoms are also produced intermittently through the year. Once successfully established they need little care, so why not give one a try the next time you see them?