But landscapers like them because they are very easy to grow, and this — combined with their informal looks — makes them suited to countryside schemes.
The new cultivars aim to combine all the old attributes with better flowering and habit. Many of these new plants are smaller and bushier — breeders find container growing is increasing as gardens become smaller.
Weigelas are deciduous woody shrubs commonly used as fillers in shrub borders. They are also grown as freestanding shrubs or informal flowering hedges.
Their flowers are produced in late spring to early summer and sometimes intermittently in late summer to autumn. These come in shades of yellow, white, pink or red and are borne on short, lateral twigs on two-year-old branches. As a member of the Caprifoliaceae family, the flowers are funnel-shaped like honeysuckle, and some, such as W. ‘Praecox Variegata’ Award of Garden Merit (AGM), are mildly honey-scented.
The plants range in height, from 90cm-tall dwarf species like W. ‘Pink Poppet’ to the white-flowered W. florida ‘Bristol Snowflake’, which reaches 2m or more at maturity.
The most popular weigelas have purple leaves that add further splashes of colour throughout the season. An old favourite is W. florida ‘Foliis Purpureis’ AGM, with pink flowers. W. Naomi Campbell (also called ‘Bokra-shine’) is a stunning new purple-leaved plant with very bright red flowers.
Variegated forms like the newly introduced W. florida Monet, with pink-tinged green and white foliage, are popular with growers who also recommend older favourites like W. ‘Florida Variegata’ AGM. The smaller cultivars like W. florida ‘Tango’ are also recommended for containers as they have a very neat, compact and bushy habit. A spin-off is that they make good retail plants as they display well.
One of the key reasons why landscapers use them is because of their ease of cultivation — they grow in either acid or alkaline soil as long as it is reasonably fertile. Powdery mildew seems to be the only mild concern, but this can be reduced with a fungicide.
Weigelas are pruned after flowering in spring. On established plants, thinning-out old branches promotes fresh-flowering wood and stops them becoming woody and top heavy. The yellow-leaved or variegated varieties prefer partial shade, while the others have better leaf colouring and flower well when planted in full sun.
The plants propagate freely from semi-ripe or hardwood cuttings.
What the specialists say
Neil Alcock, manager, Seiont Nurseries, Gwynedd
"In recent years, we’ve seen a steady increase in demand for Weigela as we are working with lots of new introductions that offer great marketing opportunities.
"We have exclusive propagation rights in the UK on new varieties such as W. Naomi Campbell — -European varieties specifically bred for the landscape market that are bushy and very floriferous. Naomi Campbell is already a very good seller -because it has shiny, dark purple foliage and purple-red flowers.
"Another new variety is W. ‘Pink Poppet’, which has a compact, bushy habit and is very floriferous. It’s also a perfect retail product because it sits well in a two- to three-litre pot forming a dome shape.
"Although some of the new varieties have been bred as landscaping plants, they also make excellent retail plants as they do so well in containers.
"Our newest introduction is W. florida Monet. It has tricolour foliage in green, white and pink that gets stronger with colder nights, so it really colours up late in the season. It also has attractive pinkish-red flowers."
Mark Warburton, shrub manager, Ashwood Nurseries, West Midlands
"We sell around 25 different varieties of Weigela. They are easy and unfussy, and sell well once they’ve come into leaf, especially the purple-leaved ones.
"My favourite is a new plant called W. florida Wine and Roses, which is also called ‘Alexandra’. It has the darkest purple foliage of them all and carmine-red flowers.
"There are lots of other purple-leaved varieties such as the smaller 90cm-tall W. florida ‘Tango’, with dark purple-bronze foliage and pink-red flowers, or W. ‘Victoria’ with a pink flower that grows slightly bigger. There are also a few good new dwarf forms like W. ‘Pink Poppet’ with pink and white flowers, which grows to 90cm tall, and W. Nain Rouge (or ‘Courtanin’), which grows to 90-120cm and has red flowers.
"I think the best variegated variety is W. ‘Praecox Variegata’ Award of Garden Merit (AGM), although recently W. florida Monet has been introduced. It looks good with its broad white margin at the leaf and carries white and pink flowers."
Sarah Price, Sarah Price Landscapes, London
"Weigela is one of those plants that looks pretty in May or June and then recedes into the background. If it’s already there I will work with it because the colours are easy to incorporate but I’ve never specified it in a landscaping scheme.
"I like the arching form and bronze-green foliage of W. florida ‘Foliis Purpureis’ AGM. One of my clients has it as a hedge, where it tolerates chalk soils, which is very useful."
Species and cultivars
• W. ‘Bristol Ruby’ is a popular form with lots of ruby-red flowers in spring and an upright growth habit to 1.5-2m tall.
• W. ‘Candida’ carries pure white flowers with a green tinge and light-green foliage. It grows to 1.5m tall and wide.
• W. florida ‘Bristol Snowflake’ fea-tures snow-white flowers, an upright habit and grows to 1.5-2m tall.
• W. florida ‘Foliis Purpureis’Award pf Garden Merit (AGM) displays dark purple-brown foliage, which dulls as summer progresses. It has a stiff, upright habit and produces pink flowers in late spring. It grows to 1.5m tall.
• W. florida Monet features tricolour green, white and pink foliage, which gets more pronounced in colder weather. It has pinkish red flowers and grows to 90cm in height.
• W. florida ‘Tango’ is a dwarf variety with dark purple-bronze foliage and pinkish-red flowers. It reaches 90cm tall at maturity.
• W. florida Wine and Roses (or ‘Alexandra’) is a new introduction that, growers claim, has the darkest purple foliage of all. It has bright carmine-red flowers and grows to 1.2m tall.
• W. ‘Florida Variegata’ AGM has a compact habit, pink flowers and white-margined foliage with grey-green centres.
• W. ‘Looymansii Aurea’ displays light-golden foliage and pink flowers, best grown in part shade to prevent leaf scorch.
• W. middendorffiana grows to 1.5m with arching branches that carry pairs of yellow flowers with dark-orange markings in spring.
• W. Nain Rouge (or ‘Courtanin’) carries red flowers and a compact, bushy growth habit to 90cm.
• W. ‘Nana Variegata’ is a compact rounded shrub with cream-edged foliage and rose-pink flowers in April to May. It grows to a height and spread of 1.5m.
• W. Naomi Campbell (or ‘Bokra-shine’) is one of the new European introductions bred for the landscape market with very dark, shiny, purple foliage and a bushy, compact habit. It has purple-red flowers in spring.
• W. ‘Pink Poppet’ is a compact, bushy new introduction bred for the landscape market with green foliage and bright pink flowers. It is ideal for container-growing as it forms a natural dome shape but grows to 90cm tall when planted out.
• W. ‘Praecox Variegata’ AGM features cream-white variegated foliage and honey-scented, rose-pink flowers with yellow throat markings in late spring. It grows to between 1.5m and 2m tall.
• W. ‘Red Prince’ AGM displays deep-green glossy leaves and is very flo-riferous in May with coral-red flow-ers. It grows to around 1.2m tall.
• W. Rubidor features pale green leaves edged in gold with red flowers and grows well in shade.
• W. ‘Victoria’, considered by some growers to be a better purple-leaved variety than ‘Foliis Pur-pureis’, has pink flowers and grows to 1.5m tall.