The Rose-of-Sharon, treasured by Thomas Jefferson, has been a staple in the American garden since the 1700s and rightfully so, as it is one of the most prolific blooming plants you can choose for the landscape. Here at the Columbus Botanical Garden, the Rose-of-Sharon is the perfect complement for the historic home that serves as the office headquarters. On wedding days, it becomes a landscape floral arrangement for brides who have selected the large brick patio for their outdoor garden nuptials.
Don't be confused, it is not a rose, and more than likely not really of the Rose-of-Sharon connotation referred to in the Holy Bible. It does however show the admiration and love that someone held for the plant in giving it this wonderful common name. Botanically speaking it is known as Hibiscus syriacus and native to much of Asia. In fact it is the national flower of the Republic of Korea.
This hibiscus can be grown over much of the country and is cold hardy to zone 5. It is amazing to think that flowers only last a day because every time you look at it during the warm growing season it has more than one can count. This blooming season is also long reaching into September. Typically the flowers range from 3 to 5 inches in width and are borne on a woody shrub that reaches 4 to 10 feet. The U.S. National Arboretum has made several crosses or hybrids that have become popular in the garden trade.
Choose a site with plenty of sunlight and good fertile well-drained soil. Morning sun and filtered afternoon light are just about perfect. The hibiscus blooms on new growth, so it is important to keep it growing vigorously throughout the season. Early spring pruning plays an important role, at least in my style where they are kept more shrub-like. Keep them well fed and watered during droughty periods. A balanced fertilizer or one with a 1-2-1 ratio fertilizer will do superbly.
Today, Operation Ruby Throat list the Hibiscus syriacus among the Top 10 exotic plants known to provide nectar for these darting acrobats of the garden. So it would certainly fit the backyard wildlife habitat. Because it is such an heirloom plant I sometimes have a one track mind of visualizing it used close to the house, perhaps up against a tall front porch railing or even in grandma's cottage garden in proximity to the picket fence. Here you might use blue salvias or angelonias as companions with white flowered selections. Large pink gaura will work with almost any color. Make no mistake though, it will work wonderfully as part of a shrub border.
The USDA varieties, Diana (white), Helene (white with burgundy center), Aphrodite (pink with mauve center) and Minerva (lavender with red center) are some of the more popular at your local garden centers. Red Heart (white with red center and the double flowered Ardens (purple-lavender) are still very popular.
Plant breeders are working fervently, suggesting that the Rose-of-Sharon will be seeing a revival and that even more new selections are soon coming our way. I certainly hope so as I see the way kids look at them at the Columbus Botanical Garden. These were plants we remember from our grandparent's house. There is a young generation out there that certainly needs some garden memories, too!
Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus Ga., and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and the highly acclaimed "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden." Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published June 23, 2012 4:00 AM