Leycesteria formosa

Leycesteria formosa      Family: Caprifoliaceae
(ley-ses-TER-ee-uh  for-MOH-suh)

Common name: pheasant berry; Himalayan honeysuckle; Himalayan nutmeg; flowering nutmeg
Zone: USDA 7 – 10
Height: 6-8 ft (1.8-2.4 m) Spread: 5-6 ft (1.5-1.8 m)
Aspect: full sun; partial shade
Soil: moist; fertile; well-draining
Water: moderate  

Description: Deciduous shrub with hollow, bamboo-like, gracefully arching, light green stems adorned with opposite medium-green, ovate, tapering leaves. Pendant racemes of deep red bracts above mildly-scented white flowers appear in summer. Reddish-purple berries start to appear in late summer, maturing to a deep maroon colour in fall. Ripe, soft berries are edible with a caramel-like taste.


Special Notes: Native to forested regions of the Himalayas and southwestern China. This shrub is tolerant of average or clay soils, although it will do better in moist, fertile soil. Relatively drought tolerant once established. In colder regions where temperatures dip to -9.5 °C (15 °F) it is advisable to apply a layer of mulch to protect the roots. Cut branches back to 10 – 12 inches (25 – 30 cm) above soil level in early spring. Flowers on new growth.

Pest and disease resistant. Resistant to slug and snail damage. Propagate by fresh seed sown in pots in fall and placed in a cold frame over winter; by division in spring; by softwood cuttings in summer.


In our zone 7a garden: We are in the northern part of this shrub’s growing zone so pruning technique is dictated by how severe our winter has been in any particular year. If severe, most of the branches will die back to the ground, or at least some of them will. In less severe winters, John only takes off the brown dead parts of the branches. We have never mulched our shrub but are re-considering our game plan after all the branches died right to the ground and new growth was late to appear in the spring of 2019 after we hit a record low temperature of -18.5 °C (1.3 °F) for 3 days that winter.

The berries of Leycesteria formosa are edible, but I am not sure about other Leycesteria species. I find they taste like burnt caramel which I happen to like. However, the taste may not be to everyone’s liking as our taste buds are indeed unique.


Awards: Great Plant Pick 2012


Posted on August 26, 2020


Ilex crenata

Ilex crenata           Family: Aquifoliaceae
(EYE-lecks  kree-NAH-tah)

Common name: Japanese holly; box-leaved holly
Zone:  6 – 8
Height: 5-10 ft (1.5-3 m)   Spread: 5-10 ft (1.5-3 m)
Aspect: full sun; partial shade
Soil: moist; slightly acidic; well-draining
Water: moderate     

Description: Dense, multi-branched, evergreen shrub. Glossy, deep green leaves are ovate to elliptical shaped and spineless. Cymes of 3 to 5 (male plant) or 3 to 7 (female plant), small, four petaled, white flowers appear in mid-May through into early June. Small round black inconspicuous fruits, or drupes, to ¼ inch (0.6 cm) in diameter, mature in fall on pollinated female plants.


Special Notes: Native to forest and mountainous slopes of Japan, China, Korea and parts of eastern Russia. Slow growing, this shrub will tolerate poor soil conditions, shady locations and drought, once it is established. Dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants. Female needs pollination in order to produce fruits. Good shrub for topiary as it will tolerate significant shearing and pruning. A favourite plant species in formal-type gardens.

Good pest and disease resistance although may suffer from spider mites in high heat and humid gardens. May need some protection from drying winter winds. Severe winters in Zone 5 regions can cause foliar burn and damage branches. Stressed plants can also suffer twig dieback caused by blight. Leaves will turn yellow in high pH, or alkaline soils.


In our Zone 7a garden: Love this plant! Evergreen interest in a largely perennial garden. Initially planted sandwiched between a large Damera peltate and a much-used path at the bottom of the pond, it did not seem to suffer from repeated shearing to keep its size down to about 3 ft (0.9 m) high and wide. It has been re-located to a more appropriate location in one of the border beds and is flourishing nicely.

What I most love about this plant is the number of bees it attracts in spite of its tiny flowers. 


Posted on August 6, 2020


Aronia melanocarpa

Aronia melanocarpa loaded with berries Aronia melanocarpa Family: Rosaceae
(ah-ROE-nee-ah mel-an-oh-KAR-pah)

Common name: black chokeberries
Zone: 3 – 8
Height: 3-6 ft (0.9-1.8 m) Spread: 6-10 ft (1.8-3 m)
Aspect: full sun; partial shade
Soil: average; well-draining
Water: moderate

Description: A medium-sized, deciduous shrub with a fairly low, spreading growth habit. The dark green, glossy leaves are obovate in shape with a rounded tip. Colour turns a wonderful purplish-red in autumn. Clusters of 5-petaled white flowers open for a short bloom period in May, followed by dark, round, edible berries in autumn. Berries first appear dark purple, maturing to black when fully ripe.


Special Notes: Native to North America, primarily the area around the Great Lakes in Canada and the United States. Once used by the native peoples as a meat preservative in preparing pemmican. More recently, it has been discovered aronia berries have wonderful health benefits. Besides being saturated with natural anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-diabetic qualities, the berries are rich in anthocyanins and polyphenols…which protect the urinary tract, stimulate the circulation and strengthen the heart. Ongoing studies are showing black chokeberries also contain compounds helpful in fighting certain cancers and heart disease. There is also ongoing research on its benefits for memory loss and cognitive deterioration.

Aronia melanocarpa has few insect or disease problems, although there is some susceptibility to leaf spots…merely a cosmetic problem. Twig and/or fruit blight could also be a slight problem.


In our Zone 7a garden: Our Aronia shrub sits at the corner of the raised bed by the steps leading up to the pond…and beyond. It was relocated to this location in 2013 after being deemed unsuitable in the first spot John placed it when the plant was purchased in 2011. I only mention this so you have some understanding its current size of about 3 feet (0.9 m) tall and roughly 5 feet (1.5 m) wide may not be its final stature. However, this shrub does lend itself to being kept in check through some judicious pruning.

Aronia melanocarpa berriesThis past fall (2016), I managed to beat the birds to the berries. (Warning: you must be quick! As soon as the birds…mainly robins in our garden…pronounce the berries are finally ripe enough to eat, the entire shrub is harvested in two days…three at the very outside.) I froze all of this year’s harvest in batches on a waxpaper-lined cookie sheet and transferred the frozen berries into freezer bags for later use in smoothies. Delicious.


Posted on December 17, 2016


Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’

Leucothoe fontanesiana 'Rainbow'

Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’        Family: Ericaceae
(lew-KO-tho-ee  fon-ta-nee-zee-AH-na)

Syn. Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Girard’s Rainbow’
Common name: Rainbow leucothoe, Girard’s rainbow, rainbow fetterbush, dog hobble, drooping leucothoe
Zone: 5 – 9
Height: 4 – 5 ft (1.2 – 1.5 m)
Spread: 3 – 4 ft (0.9 – 1.2 m)
Aspect: partial shade; full shade
Soil: humus-rich; well-draining
Water: moderate

Description: An evergreen shrub with cascading form and slow growth rate. Bright green, leathery, lanceolate-shaped leaves are splashed with varying degrees of white and pink. Fall foliage colours are a rainbow of deep burgundy, bright red, oranges, and yellows. White flowers are displayed in drooping clusters in spring.


Special Notes: The species, Leucothoe fontanesiana, is native to the eastern part of North America. This particular cultivar was discovered as a seedling at the Hillier Nurseries in England.

While most references state leucothoe should be planted in at least partial shade, some have confessed to giving it full sun. The amount of sun this shrub receives daily will directly impact on how much variable colour will develop on the leaves. The more sun, the more colour. However, it has been stated, extended direct sun can scorch, thus damaging the leaves.


Caution: Leaves and flower nectar are highly toxic if ingested. Harmful to children, pets, horses, and especially goats.


In our Zone 7a garden: Our leucothoe shrub is planted along the edge of the driveway, in some very tough soil. It is part of a delightful mass planting of admirable shrubs (Kerria japonica, oakleaf hydrangea, Skimmia japonica, Leucothoe, Viburnum davidii) which have now all grown together. All but the kerria are evergreen, and because of the mass overlapping of branches, it is difficult to get much amendment material underneath, although we do try. Another factor in that bed are roots from two large maple trees nearby.

I mention all of this because every resource claimed Leucothoe fontanesiana prefers moist, humus-rich, well-draining soil. They also claim this shrub does not tolerate drought. Well…in our garden, this shrub is not planted in humus-rich soil and it does not get much moisture…competing as it does with trees and other mature shrubs. And yet, it thrives beautifully.

If I was to change one thing about its placement, it would be to give it more sun. Mine is sited in almost complete shade…getting only a little sun late in the day. And this impacts on the colour variation in its leaves. Mine are mostly green with a bit of white. I have to wait until autumn to get the beautiful rainbow display.

As for its toxicity…while I do not doubt the warnings I read concerning this shrub, our grandchildren and two dogs have never attempted to pick the leaves or chewed on them. But then, I have taught the kids they are not to put anything in their mouths without first asking Grandma if it is edible. And all of our dogs have been trained not to chew on our plants, or dig holes in the beds. Goats, indeed, would be another matter.


Posted on September 12, 2016
Updated on March 30, 2022


Hydrangea paniculata ‘Kyushu’

Hydrangea paniculata 'Kyushu'
Hydrangea paniculata
‘Kyushu’ Family:
(hy-DRAIN-jah pah-nik-yew-LAY-tah)

Common name:
paniculate hydrangea ‘Kyushu’
Zone: 5 – 9
Height: 8 – 10 ft (2.5-3 m) Spread: 3 – 5 ft (1-1.5 m)
Aspect: full sun; partial shade
Soil: average; well-draining
Water: moderate

Hydrangea paniculata 'Kyushu' - leavesDescription: A deciduous shrub with an upright form and moderate growth rate. Dark green, ovate-shaped leaves are slightly glossy. Branches are tipped with slender, conical-shaped, flower-heads made up of a multitude of smaller white florets. Bloom period from early July through to end of September. Flowers are sterile.


Special Notes: Native to Kyushu, Japan, softwood cuttings were collected in 1926 by renowned ornithologist, plant collector, and gardener, Captain Collingwood Ingram. These cuttings were given to an arboretum in Belgium for growing on and eventual distribution.

Hydrangea 'Kyushu' - flowers at season endWith a moderate growth rate of five to ten years, this shrub does not quickly out-grow its placement in the garden. Rather, because of available space next to this plant, the gardener is in danger of planting something too close, which must be subsequently re-located in a few short years.

Of special note are the lovely conical-shaped white flowers with their long bloom period. An added feature is the white colour is not marred by turning brown as the flower dies back.


In our Zone 7a garden: This shrub has truly thrived in full, hot sun all summer long. Granted, we made sure the plant was watered regularly when it was first introduced into our landscape. But once established with a good root system, the shrub has been purely delightful for the floral display it gives over a very long period…with just a minimum of water every week.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Kyushu' & Lunaria annua seed pods


Posted on September 10, 2016




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