Early Spring Glory

It’s not a temperamental shrub. There’s no need to water, fertilize or plant it in rich soil. It blooms profusely in the shade. When the leaves turn pale yellow, then fall in winter, we are left with attractive green twigs throughout the cold months. Arrangers can snip branches for winter or summer flower arrangements.  And when you come upon a plant in the early spring garden, you cannot refrain from a gasp of delight at the showy rose-like blooms of yellow.

I planted my Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora,’ a pass-along plant from a friend, far from the house in the long shadows of a tall white pine where it rewards me all season long. It is one of the first welcomes to spring and dances in vibrant yellow among the daffodils, tulips and the contrasting reds of camellias.

Rosacea family (Japanese yellow rose)

It is named for William Kerr, a Scottish gardener at England’s Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and a professional plant hunter sent to China in 1804 by the botanist St. Joseph Banks. Not only did he discover Kerria, he found other plants common to Virginia gardens: Euonymus japonicus, Pieris japonica, Nandina domestica, and the white-flowered Rosa banksiae, better known as the Lady Banks Rose, named for his patron’s wife.

I can imagine the excitement that this vivid ornamental shrub caused when it first arrived in England. It is an upright and arching shrub that eventually becomes more rounded as it ages.  It blossoms profusely in the early spring and sporadically all summer and fall. The bright green stems with their zig-zag pattern add interest to the winter landscape.

Yet it is a plant that is no longer eagerly sought out for the garden. Perhaps the ease of which it can be grown and propagated and the land needed to support the vigorous growth have caused it to fall out of favor today. I would suggest it as good choice as a landscape plant where it can be allowed to spread in magnificent drifts.

Other cultivars of Kerria include ‘Golden Guinea,’ notable for large single flowers of 2″ wide, ‘Picta,’ a variegated leaf variety, ‘Shannon,’ a more vigorous shrub, ‘Honshu,’ boasts the largest single flowers, ‘Albiflora,’ a newer cultivar with single white flowers.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

One thought on “Early Spring Glory

  1. This is such an under appreciated plant. It can be tucked into a corner somewhere and ignored until it blooms in spring demanding attention, then it disappears again. Personally, I like the single flowers. We once carried a variegated one at work, but I found it to be very weak.

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