Weigela is a winning confection in May
When in full flower, weigela looks like a giant iced cake, with frothy masses of creamy variegated leaves and soft pink flowers. It is just coming into flower now and it will be on show for a couple of weeks. That's it, one great rush of flowers and then it builds up for next year's floral display.
Of course, the wild weigela, native to China and adjoining countries, is not the one described. The wild form has fully green leaves but is otherwise the same. The variegated weigela is a garden form, with its leaves marked around the edge with a solid rim of creamy yellow, fading to almost white.
Variegated plants are generally less vigorous than their green originals but Weigela florida 'Variegata' is still quite a strong grower, well capable of making a large bush with outward-thrusting stems. Each branch of last year's growth carries clusters of pink flowers. These open from deep pink buds to form pale pink trumpets. This plant is related to honeysuckle although the flower trumpets are more flared and not as narrow.
Weigela has long been popular in gardens, because of its early summer extravaganza, and because it is very easy to grow from a slip, a sure sign of a valued cottage garden plant. Apart from the popular 'Variegata', there are several other named varieties. 'Bristol Ruby' has ruby-red flowers set against dark-green leaves. Even darker is 'Foliis Purpureis'. The name means 'purple leaves' and it has coppery purple foliage and relatively narrow, deep pink flowers.
Very similar is the relatively new variety 'Wine and Roses', well named for its dark leaves and wine-red flowers and it is a compact grower. 'Eva Rathke' is also dark, compact in growth, and with arching twigs. Apart from the variegated kind, there are golden-leaved versions, such as 'Looymansii Aurea', which is bright yellow in early summer with trumpet flowers that are red-flushed on the back. 'Briant Rubidor' has golden-yellow leaves and rich red flowers.
All weigelas are easy to grow in any ordinary soil that is not wet or waterlogged in winter, and they are hardy, even in frosty localities. If the soil is too rich, the bush tend to grow very strongly, and gets too big, with lots of leaves instead of flowers. Pruning is usually necessary, and should be carried out just after flowering, removing flowered shoots and thinning out older shoots. While it looks lovely in flower, weigela is a bit dull out of flower, especially the plain green kinds, and is best planted at the back of a border where it can be a good green foil for other plants.