Hardy Gardenias and Pheasant Berry – Two fun summer shrubs to try, by the Whistling Gardener

Hardy Gardenia and Pheasant Berry are two fun summer shrubs to try.
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo credit: Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

There is nothing quite like the fragrance of a gardenia to send the olfactory receptors into sensory overload.

Having grown up in southern California I am quite familiar with this wonderful smell but in the northwest it is usually only found in the florist shop or the house plant department of the local garden center.

For several years now the breeders have been introducing “hardy” gardenias which are supposed to tolerate our maritime climate and occasional hard freezes in the winter. I am sad to say that despite my professional skills I have had little luck growing them.

I planted a Kleim’s Hardy Gardenia several years ago and while it grew fine it was a stingy bloomer with usually only one or two blooms in August and only if it was a nice warm summer.

Needless to say I finally gave up on it and relegated it to the compost pile and never thought much more about gardenias. Things have changed this year.

In our sales yard we are now selling a gardenia called Summer Snow that claims to be hardy to -10 degrees. It has larger leaves than Kleim’s and large fragrant flowers in late summer and I am very tempted to give it a try.

The plants are looking quite nice this time of year with glossy dark green leaves and full of buds.

One of the tricks to growing gardenias is to plant them in full to partial sun, feed them with an acid fertilizer and make darn sure there is excellent drainage.

You can also grow them in pots but they will need extra protection in the winter so if you don’t have a cool greenhouse to store them in I wouldn’t recommend pots unless you just want to treat them like an annual and throw them out at the end of the summer.

In the right spot Summer Snow is supposed to grow 4-5 tall and as wide. Anyone game to try one?

Another shrub that I have always been fond of is one called Pheasant Berry or Leycesteria formosa (it is also known as Himalayan Honeysuckle). As the name implies, Pheasant Berry hails from Asia and is very well suited for the northwest.

The version I most prefer is a golden leafed variety called Golden Lanterns (a similar model on the market is called Jealousy). Golden Lanterns will grow up to 5-6 feet tall with showy golden leaves that start out more reddish, turn golden in the summer and return to a nice red color in the fall.

In midsummer white flowers appear followed by purple-blue metallic berries that the birds will go nuts over. In the winter when the leaves fall off the hollow green stems have the appearance of bamboo without the concern that bamboo can evoke.

Depending on the severity of the winter, a light or hard prune will refresh the plant and get it back in business. As an added bonus I am told this plant is deer resistant.

Plant it in full to partial sun and mix it in with your other shrubs and perennials (or even in a large container for the summer), either way you will get months of enjoyment out of this easy to grow plant.

Mums have arrived. Believe it or not the growers are already sending the retailers their fall crops of mums, pansies, asters and kale to name just a few.

There is no way that I am ready to give up on summer yet but if you have a few pots that have petered out then this is a good time to get them ready for fall. Refresh the potting soil; add some organic fertilizer and you will be good to go.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at 425-334-2002 or online at


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