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Gardening 101: Yellow Wax-Bells

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Gardening 101: Yellow Wax-Bells

September 27, 2022

Yellow Wax-Bells: Kirengeshoma palmata

After the September Equinox, plants that are waxing rather than waning are especially appealing. With its long petals that seem to be unfurling in slow motion, Kirengeshoma palmata appears to be oblivious to the hastening season, never fully opening, and just as handsome in yellow bud. Part of the Hydrangeaceae family, kirengeshoma resembles hydrangea in its growth habit (at 3 to 4 feet, it is as wide as it is tall) and its striking foliage.

Photography by Kendra Wilson.

Above: Kirengoshoma palmata, with leaves that are as interesting as the flowers.

At the end of the growing season, lemon yellow kirengeshoma keeps its cool, away from the riot of pinks and oranges. The structural foliage makes it a good mingler, not only with autumn-flowering hydrangea but large-leafed flowers like Japanese anemone.

Above: Kirengeshoma’s petals are diffidently whorled, the opposite to spring’s reflexing flowers.

Palmate leaves combine with jagged green sepals and dark red stems to provide an impressive backdrop to the flowers themselves, which hang like bells up and down the plant, spilling onto a path.

Above: The Kirengeshoma palmata shown here grows at the Oxford Botanic Garden, and it has been imaginatively partnered with an unusual rose, labeled Rosa x chinensis ‘Yellow Mutabilis’. Its open, single blooms are creamy yellow, contrasting with the cupped nature of kirengeshoma, while the rose’s fresh growth is a vibrant red, bringing out the coloring of the waxy bell stems.
Above: Mingling with the fresh growth of Rosa x chinensis ‘Yellow Mutabilis’.

Cheat Sheet

• A deciduous shrub, K. palmata grows well in shade or semi-shade, facing north, east or west. It thrives in the kind of moisture that a woodland setting provides.
• Inconspicuous for most of the summer, kirengeshoma makes a green combination with ferns and hostas before coming into its own.
• A variant, over which there is some debate, Kirengeshoma palmata Koreana Group, is arguably more showy, with some commentators saying that it is bigger, others that it is smaller. K. palmata grows to 3-4 feet.

Above: Fresh blooms and leaves of kirengeshoma can be further complemented by fresh green ground cover, such as wild ginger.

Keep It Alive

• Hardy to Zone 7, enjoys a sheltered position.
• Like its shade-loving companion hosta, K. palmata is susceptible to the attentions of slugs and snails in its early stages of growth. Keep an eye on it, picking them off, or use nematodes.
• Grow kirengeshoma in soil that is rich in leaf mould, which is more acidic than alkaline.

Above: Keeping the best till last, the modest show-stopper Kirengeshoma palmata.

For more flowering shrubs, see:

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