Village Nurseries in southern California has been growing Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’ for the past few years as part of the Sunset Western Garden Collection, as well as for regular stock. Suzie Wiest, marketing rep and new products chair at Village Nurseries, discusses why she likes ‘Kaleidoscope,’ and why growers and IGCs should consider adding it to their selections.

Q: What makes Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’ a top choice for landscape architects or contractors?

SW: It works well en masse or as an accent plant providing year-round interest, and I believe the smaller size (3 feet by 3 feet) makes it a great choice for the urban or container garden.

Q: For at are they missing out on?

SW: In areas with a variety of exposure such as dappled light, or full sun to part shade, the range of colors are more pronounced, and the ‘Kaleidoscope’ of colors is very beautiful.

Q: What do growers, retailers and landscapers stand to gain by providing this selection?

SW: In addition to its beauty, abelia is low maintenance and drought tolerant, once established. It is important that they water it regularly to establish the roots then water deeply and infrequently to develop a deeper root system. If not, it will wilt in the dry, hot summers in the West.

Q: Is ‘Kaleidoscope’ a good alternative to certain crops?

Suzie Wiest

SW: Our customers are interested in trying new varieties and I believe the size, drought-tolerance, low maintenance and year-round interest it provides make Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’ an excellent alternative to other more common foundation shrubs.

Suzie Wiest is the marketing rep and new products chair at Village Nurseries. She has more than 25 years’ experience in the horticulture industry, and received an SLO in ornamental horticulture at Cal Poly. She recently served on the board of The Water Conservation Garden in San Diego, and has a passion for the education of unique and drought-tolerant plants along with methods with which to grow them successfully.

GREENLEAF NURSERY, with locations in Oklahoma, Texas and North Carolina, grows Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope,’ which is part of its Garden Debut program. Plants in that program are thoroughly tested for long-term performance. Harry Smutzer, vice president of sales at Greenleaf, explains why ‘Kaleidoscope’ makes an excellent choice for the industry.

Q: From a grower perspective, why choose ‘Kaleidoscope?’

HS: The plant is easy to propagate – make sure you’re a licensed grower, of course – and it doesn’t require a lot of maintenance. Most abelias don’t. In the right conditions, it fills out nicely. It’s got a nice flush and requires minimal pruning. In the south Texas climate, it can be a challenge to grow in the summer. But further north and east, it’s much easier to grow, especially in the summertime.

Q: Why should retailers consider adding ‘Kaleidoscope’ to their shelves?

HS: For retailers, it’s all about eye appeal. ‘Kaleidoscope’ is eye-catching with its colorful foliage. It has a really good shelf life, which is critical in retail. With some creative marketing and advertising, as well as the right merchandising, retailers could get impulse purchases with this plant. And impulse purchases are unusual when it comes to shrubs. ‘Kaleidoscope’ moves very well for retailers who bring it in for the spring and the fall. This plant brings a premium price.

Harry Smutzer

Q: What is appealing about ‘Kaleidoscope’ to the landscape trade?

HS: Just like with growers and retailers, it’s good for designers and contractors for the eye appeal. It also doesn’t outgrow its space in the landscape, and it performs well in a wide range of soil conditions. Use it in mass plantings or as a specimen plant. It gives you those really nice foliage colors in contrast to the steady diet of green that is found in so many landscapes across the country.

Q: How do you suggest the industry market ‘Kaleidoscope?’

HS: Try trading it out for a green commodity, We’ve done just that at Greenleaf. We’ve lowered the numbers of some of the more competitive commodities and started offering ‘Kaleidoscope’ instead. And in regions where rose rosette is an issue and rose sales are slow, try ‘Kaleidoscope’ for its good foliage contrast and interest.

Harry Smutzer is the vice president of sales at Greenleaf Nursery. He received a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture from Clemson University. He began his career at Carolina Nurseries, worked at Cherry Lake Tree Farm, then joined Greenleaf Nursery in 2001 in both sales and production roles.


A columnar habit and dazzling color make Orange Rocket a superior selection.

Jonathan Pedersen, director of business development at Monrovia, ensures the plants that are associated with the Monrovia name are backed by quality assurance. He explains why Orange Rocket barberry should be on the must-have list for the entire green industry supply chain.

Q: What makes it a top choice for growers, retailers and the landscape trade?

JP: Multi-season interest — vibrant coral-orange new foliage ages to a mid-red, then turns ruby red in autumn. This compact shrub has an attractive and unique columnar habit. It’s versatile in a container and in the landscape. I’ve seen this plant grown successfully in many parts of the U.S. I’ve got one in my front yard!


Q: Name some of the best landscape uses for Orange Rocket.

JP: This is a plant-it-and-forget-it choice for a landscaper, which they love, and it is very neat and tidy with its upright growth habit. Use it as a barrier, in a container, as a hedge, in mass plantings or as a specimen. It’s also deer resistant, has dramatic foliage color and has lovely fall color. Plant it with things like boxwood, cypress, potentilla, spirea and weigela. It also does really well with full-sun hardy perennials like daylily, echinacea, gaillardia and salvia.

Jonathan Pedersen

Q: What are some other attributes that make this plant an outstanding choice?

JP: Today with smaller gardens, people are looking for upright habits. That plus the color of this plant make it a top seller at retail. The plant shape lends itself to looking attractive in a retail setting in a bed from a distance. Also, zone hardiness and humidity tolerance make Orange Rocket an easy-to-grow plant in most parts of the U.S. It’s a great plant for many markets across the country.

Q: What are some outside-of-the-box ideas for this crop in terms of marketing, merchandising and/or landscape use? 

JP: This is the perfect plant to market to young gardeners. It has a trendy color for yard or patio design, is easy to grow, and holds interest all growing season. It also works well as a centerpiece in a container.

Jonathan Pedersen is director of business development at Monrovia Nursery Co. With more than 25 years’ experience in the horticulture industry—from retail to marketing to intellectual property—Jonathan has a unique ability to merge homeowner insight with industry know-how.

CHRISTINA SALWITZ, THE PERSONAL GARDEN COACH, and Karen Chapman, owner of Le jardinet, both use Orange Rocket barberry frequently in their designs. Find out why it’s one of their go-to plants.

Q: How does Orange Rocket stand out from other barberries?

CS: The vertical growth habit is a big winner for me both in containers and landscapes. It’s incredibly easy to use when you need that bold color as a vertical element as opposed to a grass for example.

KC: And yet it isn’t stiffly columnar like Helmond’s Pillar. It has a little more personality, opening up slightly with age, resulting in a more mellow attitude — upright but not rigid.

Q: What are some interesting ways that growers could market/sell Orange Rocket?

CS: Showing off professionally designed containers and landscapes that have used the plant effectively is one of the best ways, because sexy plant photos sell.

KC: Suggest specific companion plants that play to its attributes of color and shape.

Q: Do you have any suggestions for innovative ways for IGCs to market or display Orange Rocket?

CS: One really big way is through the price point. There are some fantastic barberries available right now in dreamy colors that are low and mounding, but they are expensive. When you use this one, you can have a very showy plant for multiple seasons that is affordable — in particular if you want those colorful exclamation points dotted throughout the landscape. For a display, they need to focus on how HOT orange is in the market right now. This is gorgeous when it has its new spring growth, but the fall displays could be showstoppers with the right complimentary elements, such as ‘Redbor’ kale.

KC: Stop putting it with all the other barberries! Design a stand-alone display with Orange Rocket and companions, making sure to match for sun tolerance, drought resistance and/or deer resistance (nothing is more frustrating for inexperienced gardeners than re-creating a nursery display only to discover — at their own expense — that the display did not take cultural conditions into account).

Q: It’s been on the market for a while — what’s its staying power?  

KC: It truly is unique in color and form. I regularly include it in my container and landscape designs for clients.

Q: What are some of your favorite ways to incorporate Orange Rocket into the landscape?

CS: I like to use them in containers as smaller plants, one to three gallon sized, then transplant them out into the landscape when I switch out the container.

Karen Chapman (left) and Christina Salwitz

KC: I do much of the same, specifically planting them in bold orange glazed pots which are set into the borders to create dramatic focal points. Directly planting into the landscape, I have found they look stunning near large mossy boulders and low mounding conifers, e.g. Blue Shag pine.

Q: Which companion plants really shine next to Orange Rocket?

CS and KC: It’s gorgeous with anything gold (such as Sunshine ligustrum, Skylands spruce or Kaleidoscope abelia), but also really nice with deep reds, too, such as Japanese blood grass, Virginia sweetspire or viburnum. There are a couple of dramatic combinations in our new book, Gardening with Foliage First, that show Orange Rocket with partners such as giant purple Allium blooms or golden-leaved hardy fuchsia and crimson Japanese maples — stunning!

Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz are co-authors of the award-winning book Fine Foliage (St. Lynn’s Press 2013) and upcoming Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, 2017).