Rose of Sharon (Althea)

The final days of summer seem so precious against the backdrop of the coming fall and winter. Our annual flowers and late-blooming perennials and shrubs are bursting forth, adding to the “grand finale” of this growing season. One of my favorite late-flowering shrubs is the althea or “Rose of Sharon” I’ve got a short hedge of double purple althea that is putting forth one of it’s best showings of blooms ever.

As I travel through the area I’ve noticed several outstanding examples of this striking flowering shrub. One of my favorites is a lovely white, single flowering specimen just north of Edinburg on the northwest shore of the Great Sacandaga Reservoir. It features a beautiful white flower with a dark throat. Another of my favorite late summer flowers is the ‘Mallow Hibiscus’. Like the ‘Rose of Sharon’, mallow hibiscus is a relative of the tropical hibiscus we associate with Hawaii and grow here as a houseplant.

While ‘Rose of Sharon’ is a woody shrub, the mallow hibiscus is a perennial which dying back to the ground over winter. These showy plants will grow from the ground to a height of 4′ to 6′ each season. Mallow hibiscus flowers range from white to deep purple and encompass every shade and combination of pink in between. As this weren’t enough, the flowers are the about the size of a dinner plate! Dorothy could easily have brought the late-blooming mallow hibiscus from her visit to Munchkinland.

If you decide to plant either of these northern members of the hibiscus family, you’ll need to be patient in spring. Neither the woody ‘Rose of Sharon’ nor the perennial mallow hibiscus will show any sign of life until spring is well under way. I’ve gotten used to this with my ‘Rose of Sharon’ hedge but my mallow hibiscus still scares me every spring. Just when I’ve convinced myself that it has succumbed to the ravages of winter, it sends up a bright green shoot. It’s usually well into June by then. If you have some space left in your yard somewhere, I highly recommend either of these late bloomers for your collection.