Two shrubs to add that touch of pink

Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’ – ‘Rainbow’ drooping fetterbush or dog hobble

Variegated foliage is my weakness. But, I have to be careful. A garden full of typical green-and-white “interesting”  foliage can be too much of a good thing. But these two shrubs – both seen growing in Toronto – can introduce a kiss of pink into your foliage palette. How appropriate for Valentine week!

Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’ is a relatively unfussy evergreen shrub – unfussy, that is, as long as you can meet its picky cultural requirements. It’s a cultivar of a native North American shrub that grows naturally in forested areas along riverbanks. So: shady but with good air circulation, moist but well-drained, and with acidic soil containing lots of organic matter. That’s all. If you can give it that, this cousin of heaths and heathers will reward you with pink-tinged, cream-and-green leaves and dangly, white, bell-shaped summer flowers. I found it listed online at Glen Echo Nurseries in Caledon, so it can be had locally, but other nurseries in the Toronto area might also carry it.

Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’ – Japanese dappled willow

Japanese dappled willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’), on the other hand, is about as unfussy as they come. Maybe even too unfussy. Like all willows, it likes water. But this one will take some dryness once established. (You can see a little die-back at the leaf tips in the image above, likely due to the heat of recent summers.) Best in sun or part-shade, it can grow into a sizeable shrub, without regular pruning.

Luckily, the pink is best on new growth, so hard pruning in early spring and a couple of lops during summer will encourage the best leaf colour. An improved cultivar, with more reliable pink, is S. integra ‘Flamingo’, which I also found on the Glen Echo site. (I have no affiliation with them.)

Google coughs up some neat links. One took me to Lene Rasmussen’s Willows website in Wainfleet, Ontario. She sells dappled willow, among others, as whips, with instructions to make woven willow trees. These look pretty cool. Click their Workshops page for upcoming classes. Wish it were closer. Even without the fancy trunkwork, dappled willow can be grown as a standard or tree.

Have you grown either of these babies? I’d love to hear your tips or comments.


  1. Helen girl this is a nice little pick me up garden post!
    I have Hakuro-nishiki .. and I was quite cruel to it (sincerely out of frustration of the whole garden year, last year) I didn't mean to pick on it truly! .. so if it survived my hacking back .. I will try to place it in a better situation with some shade, instead of full on sun .. you made me feel guilty ? LOL
    This other shrub is very interesting .. I haven't seen it before .. very pretty as well !
    Enjoyed this post girl : )

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Joy. I've seen unpruned dappled willow planted in Quebec, so I know it's very cold-hardy. But many that I've seen there aren't pruned, and they get huuuuuuuuuuge. So it is best to be cruel.

  2. Helen: Both are wonderful additions to the garden where a soft burst of pink and white is needed. I have to replace my S.i 'Hakuro Nishiki' standard as it has become infested at the graft – getting worse with every season, but have been reluctant. Unfortunately it will not be replaced with another, but with a weeping concolor fir. which I am equally excited about. The L.f 'Rainbow' is another delight – but you are right about its requirements – I don't find mine to be that fast a grower, but definitely rewarding in the garden!

    1. Barry, I should have know you'd have 'Rainbow.' But you should check out an old post from Deborah at Kilbourne Grove who pruned back her dappled willow shrubs into standards on their own stems. I don't know how she fared with that, but she was inspired by Marion Jarvie, who'd done the same in her garden — Deborah links to pictures in her post. Marion's trunk (well, the trunk of her willow) had reached quite a size. That would solve the problem with the graft — no graft! Let's see if I can find Deborah's post. Okay, here it is:

  3. 🙂
    I am so happy to have found this page! I actually have both of these shrubs although I couldn't remember what they were called! Mine have not exactly been thriving but now I realize it is most likely my poor soil conditions. I am restoring my gardens next week and will transplant to better locations! Thank you for the tips!!!

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