I have heard it said more than once that Escallonia is an underused hedging plant. Granted, I do work in the plant nursery industry, where that sort of comment is a normal part of everyday conversation, but I am inclined to agree: I grew up in a family of avid gardeners and had never seen an Escallonia hedge until I came to sell them myself - now I can safely say that they knock the socks off plain old privet and deserve to be as widely planted.
Our streets would look and smell all the better if it was, for not only does it have great flowers, it also has subtly aromatic leaves that waft a scent similar to balsam into the air, especially after it rains (so you won't ever have to wait long!). Some Escallonias can make a great big barrier hedge and there are also smaller breeds that can be used as a waist high landscaping feature. The densely packed, evergreen foliage is ideal for an effective windbreak and because the leaves are fairly small, they are very easy to clip neatly if you want a formal look - These are even suitable for a spot of topiary. The only thing you need to grow thriving plants is a well drained soil and a sunny place to put them.
There are about forty varieties of Escallonia in the world, although a lot of them are pretty similar and would need an expert to tell them apart. Hopefully, I have made your job a bit easier by picking out these five plants for you to look at. They are all great to use as specimens or hedge plants because they have been grown in Britain for many years - so we know that they like it here - and give you the full range of sizes and colours that they have to offer.
Escallonia Apple Blossom: the baby of the bunch. This variety grows at a leisurely pace and reaches a height of about 1.5 metres, so this is the one to go for if you want a smaller decorative hedge rather than a barrier. And it certainly is decorative - whereas most Escallonias only have a single pigment in their flowers, Apple Blossom gives you 'two for one value', having the same white-clouded-with-pink colouring as the blooms of an apple tree.
Escallonia Crimson Spire: This is a much more vigorous breed with an erect posture that will quickly reach 2 metres and can go as high as 3 metres in favourable conditions. As with Apple Blossom, its name is a clear description of its flowers, which come out in a bright red mass of trumpet shaped petals during June. Its leaves are slightly resinous and have a stronger smell than those of other types.
Escallonia Donard Seedling: Every bit as vigorous as Crimson Spire, Donard is sure to hit 3 metres high. It also has larger leaves than most of its relatives, which may slightly improve its effectiveness as a wind and sound barrier. You get a shifting wave of colour with this one, the pink coating of each bud hangs on to each white flower for a while as it opens and, like Apple Blossom, some flowers end up with a rosy tinge. The flowers are also bigger and more open than other breeds.
Escallonia Iveyi: This one was found by accident at the Caerhays estate in Cornwall, a hybrid of two other varieties that are grown there. It is another big, vigorous species, this time bearing snow white flowers that contrast beautifully with the dark green, glossy leaves. If you find red and pink flowers a bit too showy for a hedge and a prefer simple, bright look, I highly recommend Iveyi.
Escallonia rubra macrantha: Macrantha has an upright growth habit and is one of the biggest of all the Escallonias, capable of reaching 4 metres. The flowers are a deep, rosy pink and the leaves have a slightly spicy smell. It is worth mentioning that all Escallonias are happy to be exposed to salt winds by the sea and if you are looking for a hedge that will do a good job of reducing the force of a powerful coastal wind, this is the plant to use.
So there you have it - Escallonia has beautiful flowers that last right through the summer, a pleasant aroma to its foliage and it can be grown in just about any sunny, well drained spot. With the plants listed above, you can experiment with a mixed hedge, rippling with bands of colour, or go for a uniform, formal look. As our climate looks set to warm over the coming years, this is a plant that is sure to continue to thrive and gain popularity.
Anna Stenning is an expert on Escallonia hedging plants, having used them recently in her garden.