PLANT OF THE WEEK #37: Cistus x argenteus ‘Silver Pink’

I don’t know how or why I first acquired, much less planted, three Cistus ‘Silver Pink’.  I know that I had absolutely no interest in, or attraction to them.  The only cistuses I loved were white with no blotch – the huge, crushed crepe-paper flowers of Cistus ‘Bennet’s White’ and the wonderfully clippable and fried-egg-flower sporting Cistus salvifolius.

But somehow I ended up with them.  The only plausible explanation was that I had this one section of the garden with sandy soil, used around some bit of built infrastructure, and thought it would suit a cistus, lavender, rosemary etc, and discovered that cistus had become really hard to find.

So I shoved them in, and rarely thought of them again.  In their first year of flowering, I cast them nothing more than a cursory glance.  My first thought was that one of the weedy dog roses that plague the surrounding paddocks had settled in, with simple, single, five-petalled pale pink bloom.  But as soon as the thought entered my head, I realised what I was looking at, and moved on.

But a couple of years later, when the shrubs had grown to solid domes of grey foliage to about 60cm, the plant went to a whole new level.  Before flowering, its hairy bracted buds were notably suffused with purple.  In fact, this had always been the case, but there hadn’t been enough of them to make any cumulative effect. Then a few flowers opened, and for the first time I acknowledged, and couldn’t help but enjoy, the perfect blend of grey foliage, pink flowers and the wash of the buds, which looks like they’ve been flushed with the pigment that’s about to emerge in the flowers.  None of these features is striking on its own, but the combination is very fine indeed.

Then a few weeks ago I was weeding nearby, and picked up on this strong, apparently man-made perfume.  It wasn’t at all like a standard floral scent – it was more balsam-like, kind of resinous and volatile.  I looked up to see who it was that was walking through my garden, thinking that that would be the only possible source.  But no one was there.  And as I worked my way closer to the cistus, it became clear where it was coming from.  As it turns out, a key perfume ingredient – labdanum – is extracted from some species of cistus, and a quick google search added the curious info that until we learned how to extract it chemically, it was combed from the beards of goats feeding on the plants.  Cistus ‘Silver Pink’ is not one of the source plants, but I’m assuming that that’s the scent I’m detecting.

When it comes to shrubs, I’m likely to start enthusiastically, and then slowly cool.  I’ll be excited about one or two aspects of its character, but eventually realise I’ve overrated them.  This is a rare case of the opposite.  Cistus x argenteus ‘Silver Pink’ has, you could say, really grown on me.

Discussion

  1. I grow a few Cistus including ‘Silver Pink’, a variety just like ‘Silver Pink’ but with white flowers (I bought it without a name) and the mounding shrub ‘Brilliancy.’ I do love them and they thrive in Perth’s heat and sandy soil but my one quibble is that their flowering time is very short, just a couple of weeks in early spring. I keep Brilliancy well pruned as it wants to be a very big shrub (it is next to Salvia ‘Hot Lips’, another drought tolerant shrub keen to take over the garden bed).
    The two smaller flowered forms grow through my front iron fence, spilling out down the front wall, so they don’t take up too much space.
    I know that as gardeners we expect a lot from our plants but in a small garden they all have to earn their space and I really would like them to flower for a couple of more weeks!

    1. I agree Deryn. I’m totally OK with brief flowerings. I grow a species peony that I’m lucky to get three days from, and love it. But I’m always a bit peeved at how fast cistus go over. I cope with the peony as it balances brevity with brilliance. The cistus just doesn’t have enough glamour points to get away with it.
      I have a sizeable garden, and the only way I can manage such a plant (perhaps paradoxically) is to repeat is several times within the field of view, so that when it is in bloom, there’s lots of it in bloom, echoing about the garden.

  2. Cistus are very useful but I have found them to be short lived in western Melbourne. Which is okay as I like to try something new and different on a regular basis.
    On the note of things I have prejudice against it would be anything orange flowering! I just can’t seem to accept how jarring this colour is, or perhaps I just haven’t seen the right plant combo??

    1. Yeah, they’re not long lived, but as long as you know that, and take cuttings for replacement, (I make it sound so easy, when I’ve actually never done it with a cistus) then we shouldn’t be so concerned about that. Your heavy soils out there wouldn’t help. It’s a curious thing with these fast growing Mediterranean shrubs – they last much longer in starved, thin soils. They die prematurely of the plant equivalent of obesity in rich garden conditions.
      As for the orange prejudice, I’m so glad you added the gracious consideration that perhaps you just haven’t seen the right combo. That’s got to be it. I couldn’t live without orange!

  3. My white cistus hanging over the front picket fence was ready for the axe this year, BUT we left it for “one more spring”. What wonderful rewards … this year’s rain must have produced the magnificent flowering abundance and the joys of spring surprises. Delighted to see Cistus as your plant of the week. Plan now is to replace it with a pink one!

    1. Well done, Jan. I don’t want to encourage of tolerance of underperforming plants (too many of our gardens become toxic with them), but I’m glad it’s paid off for you. I think you must be right about the rain. The ones I’ve seen about the place, including my own, are doing exceptionally well this year. I think the trick it to never let them get too old. Fiona below says that they’re super easy to propagate. We should all be taking cuttings of these sorts of shrubs on a regular basis and hoiking out the old ones

  4. For a good dose of labdanum there is no better than Cistus ladanifer. I have one next to our driveway and on a hot day you can smell the sweet resinous smell from meters away. As of prejudices my biggest one is variegated plants, just don’t like the ‘unnatural’ look of them… until a beautiful clump of variegated Japanese Kyoto Grass, Hakonechloa macra broke my resolve a few weeks ago….

    1. Is that right? I’m now confused (given that I’ve just answered Fiona’s comment below) about the scent of labdanum. I think I’m familiar with the smell of C ladanifer on a hot day, but what I got from ‘Silver Pink’ was on an altogether higher plane.
      And so pleased you’ve been able to crack that prejudice against variegation, in the face of something as wonderful refined as Hakonechloa. Wish it was more available, and in bigger plants. It’s so slow!!

  5. Strelitzia- everything about it- the jagged edges, the stiff foliage and especially the migraine inducing blue and orange combo- makes me wince, always loathed it, probably always will!

    1. That’s hilarious, Lee. I love Strelitzia – that totally bizarre and unique combo of navy and orange. But I love that it makes you wince, and that you’ve been prepared to confess that!

  6. Hi Michael, that’s amazing -you and my daughter must share powerful olfactory receptors! She noticed the scent in mid winter and inspired my story for The Land that week – -no-one else in the family could smell it! (https://www.theland.com.au/story/6840178/heavenly-winter-scents/ – just in case you find this hard to believe!) I love ‘Silver Pink’ a dear aunt included it on her list of favourite plants, when I was making my first garden, it took me years to track it down. Cistus do well in NSW central tablelands they like our dry summers and I have lots, my faves are C. laurifolia i like the big leaves, also C. ladanifer – now those leaves I can smell! They flower for several weeks and although not long lived (probably my heavy pruning to prevent leggy look) they are a steal from autumn cuttings. Enjoy your fabulous spring, it’s incredible here too! Fiona

    1. Thanks for the extra info Fiona. Yeah, it’s an astonishing perfume. Totally disarming. To be honest, I thought that my 20 year old son was about to appear, and that he’d loaded up with the kind of deodorant marketed to 20 year olds. But that’s kind of unfair, as it was a really wonderful scent – but as we know, perfumes are really about a matter of degree of any particular ingredient, and the most microscopic shift in relative quantities can turn something heavenly into something putrid. But as you point imply, I had always thought that it was that resinous scent from C. ladanifer that was being extracted for the perfume industry – that being one of the primary sources, as far as I can ascertain, of labdanum. But this is a whole different thing – not like any other garden scent I’ve ever encountered.
      Thanks for the propagation info. I’ve never bothered to try, but they’re getting so hard to come by now that I might have to. Heard that David Glenn has got his hands on plants of ‘Bennet’s White’ again, so thankfully that might become available. Such an incredible plant!

    2. I grow Cistus silver pink here in my hot, dry gravel garden.
      I have 3 that I bought from Lambley nursery. They are very beautiful this Spring.
      I have a few cuttings that survived our frosty Winter, so I will plant them out in a new bed with pink Rugosa roses.
      I love the discussion about length of flowering and colours.
      In this garden around an 1860’s Cobb and Co. Inn,
      I needed to revive a neglected acre. I wanted shelter for the house and cottage. Colour throughout the year, and plants which could survive the harsh conditions.
      I moved from the Dandenong Ranges, where I gardened in The Patch. There was deep, rich chocolate volcanic soil. Reliable rainfall and no frosts.
      Here there are heavy frosts, plenty of Winter sun and usually quite low rainfall.
      I rely on town water from Teddington Reservoir to keep young plants alive.
      I love hot colours and combinations like Acillea
      ‘ Cloth of Gold ‘ and lavenders, catmint, Russian sage, Veronicas. I have a border with Rosa ‘ Graham Thomas ‘
      Rosa ‘ Pat Austin’ and Rosa ‘Just Joey’. The oranges, apricots and creams glow in the early evening. The violet flowers attract hundreds of bees and butterflies. Going out into the garden makes me forget the pandemic.
      It took me years to come to appreciate oranges and golds in the garden. Now I love their richness under the Australian sun.

  7. Looks like a lovely plant. Is it drought tolerant and where can I buy one or more please Sydney

    1. Hi Penny, it’s outrageously drought tolerant. Mine is in sandy soil and has never been watered. As for where to get it, I honestly wouldn’t have a clue. Google it. It’s likely that if you find any at all, it’ll be through one of the mail order nurseries

  8. I love cistus and they flower for a very long time in temperate Tassie, but my garden is really too wet. I lost silver pink after two beautiful summers, but now have brilliancy growing on a mound. Generally steer clear of most grey leaved plants as I have high rainfall and heavy soil. Do tend to hanker after plants less suited to my garden eg the magnificent Strelitziia which would struggle. Love a dash of orange in the garden, but it is a challenging colour to use well. Have made quite a few mistakes with it in the past eg with Debis Norgates orange Geum….which I love but couldn’t find good companions for. Enjoying orange Daylily Chanticleer at the moment…bit easier as not just solid orange.

    1. We all hanker for stuff we probably should attempt. Think of all the glasshouses in the grand homes of England in Victorian times – the alpine house, the orchid house, the hothouse, the cookhouse – all to grow stuff that was spectacularly unsuited to their climate.
      As for oranges, I’m just rediscovering the joys of orange geums right now. A whole lot of Flanders poppies self sowed amongst them, so it’s a rich and wonderful mix of orange and deep red. Fabulous!

  9. Oh I am so with you on that one. Not to mention the risk of being impaled by one of the leaves as you walk by !

  10. Hi Michael. I just read that you are thinking of canning Plant of the Week – please dont, I learnt that I have ‘Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae’ in my garden just the other week – who would have guessed?!

    1. Thanks for your plea in favour of PotW. We’ll see how many we get!

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