The Hunt for Variegated Cotoneaster

Strange odyssey takes author to forgotten lands at garden centers and a rare expedition to … Maryland

By George Graine, Fairfax Master Gardener
“To make a great garden, one must have a great idea or a great opportunity.”
—Sir George Sitwell in “Essay on the Making of Gardens” (1909)

The renowned Michael A. Dirr has described it his way, “Cotoneaster horizontalis ‘Variegatus:’ Leaves are edged with white, turn rose red in autumn; considered one of the daintiest of variegated shrubs.”

From my experience, it is certainly one of the slowest growing and hardest to find plants. The hunt for the variegated cotoneaster was undoubtedly the most elusive of all my plant searches.

It began many years ago when a small-leaf variegated cotoneaster was available at the annual Virginia Master Gardener College Silent Auction in a one-gallon pot. This was an interesting plant that looked similar to a small green leaf cotoneaster called Tom Thumb. For reasons I cannot fathom, the bidding on this plant became so outrageously high that it resulted in my reluctance to play for pay. The final bid far exceeded a typical retail price. Although the auction money went to a good cause, I withdrew from the bidding.