February 17, 2010

Caryopteris

Caryopteris x clandonensis
I had never heard of caryopteris when I started gardening.  It's a small shrub that is also called bluebeard or blue mist shrub.  Never heard of those names either.  I picked one up at the nursery, unsure what to do with it, and then came home to read about it.

It sounded nondescript in the literature, looking like something halfway between a spirea and lavender.  Yes, there is a famous long allee of blue mist shrubs planted in two long lines at Longwood Gardens and the pictures show bright purple strips of color.  Okay, nice enough, but I wasn't going for an allee look, and I only had one plant.

I plopped it under the paperbark maple at the top of the driveway, to fill an empty spot there.  It settled in, took off with nice full growth, and I liked the gray-green pretty foliage.  In August it bloomed.  I was stunned.

The clear blue-purple fuzzy blooms just danced in the sunlight.  Twirled and danced and got themselves all shook up by swarms of bees.  There's something absolutely sparkly about the whole shrub in flower ... hard to capture on film, but it glows and seems to magnify sunlight.  Flowering lasted right into the end of September.

With its grayish leaves and billows of blue flowers it reminded me of a catmint - nepeta -- but much more elegant and structured.  My Nepeta 'Dropmore' was floppy and blowsy and kind of unkempt.  This caryopteris was just the opposite: neat and perky and shapely.
I love its spot right along the walk where I see it all the time.  From its inauspicious start as a filler plant under a tree, it has become one of my favorites.  Very easy to propagate (stick stem cuttings in the ground), and not bothered by any diseases, it just kept surprising me.

But wait, there's more!

It turned out to be a beautiful burst of structure in the winter garden.  The dried fuzzy blooms persist, and the graceful tan branches make a lovely spray above the snow.  It gets completely cut down to about 8 inches in late winter (just above a couple buds), and then regrows rapidly to its full size again in summer.
This is one of those mysteries in landscaping: why are there so many spireas in everyone's yards when they could have a caryopteris?  There are several cultivars, most of them with varying shades of blue purple flowers.  There's also a yellow-leaved caryopteris called 'Worcester's Gold' that brightens any drab corner of the garden with its foliage, even before the explosion of blooms takes over.

Caryopteris x clandonensis
   in University of Connecticut's plant files
   in Mobot's database

11 comments:

  1. love Caryopteris too, although it can get a wild octopus look if the soil is too rich. The flowers are that wonderful violet-blue that is my favorite color in the garden. The foliage has a lovely fragrance too.

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  2. Sweet bay, I didn't notice fragrant leaves, I'll have to check that out this summer. For me it's a dieback shrub, growing from the ground up each year, so I hope it doesn't get too much like a wild octopus! Good to know about too-rich soil.

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  3. I have never seen this shrub - but you have convinced me - it is gorgeous! The shape in winter really is pleasing. You have to love something that offers more than one season of interest. Nice!

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  4. It is a pretty shrub - and I do love you RELAX sign ..
    K

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  5. Garden Ms. S- I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who had never seen this shrub before! I don't know why it isn't better known.

    Karen- thanks! The Relax sign was a gift from my staff when I retired. They knew me only too well.

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  6. I like the way the caryopteris complements the blue evergreen and other plants in your garden. I just planted three of these in my garden last year. Their blooms were pretty but not spectacular last summer. I do like the way the fuzzy seed heads look through the winter. I hope as they become more established they will look like yours! Also, I didn't know they were so easy to propagate. That is good to know.

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  7. Debsgarden, thanks for visiting. I do hope your caryopteris shines for you next season. It might be a cold climate difference v. your warmer climate. Mine has to regrow each season and is minimally hardy here, so it may stay smaller, and thus have a fuller look. Others have said they can get rangy.

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  8. A definitely favorite of mine too! Not much is better for fall blooms/color. I've set up a line of them in a curved bed along our property line. By next fall they should all be about the same size after trimming. Very easy to propagate like you said!

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  9. Dave: The curved line of these sounds wonderful... like a mini Longwood Gardens. I'll look for pictures of them later this year on your site.

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  10. Laurrie, I think that people are not planting this as they do not know what it is, cannot pronounce it, and it is not in flower in May when they are visiting the garen centre. Someone told me when I first started gardening, visit the garden centre every month. This way, you will see things in flower that you might not know about, buy them, and eventually you will have an all seasons garden.

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  11. Deborah, you make a really good point about visiting the garden shops all season. I've learned so much by going back over and over. It's great advice!

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