July 25, 2011

What's Not to Love?

What a kick to see what the flowers finally look like on a shrub I planted years before.  I knew bottlebrush buckeyes (Aesculus parviflora) had white flowers that look like . . . . no kidding, bottlebrushes, but I had never seen them on my new plants.

I put a row of very small mail order plants in the ground in late fall, 2007.  They grew like gangbusters over the next three years, and had a few brown spiky attempts at flowers last summer.  They even produced a couple chestnut shaped buckeye nuts from those immature flowers. 

But this year, for the first time, the flowers are bursting into giant white fluffy candles that look like someone lit them on fire in the evening light.  They really are impressive, and they are starting to shoot up all over.

Now don't laugh at this gangly row of buckeyes.  As young plants these are the most ungainly, floppy, unshapely shrubs I've ever seen.  The leaves are great big droopy palmate paddles, the branching is what I can only call exuberant, and now the spiky tall bottlebrushes exploding out everywhere add even more awkwardness.  I love it.

This row will mature into a massive, dense 10 to 12 foot high hedge over time that will stop the meadow from coming into the yard.  Specimens I have seen in public gardens are awesome.  They lose their youthful ungainliness and become stately.

Can you imagine a row of giant, fully mature bottlebrush buckeyes covered in zooming, lit up flower spikes in July?  I can, now that I am seeing what these gawky adolescent plants can do.

Aesculus parviflora has been amazingly forgiving in my garden.  They are understory woodland plants that like shade, and of course I have them lined up at the edge of a meadow in full sun.  They need a lot of water to fund all that growth, and we have had hot dry summers last year and this year so far.

Voles nest in the dense suckering branches at the base and strip the bark mericlessly, but the shrubs survive and just make more suckers.  Bottlebrush buckeyes are one of the very few plants in my garden that deer do not nibble or even sample.

To all the deer reading this blog: please, please, do not let that be an invitation.  Now that I have mentioned how resistant they are, I do not want to see any bucks eyeing these plants. *

Unlike buckeye trees, called horse chestnuts, the leaves do not get that terrible scorch problem late in the season that make the Aesculus trees planted all over European cities look brown and tired, although mine do singe and crinkle a little at the edges all summer because I have them in too much sun.

In fall the big leaves turn a neon yellow, mixed with lingering green, that makes them look like they dressed up for a Halloween party in clown costumes. 

I ask you, what is not to love about such a funny, tolerant, enthusiastic, entertaining personality in the garden.

* you got  it, right?

Just so you know, Aesculus is called buckeye because the nuts are brown and somewhat crescent shaped and look like the big brown eyes of a deer.  Sort of, I guess.


  1. I didn't know this was also available as a shrub. The flowers really do look like bottlebrushes. I'd love to see yours when it is more mature.

  2. The flowers are great. What a fun shrub. I'm glad you planted so many of them. You have the space to make a statement.

  3. Hi, Laurrie!
    I've visited you before but I didn't connect the dots that you are in CT. I have a client in Stamford so perhaps someday we can meet up and do a garden tour. I loved your post and particularly sparked to the 'young plants.' I am always apologizing for the little plantings that don't look like much now, but will grow into monsters later on. :))

    Thank you for visiting my blog. And, I do hope we can meet up on one of my many visits to Stamford! :)

  4. I think these are great shrubs. The blooms are beautiful and the buckeyes are interesting. If one would like a tropical looking shrub in their garden where you can't have tropicals I think this is the shrub for you. Those big palmate leaves make me think tropical.

  5. Shirley, Bottlebrush buckeye will mature into a very large shrub. I'll post more as it matures, it is putting on size quite rapidly.

    Gardener on Sherlock, I think I have the space for these, but then I saw huge specimens at public gardens and now I wonder if I really do have room for these when they are full grown. Yikes.

    Kate, it takes patience to garden with young plants, but these shrubs are quick growers, which has been rewarding. Your next trip to Stamford, CT should include a visit to the Bartlett Arboretum!

    Lisa, I think you are right, the leaves do look tropical now that you say it. Very big and exotic.

  6. I've seen some mature specimens of these shrubs in other gardens, and they are beautiful. Your little adolescents may be going through an awkward stage, but I'm sure they will grow into handsome adults. Creating a hedge of them next to the meadow sounds like a great idea to me, Laurrie.

  7. I really like the large leaves on these shrubs. They will provide excellent coverage and colour. They remind me of chestnut trees for some reason.

  8. Bottlebush Buckeye would roast in the sun down here, but it looks very happy in your yard! The fall color looks beautiful. I would love to get it started at the wood's edge here, if I can beat the sumac and wax myrtle.

  9. Rose, Mature bottlebrush buckeyes really are gorgeous, not at all like these young ones.

    Marguerite, Buckeyes are similar to chestnuts. The leaves on this plant are really huge.

    Sweetbay, I actually have these plants in too much sun even for this northern zone. The leaves do crisp a little. If you try it in your garden, put it in some shade!

  10. I have never thought about plants wearing clown costumes, really, but that hits it right on the head!
    Whoever gets close enough to a deer to see the color of its eyes should clobber it.

  11. Sissy, I know! Who sees a deer's eyes close enough to compare them to buckeye nuts? Clobber it indeed.


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