Summer ends in a Blue Mist

Thankfully, in the last half of August temperatures were moderate and rainfall more regular so that much of the garden has recovered from the heat and drought of July. Over the next week heavy rain from a Gulf Coast tropical storm is forecast, so the worry is more likely to be plants floating away in flash floods rather than perishing from dry conditions.

Through the worst of the heat the Blue Mist shrubs (Caryopteris incana) looked only slightly bedraggled, and with only a bit of rain they have perked up. The yellow leafed varieties ‘Worcester Gold’ (above) and ‘Sunshine Blue’ faded in July to a drab, washed out yellow (which is not unusual at all), but in early September the foliage has revived considerably. ‘Sunshine Blue’ (below) is a newer, and supposedly superior plant, but both fade in the summer’s heat, and today both are equally yellow after two weeks of regular rainfall.

A more recent introduction, ‘Hint of Gold’ (Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Hint of Gold’, below) has retained its yellow foliage color and perhaps will prove to be an improvement. It is said to grow more compactly, and this will be a welcome improvement over the others that flop about for a week after a storm.

For whatever odd reason I have not planted any of the green, or blue-green leafed types, but several are fine plants. Years ago I first noticed Blue Mist shrub in a garden where twenty or thirty plants were massed, and in bloom the show was irresistible. Instantly, I knew that I must plant a few in my garden, though I’ve discovered that even a single plant makes a wonderful show. I suppose that I chose yellow and variegated leaf forms to add interest prior to blooming, but green leaves or yellow, they are superb shrubs.

Above a stone seating wall I planted a trio of the variegated leaf ‘Snow Fairy’ (Caryopteris divaricata ‘Snow Fairy’ above), which blooms a few weeks later than the more common varieties. While most caryopteris are woody, and require pruning only dead branch tips each spring, ‘Snow Fairy’ is cut to the ground, where it quickly grows to an upright shrub by late spring. The green and white variegation is crisp, and the foliage is treasured nearly as much as the small September blooms.  

I’ve recently planted a newly introduced variegated Blue Mist shrub (Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘White Surprise’, above), and I’m anxious to see the flowers unfold. The foliage is nearly as showy as ‘Snow Fairy’, and it appears that the blooms will be more prominent.

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It’s a beauty

Beautyberries (Callicarpa) do not leaf until late in April, and then the foliage is unremarkable, as are the clusters of small white blooms (below) in late July that are arranged along the shrub’s arching stems. The shrub grows quite large, and its form is coarse and unsuitable for a prominent position in the garden.

But, by mid August the flowers have turned to small green berries, and late in the month these begin to ripen to glossy purple or white. Now you have discovered why this very ordinary shrub deserves a spot in the garden.

Though the American beautyberry is native from the mid Atlantic through the southeast (Callicarpa americana, above), the southeast Asian beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma, below) branches more densely, and is more commonly found in commerce.

In my garden the white berries of Callicarpa dichotoma var. albafructus (below) are larger and slightly more abundant than the purple, but this is possibly because it is planted in more full sun, and in damper soil. Both shrubs must be pruned back severely in early spring to remove dead branch tips, and to give the ungainly shrub a more compact form.

The purple berried beautyberry is planted a bit too far to the back of the garden, and though only a few feet from the white, it can barely be seen without crossing a spot of persistently muddy ground. Someday (I have told myself) I will place a few large stones to make it easier to traverse the muck, and then perhaps I will visit the beautyberry, as well as bottlebrush buckeye, viburnums, and the Persian witch hazel more frequently.

Wonderful weeds

Along the margins of the garden are a variety of “weeds” that flower as beautifully as any any plant in the garden, and through the years I have cultivated several so there is an indistinct transition from garden to the native wetland meadow. The back property line remains swampy through much of the year, and cattails and brambles persistently encroach on the native Joe Pye weed (popularly Eupatorium purpureum, though now classified as Eutrochium purpureum) and Blue Mist flowers (Conoclinium coelestinum, below).

Blue Mist thrives at the margin of this perpetually damp ground, and each year it has spread a bit, though it is inconspicuous until blooming. It is much shorter than the neighboring cattails, Joe Pye, and brambles, so it scrambles for an inch or a foot to poke its head into the sun, and through the late summer the marvelous blooms of Blue Mist are welcomed at the meadow’s edge.

More compact growing cultivars of Joe Pye have been planted in damp and dry spots in the garden, but the native towers over all but the cattails. The foliage and blooms of the chocolate leaved Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, above) are distinctly different. The leaves are a dark purple-black, and much finer than the coarse, corrugated green foliage of the native. ‘Chocolate’ branches more densely and plants seldom grow to three feet or taller. The stems of the native Joe Pye, and even the more compact cultivars are almost woody, but on ‘Chocolate’ they are softer so that the plant dies to the ground in late autumn rather than leaving tall stems through the winter that must be cut to the ground.

‘Chocolate’ begins to flower in early September in my garden, a month later than the native Joe Pye (flower, above), and the white blooms are considerably smaller than the large dusky lavendar florets of the native. ‘Chocolate’ tends to seed itself about in my garden, though not uncontrollably, and the seedlings range in foliage color from mostly green with a slight purple tint, to mostly purple, though none has foliage as dark as the parent plant. The blooms are attractive, though to my taste they are not as showy as the native, and they are effective for a shorter time. In my garden ‘Chocolate’ and its seedlings grow mostly in partial shade so I hesitate to make too strong a declaration, but the flowers don’t seem to be favored by bees and butterflies, which of course the native is planted specifically to attract.

On slightly drier ground ironweed (Veronia novaborascensis, above) sends tall, wiry stems above the surrounding foliage, and beginning in August these are topped by clusters of deep purple blooms. The flower color stands out along side of the summer stressed foliage of its neighbors, and ironweed is remarkably vigorous and not bothered at all by drought and high temperatures. More compact cultivars are occasionally available in garden centers, but the native is quite a wonderful weed.