More than once I’ve been stunned to walk into a garden to suddenly come upon a mass planting of Blue Mist shrubs (Caryopteris) in full bloom. I’m too much of collector to expend so much space in my garden on such a large grouping of any one plant, but the mass of blue flowers is an extraordinary sight. I’ve planted only single shrubs scattered throughout my garden, and these are only slightly less effective, but still delightful.
Any of the many cultivars of blue mist shrub are exceptional for the late summer garden, and even when not in flower these are tidy, small shrubs with pleasant foliage. I’ve planted a handful of cultivars, differentiated mostly by their foliage color, and until this year I took for granted that they were as sturdy as any shrub. But, regular rainfall and cooler temperatures through this summer have caused soil in my flat and poorly drained lower garden to remain damp for extended periods, Here, blue mist shrubs have struggled, with some dead branches and a lack of overall vigor. I suspect that all will overcome the ordeal, but it might take another year or two for them to bounce back to their prior health.
In dry soils the rain has been a help, not a hindrance, and all blue mists are lush and colorful. The foliage of the old time ‘Worcester Gold’ (Caryopteris x cladonensis ‘Worcester Gold’ above) fluctuates between brilliant and faded yellow as soil moisture and sun intensity vary, but I can hardly differentiate it from the new and improved ‘Sunshine Blue’ (Caryopteris incana ‘Sunshine Blue’). I believe it would be difficult to find ‘Worcester Gold’ in a garden center today, but any of the yellow leafed blue mists are well worth the small space they occupy in the garden.
The newest yellow leafed addition to the garden is ‘Hint of Gold’ (Caryopteris x cladonensis ‘Hint of Gold’, above) with brighter color and a thicker substance to the foliage. After a few years, this seems the best of the lot. The brilliant yellow, corrugated leaves refuse to fade in the heat of summer, even in last year’s drought, and the contrast of foliage and flower color is wonderful. I have only one green leafed blue mist shrub in the garden, and though it flowers nicely, I’m less than enthused about it at other times. There are plenty of other green and blue-green leafed shrubs and evergreens in the garden, and I don’t mind the risk of crossing the line into garishness with these spots of bright color.
When I first constructed the stone patio beside the large koi pond, a group of three small, variegated leaf ‘Snow Fairy’ blue mist shrubs ( Caryopteris divaricata ‘Snow Fairy’ above) was planted just above a stone bench. My wife will confirm if asked, that the three are too close so that the bench is now unusable, but if you should dare ask be prepared for a litany of complaints about every other plant that has been planted too close to something or other. I’ve heard this more than a few times, but every year when ‘Snow Fairy’ is flowering I’m reminded again.
In fact, yesterday she commented that ‘Snow Fairy’ has behaved better this year, when this is hardly the case. With the cool, wet weather this late spring and summer, the Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) that overhangs the blue mist has stunted its growth somewhat. I’ve cut the hydrangea back, and then again so that there is a space carved out for ‘Snow Fairy’, but inevitably this has held it back some this year.
‘Snow Fairy’ is a different beast than the other blue mist shrubs. It is less woody, and more like a soft stemmed perennial than the others. ‘Snow Fairy’ must be cut to the ground each spring, while other blue mists require only that they be cut back to shear off dead tips. In this climate these are sub-shrubs, so they are not fully woody, and the yearly pruning is a necessity. With some shrubs I worry that this shearing will result in branching that is too dense, but I’ve never worried about this at all with the blue mists, and there seems to be no problem at all with mindlessly shearing over the top rather than selecting and pruning individual stems.
The blooms of ‘Snow Fairy’ are more scattered, and less substantial than other blue mist shrubs, but the variegated ‘White Surprise’ (Caryopteris x cladonensis ‘White Surprise’, above) flowers comparably to others, though it begins a few weeks later in my garden. The green and white variegation of ‘White Surprise’ is a bit more crisp than on ‘Snow Fairy’, and I’m now convinced that its blooms and foliage are superior. Still, I’m happy to have both in the garden, and of all the blue mist shrubs in the garden my only disappointment is that they will not tolerate the lower garden’s excessive moisture.