Bluebeards

A mass planting of bluebeard (Caryopteris) in late summer can be a wondrous sight. Certainly, more than a few gardeners have been inspired by a grouping of the blue flowered shrubs to attempt to duplicate the effect. For better or worse, all I’ve managed is a few scattered shrubs along the garden’s stone paths, which is far better than not having any. In these last sweltering days of summer the coolness of bluebeards’ blooms is almost enough to revive the gardener’s wilting spirit.

Worcester Gold is an older yellow leafed cultivar. New introductions promise that the yellow will not fade in summer, but I see little difference in most.

Worcester Gold is an older yellow leafed cultivar. New introductions promise that the yellow foliage will not fade in summer, but I see little difference in most.

I am rarely satisfied to plant only one of anything, and while I see too little difference to plant more than a few of the green leafed cultivars, there are several yellow and a few variegated varieties in the garden. I don’t know that any stand out as so much better than the others, but also there are none that under perform, and all are splendid in late summer.

The green and white variegated foliage of Snow Fairy is excellent, but flowering is less exceptional.

The green and white variegated foliage of Snow Fairy is excellent, but flowering is less exceptional.

In fact, ‘Snow Fairy’ (Caryopteris divaricata ‘Snow Fairy’, above) finally gave in to increasing competition from a wide spreading Oakleaf hydrangea despite my best efforts, which too often fall woefully short (too frequently I discover a crowded plant and prune or transplant too late to save it). As the hydrangea spread, the soft wooded bluebeard receded, and perhaps with a little help from two severe winters, it finally succumbed.

White Surprise flowers more typically than Snow Fairy, and it is a woodier, more substantial shrub.

White Surprise flowers more typically than Snow Fairy, and it is a woodier, more substantial shrub.

Though all bluebeards are only half woody, ‘Snow Fairy’ is the only one that died to the ground each winter. Others require pruning by about half to remove dead wood each spring, but once they begin to grow the small shrubs quickly replace the growth that is removed. With annual pruning there is little threat that bluebeards will overgrow a spot, though a few have grown to encroach a bit far onto my driveway. With a Japanese maple growing to one side of the drive, and bluebeards on the other, the space gets narrower each year. This seems ample reason to purchase a small car to avoid pruning more than is necessary.

Hint of Gold is the best yellow leafed bluebeard in the garden. Its foliage fades very little, and it flowers as well as any bluebeard, though a few weeks later.

Hint of Gold is the best yellow leafed bluebeard in the garden. Its foliage fades very little, and it flowers as well as any bluebeard, though a few weeks later.

 

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