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"Every Garden needs a Bluebeard in it," by the Whistling Gardener

Bluebeard, known botanically as Caryopteris x clandonensis, is an easy-to-grow small shrub that thrives in the sun with well-draining soil. The foliage is a grey/green, not unlike many varieties of lavender, and has a similar pungency to it that is effective in discouraging deer and rabbits from visiting it.
Beautiful Bluebeard. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Last week I pontificated about the merits of the genus Hibiscus and the fact that it is among the very few shrubs that bloom late into the summer. There are a handful of other summer-blooming choices that don’t come in quite so many variations but are just as reliable and dare I say, essential to creating that all illusive “year round interest” in our gardens. Bluebeard is one such plant that will add late season interest in the sunny border with not a lot of fuss.

Bluebeard, known botanically as Caryopteris x clandonensis, is an easy-to-grow small shrub that thrives in the sun with well-draining soil. The foliage is a grey/green, not unlike many varieties of lavender, and has a similar pungency to it that is effective in discouraging deer and rabbits from visiting it.  

Usually growing to around 24 to 30 inches tall in one season, the plants are crowned with clusters of blue flowers in the month of August, which are usually smothered with bees and other pollinators searching for pollen and nectar. Butterflies and hummingbirds will also visit this plant.

While many people refer to Bluebeard as a shrub because it has a woody structure, I like to think of it more as a perennial that can be cut back to the ground in spring much like a hardy fuchsia.  Of course, in mild winters it will retain much of its woody stems, but they tend to be brittle, so it is still best to hack it back hard once you see signs of life in spring. This springtime pruning will guarantee lots of blooms because the flowers all come on the new growth, much like a rose.

There are several cultivars of Bluebeard that can sport various shade of blue flowers and a couple of varieties that have golden yellow foliage.  Here are a few to watch for…

  • Beyond Midnight — Sports dark glossy foliage with deep blue flowers.
  • Sunshine Blue 11 — This is an improved selection of “Sunshine Blue” that came out several years ago. The big improvement is increased hardiness, which for most of us on the west side isn’t really a problem. Nevertheless, this variety is well worth growing with its golden foliage and blue flowers, which makes for a lovely contrasting combination.
  • Lil Miss Sunshine — This one may have the most golden foliage of all the Bluebeards and of course the most stunning blue flowers that bloom for a long time in the fall.
  • Dark Knight — It’s not too hard to figure out that this one has dark blue flowers, which contrast nicely with itsglaucous foliage.
  • Sapphire Surf — This variety is supposed to grow only one to two feet tall, which makes it a perfect plant for edging a flower bed or perennial border.  It is also a good candidate for a container.

You probably won’t find all of these cultivars available at the garden center, but you will certainly find several to choose from. Look for them displayed in the sun-loving section of the nursery, probably mixed in with other late summer blooming perennials. And don’t be surprised if you have a parade of pollinators follow you home to your garden. I suspect it will only be a few days before you will also see a butterfly and hummingbird too.

August is high summer for us in the northwest, so get out and enjoy it while you can! In another couple of weeks, it will be time to plant tulips and daffodils again. Stay safe and keep on gardening!

Sunnyside will be hosting our next free online class, "Fabulous Fall Grasses," on Saturday, August 29th, at 10:00 am. More information can be found on our website at: www.sunnysidenursery.net/classes.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

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