When did the classic station wagon become known as a “crossover”? When the term “station wagon” conjured up nerdy images of National Lampoon’s Vacation? Or was it when the auto industry needed a snappier term for the cross between a wagon and a full-sized sport utility vehicle? Whatever the intent, the switch opened a market, resulting in increased sales and happy drivers.
Consider Caryopteris the natural crossover of the shrub world. Crossing the line between herbaceous perennial and woody shrub, Caryopteris is technically a subshrub. Woody at the base and sprouting herbaceous stems, this small shrub is root hardy to Zone 5, but the top growth is reliably hardy only to about Zone 7 (these designations are approximate and may vary by cultivar). Thus, the plant is most often grown in cooler zones as a shrubby, soft-wooded perennial, requiring that the stems be pruned nearly to the ground each spring. Flower production is not affected, as blooms occur on new growth.
Species: × clandonensis (a hybrid of C. incana and C. mongholica)
Provenance: Native to the Himalayas and East Asia
Basic culture: Easy to grow; requires average, well-drained soil and full sun to part shade; in colder zones, should be hard pruned in early spring Resistance: Deer resistant; rabbit resistant; drought- and heat-tolerant; few insect or disease problems
Pollinator support: A favorite of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds
Propagation: Seed; stem cuttings; Caryopteris has a tendency to self-sow, but is generally not considered invasive
Often called blue spirea or blue mist, Caryopteris (or bluebeard) is known for its eye-catching flowers – more often than not in shades of light to cobalt blue to blue-purple, although there are a few pink-flowered cultivars. Emerging in mid- to late summer and into fall, the feathery flower clusters appear to cover the plant, giving an often hazy appearance from a distance. Spent flowerheads tend to remain on stems and offer an extended few weeks – or months – of ornamental interest before the stems are cut back. Both fresh flowers and mature, dried husks make excellent cut-flower candiates.
Foliage varies slightly in color, but the lance-shaped, elongated and slightly toothed leaves are aromatic, reminiscent of a subtle spice. Flowers also tend to be fragrant.
Most varieties are easily grown in average, well-drained soil; they perform best in full sun. Relatively drought-tolerant once established, they need sufficient moisture to take hold – but manage to provide high impact presence for low maintenance requirements.
New growth can reach from 18 to 30 inches each season. Few insect or disease problems occur, although the plants may be at risk for crown rot if situated in poorly drained soils.
Best of all? The flowers are pollinator magnets. Often the plants appear to quiver with the heavy presence of bees, and butterflies are attracted to the flowers as well. Many of the species are preferred by hummingbirds; deer, however, tend to ignore it.
There are countless selections of Caryopteris from which to choose; those offered here are Caryopteris × clandonensis. Other species offer foliage and flowers that are just as enticing and versatile.
This compact selection boasts deep, dark-green foliage and intense, blue-purple, densely packed blooms. It’s rather mounded or globular in shape, reaching approximately 2 to 2.5 feet tall with a corresponding spread.
The aptly named Blue Mist produces an abundance of powder blue flowers that appear as a subtle mist when viewed from a distance. The long-blooming, midsummer to early fall flowers cover the 2.5- to 3-foot tall shrub, standing out amid gray-green foliage.
A slightly older variety, Dark Knight offers a profusion of deep cobalt to dark blue flowers for more than 4 weeks in early to late summer. It tends to be taller and can be a bit rangier than other cultivars, topping out at nearly 3 to 4 feet tall with a similar spread, making it a good choice for the back of a perennial bed or placement against a low wall.
Read more: Caryopteris clandonensis
Lil’ Miss Sunshine™
A cross between Petit Bleu and Sunshine Blue, Lil’ Miss Sunshine boasts brilliant, glowing, yellow-gold foliage that makes its medium-blue to amethyst flowers pop in late summer. A compact and neat, rounded habit and easy care make it a suitable addition to mixed borders, perennial beds and containers alike. Lil’ Miss Sunshine grows to 2 to nearly 3 feet tall with a similar spread.
‘Minibleu’, as the name implies, is a slightly smaller version, reaching about 2 feet tall by 2 feet wide, although some plants may grow up to 3 feet. Very dark green foliage forms the perfect frame for prolific, rich, dark blue blooms that appear from late summer often through late fall. Some flowers may appear purple- blue. This is an ideal candidate for containers, as well as mixed perennial or shrub gardens.
Rich, royal blue flowers cover this mounding shrub, boasting more blooms than other Caryopteris varieties from late summer through early fall. Planted in mass, the effect is a breathtaking sea of intense color, supported by blue-green to silvery-gray foliage. Its typical mounding habit is 2 to 3 feet tall by 3 to 4 feet wide, making it ideal for use as a short hedgerow. Rich, royal blue flowers cover this mounding shrub, boasting more blooms than other Caryopteris varieties from late summer through early fall. Planted in mass, the effect is a breathtaking sea of intense color, supported by blue-green to silvery-gray foliage. Its typical mounding habit is 2 to 3 feet tall by 3 to 4 feet wide, making it ideal for use as a short hedgerow.
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