A heavenly display in the autumn sunlight

Peter Dowdall says ‘Heavenly Blue’ catches the autumn sunlight like a stage actor hogging the spotlight

Caryopteris is the ultimate plant for the month of September —a good blue can be a difficult colour to get in the garden, and it's a real summer tone.

I always associate September with good weather, nice balmy evenings, the sun beginning to lower in the sky, maybe not as hot as high summer, but still lovely and comfortable to be out under its glow.

The evenings are certainly creeping in a bit and our time out in the garden is curtailed by the oncoming night which gets a bit earlier with the passing of each 24 hours.

I love the way the Americans refer to it as the Fall of the year, I think it’s very descriptive, as this month is the start of the slowdown and we start heading more and more to the indoors.

Very important so that when we do get nice weather in September, stop what you are doing and get outside and grab the sunshine with both hands. It’s back to school for the kids and an Indian Summer is mentioned once more. It’s spoken about so much we should start calling good weather in September an ‘Irish Summer’. When you do get outside, you’ll notice the leaves on the trees and deciduous shrubs and hedges beginning to take on their autumnal hues.

The vibrant green of spring is long forgotten and the healthy strong green of summer is now turning ever so slightly to yellow and copper. However, there’s still much colour in the garden with many of the perennials still at their best. Rudbeckias, or Black Eyed Susan, up and down the country are shining bright yellow and so too the Verbenas such as bonariensis and rigida are showing off now their purples and mauves. The butterflies and bees are still gorging, taking in what nectar they can find now as they too prepare for the winter.

Ornamental grasses are also coming into their own at this time of the year, again taking on that seasoned look as their flowers turn to brown and white seed heads, which are there for or us to admire, will soon will be important for feeding the local bird population.

For years, garden centres used to market certain plants as ‘Plant of the Month’. I’m not sure how many promote plants in this way anymore, but for me, the ultimate plant for September is Caryopteris and in particular the variety ‘Heavenly Blue’. Such a stunner in the garden at the moment — and when that September sunshine does land, it seems to catch all of the rays for itself like a stage actor hogging the spotlight.

The name ’Heavenly Blue’ tells you nearly all you need to know about this plant and as most of the autumn colours are on the orange, yellow spectrum with coppers and russets thrown in, it seems strange that it’s this blue-flowering beauty that really symbolises this month for me. A good blue can be a difficult colour to get in the garden and it’s a real summer tone.

Caryopteris, also referred to as Bluebeard, is native to China and Japan but the species C. x clandonensis of which ‘Heavenly Blue’ is a cultivar actually occurred by accident in a private garden near Guildford in Surrey in the 1930s.

They will thrive in our climate. Plant it either in a large pot or in the open ground in a well-drained soil in a position which gets full sun, so it can hog that limelight when in flower.

It’s a strange one in gardening terms as it’s not herbaceous and not quite a shrub — but all this is splitting hairs, as all that matters is it’s easy to grow and with a good pruning, nearly to ground level early each spring, it will produce a plant about 1m x 1m by the end of the summer alive with masses of bright blue flowers.

The bees, butterflies and hoverflies that frequent your garden will be delighted with you as they adore this plant and a good specimen is always alive with so many different creatures it really makes it an important addition to the garden. The leaves have a particularly good scent when bruised or even just brushed against, an aroma quite similar to Eucalyptus.

The Caryopteris will continue to be a thing of intense beauty right into late autumn and I’m often left removing fallen leaves later in the year, so that the bright blue flowers can be seen.

It can seem strange to see something so bright and reminiscent of summer shining through the autumnal litter.

If you haven’t introduced one into your garden, then do so this year as we begin to fall towards the winter once more.


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