Thursday, July 10, 2008

Butterfly Bush Standards

A summertime delight of the Faire Garden is the butterfly bush, Buddleia davidii. Although considered an invasive in some areas, we have not found them to be difficult to control. The height, up to ten feet unpruned, adds great vertical interest to the shrub border. But we prefer to grow them as standards, removing the lower limbs and giving the one trunk a strong metal stake for support of the large trusses of small flowers. A bumblebee is enjoying B. 'White Profusion'.
The white flowers are many and this variety is the most prolific of bloomers of our group. The fragrance is honeyed and perfumes the air on still summer nights.
This is how we grow the butterfly bushes here. The metal stakes are fence posts, found on the property but readily available at home improvement stores. Driven deeply into the ground they support the heavy blooms during wind and rain, when there is wind and rain that is. After some of our colder winters, the whole stem will die back to the ground, but a new leader will be selected from the fresh spring growth and trained against the stake with the old trunk cut off. Sometimes I leave the old trunk standing to fool the eye into thinking it is growing the flowers until the young one gets thicker. This is for aesthetics only. You can see the narrowness of the stem here, but with plenty of fullness at the top. These shrubs bloom on new growth so the diligent pruning to keep them somewhat rounded pays off in more flowers. A copper wire holds the top to the post, for those strong wind gusts that occasionally pop up.
A view of the same white butterfly bush from below, taken from under the deck. A big advantage to growing these large shrubs as standards is the planting area beneath them. Even though our garden is not tiny, we don't wish to waste the precious soil in any way. The butterfly bushes appreciate ample sunshine and good drainage. They are not heavy feeders but would be more lush with a little more rain than we have been getting. Under normal conditions, rather than the extreme drought we are suffering through, they are considered drought tolerant. The sun easily penetrates the foliage and flowers to allow any type of sun loving plant to thrive underneath. Shown here in the yellow/white garden are some of the fancy echinaceas, Harvest Moon and Summer Sky, along with white nymph salvia and Icicle veronica.
The view from the deck looking down on the same bed shows the butterfly bush in the jungle of foliage. Look for the stake to find it in the middle of the photo. Click to enlarge to see what else is in this bed and the surrounding area. Straight back is the carcass of ferngully and to the left is the new arbor at the property's edge. Admittedly the garden is pretty wild and wooly. Seeing it in a picture brings that thought home more that seeing it is person everyday. Macro versus landscape. ;->

Moving on to B. 'Pink Delight', planted up around the knot garden at the top of the hill. There are three standards there, two on each side of the bench and one at the end by the shed. That last one appeared as a seedling and was trained using the aforementioned method. There is another seedling growing in the middle of the path. I am waiting to see what color the bloom is, it already is budded, before deciding its fate.

This is the newest tree, the stem is quite thin, but the flowers are coming along. It takes about three years for a small cutting to start looking like a tree instead of a stick. These root very easily,in addition to seeding about. I just stick the prunings in the ground and hope for the best. The pink color is not showing up well because these are all spent blossoms. I need to do some pruning on this guy. Normally I prune for shape, taking large branches off to keep the top more compact. But since this is a younger plant, I need to let it grow on a little more before shaping begins in earnest.

Pink Delight grows quite large and the blooms are also big, when we are not in a drought. No extra water makes it up here, dragging the hose to the top of the hill is just too much for me anymore, so these are not as lush as the ones closer to the house and hose spigot. Those are the breaks, guys. The large trunk was cut down last fall on this one, it had gotten too large to manage. A new shoot came up from the roots and has been trained up the post. I need to prune those long branches, but the drought has me holding back on that chore. No need to stress these shrubs any more than the lack of water is doing already.

The third of the three, looking a little sad. He should perk up now that the curly willow was cut down. Of course because the willow was left with a six foot trunk, leaves are growing back. We have decided to keep these trees, there is one on each side of the bench, pruned to the trunk each year until we get sick of doing that, then out they go. We should have known that these willows would grow so quickly, from cuttings from our Texas tree, but were trying to fill this space in the beginning stages of the garden. Unfortunately our television dish was unhappy with the size of the willows also, the final thumbs down to their existence. The boxwood hedge and butterfly bushes were being shaded in addition to having all their moisture sucked up by the thirsty tree roots. They should grow better now that the willows have so little foliage to nourish. We hope.

Next up is B. 'Potter's Purple', growing in the shrub border amongst the decidous azaleas. This gives some summer color to the area at the five to eight foot level. The hummingbirds visit this one frequently. It gets extra water when the azaleas and tree peonies are given a drink.

Another shot of Potter's Purple with the gold mops chamaecyparis in the background, a good combo.

It is a little too sunny in this photo, but you can see how the standard allows for the daisy 'Becky' and some purple monarda to grow well underneath it. The blotches of red are gaillardia 'Burgundy'. There are tall garden phlox nearly ready to open under there also, mauve and white. The trunk is a couple of years old on this one. It produces a good system of nourishment to the flowers and leaves. But as the trunks age, they don't do as well providing for the tops and need to be renewed. I just let one of the suckers grow tall, cutting the rest, sometimes I let two grow to see who is more robust. It is a process.

Here is a two year old cutting of Potter's Purple in the black garden. He has recently been pruned of side branches that were too low, leaving the leader to carry on. Red yarrow is blooming underneath, with rosemary on the left and calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' on the right in the background. Just to the right is the foliage and a couple of hanging on crocosmia 'Lucifer' red blooms. We are growing B. 'Dark Knight', but his blooms are not open at present, he is still small and not very vigorous.

B. 'Royal Red' is a bit of a misnomer on this one. Red is not the word we would use to describe this color. He is not as vigorous as some others, but is still having his best year so far. Sometimes all the pruning is not welcomed in the weaker of the cultivars. The lack of water is affecting them too.

Royal Red backed by gold mops and supported by echincea 'Ruby Star'.

Of all the colors, this yellow B. 'Honeycomb' is our favorite. However, this one is the most likely to be killed to the ground during winter, and is then slow and small during the growing season. That happened this year, the photo is of a potted plant being brought to one of the offspring. By the time this is published she should already be the proud owner of Honeycomb, so the surprise will not be spoiled. But the flowers are exquisite, so we will keep our sensitive fellow anyway. There have been new introductions in the butterfly bush world, more compact and winter hardy varieties. We may try those in the future, but for now we appreciate the stature of these oldies who are sometimes goodies. Coming soon, the standard trained pee gee hydrangeas!