As I am preparing to teach an all-day design course at CMBG, I have been going through all of the essentials of garden design: texture, form, repetition, symmetry, function, and of course, color. I love color! Too many landscape designers claim that as they become more sophisticated in their tastes, they eschew color for simple shades of green. That is hogwash. A friend and I used to joke that when designers get to their “I prefer shades of green” stage, they are usually burned out.

Miles Davis

Alright, enough opining, let’s get onto my favorite color – blue. When I say blue, I mean steel blue. The blue of Panicum ‘Heavy Metal,’ Agave americana, Zenobia pulverulenta, and this week’s plant pick, Fothergilla x intermedia ‘Blue Shadow.’ This blue is soft while at the same time being powerful if used appropriately in the garden. If this color were music, it would be Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain (smooth, beautiful, and strong). I would love to design a blue garden with these and other plants represented and of course blue speakers emitting Concierto de Aranjuez.

Fothergilla x intermedia 'Blue Shadow'

Right now, Fothergilla x intermedia ‘Blue Shadow’ is striking notes of “what is that beautiful plant?” to our guests. This cool, moist summer has allowed the foliage to be bluer than ever. I grew Blue Shadow in Pennsylvania and the leaves would turn from blue to green after a couple of 90 degree weeks. Our plant is nestled under a deciduous larch that provides afternoon shade for the shrub. This fothergilla is a hybrid between the large Fothergilla major and the small Fothergilla gardenii. One of the first cultivars from this cross was Fothergilla x intermedia ‘Mt. Airy,’ which was introduced by Dr. Michael Dirr. Then, Gary Handy from Handy Nursery in Oregon found a branch sport of Mt. Airy with the intense blue color we now know as Blue Shadow.

Fothergilla fall

Over time, Blue Shadow fothergilla will form a shrub 6′ tall and wide. It prefers moist, well-drained and acidic soils. A bit of afternoon shade is good for the plant to keep the deep, powder blue foliage. In the fall, the leaves will change to deep reds and oranges before falling off of the plant. In late spring, the plant is covered with the bottle-brush shaped white flowers. The flowers are attractive but the real reason to grow Blue Shadow is for the color of the leaves.

Do you like steel blue foliaged plants in your garden? If so, I whole-heartedly recommend that you grow Blue Shadow fothergilla.

– Rodney

Images: geneseymour.com, finegardening.com

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