Spring is an exciting time in the garden with many different colours catching the eye. One that always stands out for the visual quality of its brilliant blue flowers is the Californian lilac (Ceanothus).
As the common name suggests, Ceanothus originates from North America, in particular California as well as the eastern USA and Mexico, although most of the varieties we grow in this country have been bred in cultivation.
Ceanothus is an evergreen shrub and the variety ‘Concha’ has a dense, rounded habit with small, shiny, dark green leaves. It is a relatively quick-growing shrub, although it is not generally long-lived and may start to decline after 10-15 years - by which time it will have reached around 10ft.
As well as being a useful structural shrub for its evergreen foliage, it is primarily grown for its beautiful spring flowers. The buds look attractive as they ripen with a reddish-purple colouring which open to produce dark blue flowers in numerous rounded clusters that smother the shrub and make it most striking in the garden. It is a plant that really stands out, particularly when its planted with other plants of contrasting colours.
Pick a hot spot
Ceanothus like to be grown in a warm, sheltered, sunny spot, away from cold or drying winds. They also prefer well-drained soil and they will survive in dry situations during summer, however, they may suffer if the soil is poorly drained during winter.
Californian lilacs are relatively low-maintenance shrubs and don’t generally suffer from pests and diseases. They do benefit from being pruned after flowering in late spring, but they dislike being pruned hard into the old wood: so pruning regularly is essential to stop them getting leggy and hard to manage.
Ceanothus ‘Concha’ can be found growing in the Dry Garden at Hyde Hall where it enjoys the well-drained soil and sunny, south-facing situation. In the spring its beautiful blue flowers contrast well with other plants such as Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii with its bright lime green flowers and Asphodeline lutea with its bright yellow candle-like flowers - as well as complementary colours such as Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’, a perennial wallflower with dark purple flowers and Nepeta racemosa, a catmint with small lilac flowers set against low, grey foliage.