Have you visited the Henry Moore King and Queen statue by the Jellicoe Canal, full of beautiful water lilies at this time of year? Well, just behind it, by the door to the Laboratory, is a large shrub that comes into its prime in late summer. It’s Vitex agnus-castus f. latifolia otherwise known as the broad-leaved chaste tree.
It is the lavender-blue flowers that make this shrub special, popular with butterflies too. Small, tubular two-lipped and fragrant individually, the flowers are borne at the end of the branches in long fingers (technically termed a terminal spray). It’s reminiscent of a buddleia. The leaves are palmate – like a hand – with five or seven leaflets, and these too are aromatic. It’s rather elegant, which is why we happily grow it in such a prominent position at Wisley.
This is a west-facing position with space for this shrub to grow, and it thrives here. You can expect such a specimen to reach up to 4–8m in their native Mediterranean regions, although 2m is more likely in Britain. Luckily they aren’t too fussy about soil type but do like sun and shelter from the cold.
To demonstrate the versatility of this plant, we also grow it on Battleston Hill and in the Mixed Borders, where the flowers and foliage add grace and structure to the plantings. You might also spot a pink-flowered plant Vitex agnus-castus ‘Rosea’ and a white-flowered Vitex agnus-castus f. alba ‘Silver Spire’. They’re all beautiful, and a worthy addition to any garden.
Watch this video for more ideas for adding interest at this time of year
Love blue in the garden? Here are some of our favourite blue spring bulbs