In my ongoing attempt to lessen garden maintenance, I’ve developed a huge respect for flowering shrubs. Since I don’t have unlimited space, things are getting a little crowded in my garden, but sometimes you just can’t resist. I came across a jubilant purple flowering specimen a couple of years ago, on a garden tour in the heat of August. There aren’t a lot of shrubs that flower at that end of the season in the Hudson Valley, so it really caught my eye. It was a Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Gibraltar’, the bush clover, and it was covered in blooms, bees, and a few visiting butterflies.
This beauty starts blooming in August and can last into September, weather permitting. It blooms on new wood and, like Russian sage and Butterfly bush, which both bloom later in the season, it dies back during the winter. Give it a hard pruning each spring and it will rapidly grow back and start producing buds for its late season show.
There are a handful of notable cultivars, but ‘Gibraltar’, with its bi-color purple and pink flowers, seems to do best here. Some others worth a try include ‘Edo Shibori’, with lilac and white flowers, ‘Variegata’ aka ‘Spilt Milk’, which has white variegated leaves and lavender flowers, and ‘White Fountain’, with cool white flowers.
This is a large plant, with arching stems, that easily grows 6 – 7 ft. in all directions. It’s a legume and you will see the resemblance to pea plants in both the foliage and the flowers. Lespedeza blooms best in full sun and it’s hardy down to Zone 4. Other than the annual spring pruning, it doesn’t ask much else from a gardener – a big plus for any plant. They can self-sow, but I haven’t heard of that being a problem in colder areas. Let me know if you’ve experienced it becoming a nuisance.
So if you’re looking around your garden and wishing it had more sparkle in August, or if you’re simply tired of deadheading, this is a great plant to consider. It’s hard to find, because it’s not available in local garden centers until later in the season, if at all. Since it dies back in winter, it doesn’t look like much first thing in spring. But a search online should offer a few options. I know Plant Delights sells several cultivars. They are small in size and large in price, but keep reminding yourself that it will quickly reach eye level and will bring you pleasure for years.