Friday, September 7, 2012

Lespedeza thunbergii-Let it Be, Let it Be, Let it Be

When prospecting for plants to adorn my relatively small suburban garden, I'm always on the lookout for shrubs that can be severely pruned in early spring.  Buddleia, Hydrangeas paniculata and arborescens, summer blooming Spirea, Caryopteris, Callicarpa, Cotinus, Indigofera, and Physocarpus are some of more common examples.  Many of these plants bloom on new wood so hacking them back won't sacrifice flowering and usually produces a more compact floriferous plant.

Lespedeza thunbergii somewhat falls into the above category.  In the spring it gets cut back to pretty much nothing but by mid summer it grows into a sizable specimen.  I've had Lespedeza in my garden for a few years.  Every spring I cut it back to about six inches and end up with a respectable sized shrub of about five by five feet.  Maybe it was the mild winter or maybe the shrub is just maturing but this year the Lespedeza in my small fountain garden has reached somewhat monstrous proportions.

A couple of years ago, the hard drive crashed on my old laptop and obliterated my entire plant database so I'm not sure which cultivar I have.  I suspect it might be one of the so called "smaller than 'Gibraltar'" varieties or it very well could be 'Gibraltar'.  The longer I garden the less I care about remembering Latin and cultivar names.  Probably because I no longer can. 

Normally I would be in a twitch over a plant growing this far out of bounds (truth be told I plant using a tape measure).  Not so with Lespedeza.  In September in New England, not much blooms with this sort of reckless abandon especially when given no supplemental water during one of the hottest, driest summers on record.  In my humble opinion, you can't beat Lespedeza with a stick.

Lespedeza thunbergii cascading over a Daphne x transatlantica 'Summer Ice'

The poor Miscanthus 'Morning Light' behind the Cleomes may have to find a new home.

An "aerial" view

Lespedeza thunbergii in my screen porch fountain garden taken September 4, 2012

Same view as above taken September 22, 2011

As you can see from the above two pictures, the Lespedeza has increased in size somewhat dramatically from 2011 to 2012.  Both the Miscanthus 'Morning Light' and Wiegela 'Rubidor', clearly visible in the upper center of the 2011 picture, are not visible this year.  I tried with no luck to find a picture of this area taken in early spring after everthing had been cut back and hauled out.

Flower panicles of Lespedeza thunbergii

Although I can't say I planned this vignette, I like the contrast of the bold foliage of the Colocasia and the the colors of the self seeding Cleomes are just perfect.

Interesting to note: the L. thunbergii 'Avalanche' I have planted in a dry, semi wild part of my garden I fondly refer to as the Reclamation Area is not yet blooming.  In fact it appears to be thumbing it's nose at me in retribution for the benign neglect I have heaped onto it this season.  If time permits, I'll get out there and show it some love this weekend.

A neglected L. thunbergii 'Avalanche'

If you have a sunny spot and need some late season garden interest, I say give Lespedeza thunbergii a try.  Just give it room and let it be.



  1. Absolutely gorgeous Sue!!!

    Yours is a different variety from mine. (If that is what I have at all!) Mine is a lavender color. It did particularly well this year too. So far, mine is smaller, but I see others that are monsters!
    Take a look here!

    You must look here too:(photos 8-9)

  2. Your 2012 lespedeza with the colocasia is beautifully scaled. The second photo in this post shows wonderful proportion with that big blowzy bush clover and the huge green leaves of the colocasia, and just the right amount of smaller things tucked under them along the walk. Genius.

    The 2011 photo shows too much busy small stuff. You had the right design idea but nature said "It's got to be a lot bigger. Pump it up". And boy, did she, to beautiful effect.

    1. Truth be told, I still have alot of busy small stuff that isn't showing up from the aerial views but I know what you mean. When I look at the 2011 picture, the one thing that jumps out at me is I had more foliage contrast. Next year I have to make sure I plant purple castor beans in this garden.

  3. Wow! how fabulous beyond belief Sue! I MUST get one of those for my new shrub border. Absolutely gorgeous

  4. Well this is totally fabulous Sue! I must get that for my new shrub border but methinks I'll have to expand it a bit more to accommodate it. Cool!

    1. I think Monique gives hers a second mid season pruning. We can ask her on Sunday.

  5. OK, now that I am blogging I can embarrass myself in front of the world!
    Now I know that I DON'T have Lespedeza, but Leptodermis oblonga. Frankly, I am delighted that I have a smaller beauty (for now). I see there are Lespedeza plants for my zone though... so I'll be pondering this. At least I know the size involved!
    Thanks for getting me to finally look up these plants and identify what I have!
    PS: I agree with Laurrie, above, about the comparison of the two photos.

    1. Glad I was able to help with that ID, Marie. Leptodermis isn't a star for me but it plods along with a bit of color all season.

  6. Anything that blooms that prolifically in September is worth a large spot in the garden.

  7. That colocasia is unbelievable, Sue. I finally yanked my lespedeza in the front garden -- just crammed in too much stuff and had to sacrifice it. But what a great and tough plant it is. Love that amaranth too! And the daphne...

  8. Sue, Your photos of your garden are lovely. I planted a Lespedeza bicolor ‘Yakushima’ a few years ago and it certainly does not have near the 'garden presence' that your Lespedeza thunbergii does. Mine is a tight little bun that never seems to do too much - I much prefer the cascading fountain look of yours!