IT WAS KEN DRUSE, the garden writer and photographer, who gave me Trachystemon orientalis years ago, after many unsubtle hints on my part. Like any plant you don’t know and haven’t seen, it seemed a treasure: something precious, a jewel, oh could I please have just the tiniest bit, Ken? Today I garden in a small sea of this borage relative (think comfrey, another cousin, if you want to know the inclinations of Trachystemon, which is also a cousin of Pulmonaria). I have to smile when I recall how we relative few who had it “back then” kept such a tight fist on our prize possession.
Blue-flowered plants seem to always have that mystique. While still partly leafless in early spring, about mid-April here, Trachystemon sends up its showy blue flowers on stems perhaps 10 inches tall in my conditions, and gradually after that the big, heart-shaped leaves, about the same height, finally fill in, making a pleasing bold statement, if not a spectacular one.
Good news, bad news: Trachystemon will do in sun or shade, and even in dry shade at the roots of trees (or in damp spots). This rhizomatous do-er seems to be happy with total neglect, almost anywhere (Zones 5 or 6-9). It outcompetes many weeds—a great trait in a groundcover, too. But this kind of cooperative nature also means it is a thug in climates like England’s, where it has been naturalized for as long as anyone can remember (so the Pacific Northwest, for instance, would be a potential romping grounds).
I am about to move some of my little blue ocean to the hardest places in my garden, where only toughies like Geranium macrorrhizum or perhaps Helleborus orientalis or Epimedium—or Trachystemon—will do the trick.
Sources of Trachystemon orientalis: