taking a long look at lespedeza thunbergii
I AM TRYING TO TAKE A LONG VIEW OF THINGS, looking ahead to a beautiful fall and winter but also noticing plants that manage to shine despite all they’ve been through in this wacky weather year. One such beauty: Lespedeza thunbergii, the bush clover, a giant of a perennial that blooms in August and September in a cascade of rosy-purple. It’s the centerpiece of a big grass border here, and you can see it from all the way across the yard.
My plant, the cultivar ‘Gibraltar,’ was a hand-me-down from a public-garden friend who had extras, and for years did well here beside a young lilac. But then the lilac grew, and the bush clover got shaded, and started to weaken.
A rescue mission a few years back landed it in the sun again, and that’s what the bush clover wanted.
Lespedeza thunbergii, a legume or pea relative as the shape of its flowers and foliage quickly gives away, is hardy in Zones 4-9. Give it sun, and not much else—well, except a very large space to grow into, as the arching stems of a mature bush clover will reach 6 feet across or wider, and stands nearly 6 feet high. My resurrected, relocated ‘Gibraltar’ is closing in on 8 feet across today.
Various white forms, like ‘Albiflora’ or ‘White Fountain,’ are another possibility (I like the gaudier purple) and because he must always outdo us, plantsman Tony Avent offers the 4-by-6-foot ‘Spilt Milk,’ with purple flowers but wildly variegated foliage as its name implies, along with several others.
This is just one of the big-boy perennials I’m thankful for at this transitional time of year, ones that might be welcome in your not-summer-not-fall garden, too. Can you make room?