Two distinctly different plants —something old and something new, and both blue. The old plant is Ceanothus ‘Blue Cloud’, a rarely available but spectacular and durable flowering shrub for the garden and landscape. The new plant is Ceanothus griseus var. horizontalis ‘Silver Surprise’, the first Ceanothus cultivar with showy, creamy-white variegated leaves.
Ceanothus ‘Blue Cloud’
Its name, ‘Blue Cloud’ says it all—one of the most profusely blooming ceanothus cultivars ever selected. The plants are covered with hundreds of one- to two-inch-long, branched clusters of pale sky blue blossoms. Each flower turns a pale gray-blue as it fades. Even in warm spring temperatures, this plant will remain showy for about a month. Though it was originally selected in the San Francisco Bay area, it has always been an excellent performer in Southern California.
Ceanothus ‘Blue Cloud’ will form a large multi-stemmed shrub from eight to twelve feet tall with a somewhat wider spread. Plants are typically fast growers and will reach full size in three to five years. As a result of its fast growth, sometimes the foliage is a bit sparse near the base of the plant. The oval-shaped, shiny green leaves have short petioles, may reach slightly over an inch in length, and are less than half as wide. The stems and branches remain yellow-green for years before they eventually turn gray-brown.
Though rarely available today, Ceanothus ‘Blue Cloud’ is one of the oldest surviving selections of California’s wild lilacs. ‘Blue Cloud’ was selected in 1940 by Louis Edmunds from a group of plants that propagator Clarence Quick had grown for the famed Ceanothus expert Howard McMinn. Edmunds thought that the parentage of this plant was likely Ceanothus impressus ¥ C. spinosus, though this has not yet been confirmed. There are only four other surviving Ceanothus cultivars from this era: ‘Ray Hartman’ (the oldest) dates back to 1929, while ‘Treasure Island’, ‘Louis Edmunds’, and ‘Mount Vision’ were selected and introduced in the years between 1937 and 1942. Another four ceanothus cultivars from this era are now thought to be extinct: ‘Theodore Payne’ from 1917, ‘La Primavera’ from 1935, ‘James Roof’ from 1937, and ‘La Purisima’ from 1938. (If anyone knows of any living specimens of these four plants, please inform the author.)
Ceanothus ‘Blue Cloud’ is adaptable to most soils, and even performs well on rich clay-loam. Established plants will tolerate some summer watering. The extreme summer heat found in California’s inland valleys is not a problem for ‘Blue Cloud’. Consider growing this durable shrub behind Arctostaphylos ‘Howard McMinn’ or in a sea of Twin Peaks coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis ‘Twin Peaks #2’), deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens), or Saint Catherine’s lace (Eriogonum giganteum).
Ceanothus griseus var. horizontalis ‘Silver Surprise’ (patent pending)
‘Silver Surprise’ is an exciting new ceanothus cultivar with striking creamy-white margined variegated leaves and masses of medium blue flowers in spring. Unlike our other variegated Ceanothus selections, the flowers on ‘Silver Surprise’ are a beautiful complement to the foliage. This durable plant features a compact growth habit 3 to 4 feet high and about 6 feet wide.
The original selection was made in 1995 by Peter Brand of A Brand and Sons nursery in England, from a variegated branch of the widely known and grown Ceanothus griseus var. horizontalis ‘Yankee Point’. Further refinement and selection led to the release of ‘Silver Surprise’ in Europe two years ago. As noted above, this plant is in the process of being patented, which means that unlicensed propagation is prohibited.
Ceanothus ‘Silver Surprise’ would be outstanding cascading from a large container or over a low wall. Combine it with bush anemone (Carpenteria californica), Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Snow Flurry’, and white coral bells (Heuchera spp. or cultivars) for a cool white combo. The pleasingly white-variegated foliage can also be used to advantage with the bright colors of California fuchsia (Epilobium spp. [including Zauschneria]), fremontias (Fremontodendron spp. and cultivars), and California poppies (Eschscholzia californica). For a more subtle combination, try ‘Silver Surprise’ around the base of Rhamnus californica ‘Leatherleaf’, or use it to break up large groundcover plantings of Ceanothus griseus var. horizontalis ‘Yankee Point’.
This plant is new to California, so its climatic and soil tolerances have not yet been fully tested. In coastal climates ‘Silver Surprise’ is both drought tolerant and low maintenance and may be used in the same conditions as its parent, ‘Yankee Point’. In hotter climates, this plant may require partial or afternoon shade and some additional water to perform well. As with all plants with variegated foliage, any new growth with “normal” (non-variegated) leaves should be removed as soon as it is noted.