The Caryopteris Collection at Bristol Zoo
by Eddie Mole

"Bristol Zoo gardens have been the Caryopteris Collection Holder since the late 1980s. It was a small, fairly stable collection and back in 1996 it consisted of only 12 accessions of eight taxa; all were blue- flowered and of these only six were widely available in the nursery trade. Reading the documentation relating to the collection, I found that my predecessor had dreamed of finding C. mongolica, the missing parent of x clandonensis, or a pink or white Caryopteris that had been lost to cultivation in the distant past.

Since 1998 there has been a lot of progress with the collection in terms of new accessions. We obtained seeds of Caryopteris bungei, a very distinctive plant that is often used in floristry on the continent, and then shortly afterwards we obtained its pink form. Then we acquired C. ternifolia, another pink and large flowered species. A trip to the Kew herbarium to check on these species uncovered that there had been some confusion in the past over the naming of C. bungei. Ours appeared to be true to type, but there were also identical specimens that had been misnamed as C. incana.

Caryopteris 'Moody Blue'

We also nearly had a tragedy in the winter of 1998 due to a lack of cultural information on these plants, as they turned out not to be hardy (confirming that they were not C. incana), even though we had kept them in the cold frame. Luckily a few survivors provided us with enough propagating material to keep them going. Unfortunately, this meant that they are of little value as garden plants in the UK, but they are an exciting find. The longevity of most of our Caryopteris in Bristol seems to be a problem and we often lose apparently healthy young plants over winter for no apparent reason. I suspect this to be a result of our warm, damp climate but this needs more comparative research work to be sure.

The 1998- 2001 RHS Trial of Caryopteris was a landmark in terms of accessions. Around this time we gained a weeping form of C. incana that shows good ground cover potential, and C. tangutica from Wisley. Others, such as C xclandonensis ‘Pershore’, ‘Dark Knight’ and ‘First Choice’ appeared on the market. ‘First Choice’ comes from Liss Valley Nurseries, where Peter Catt was particularly helpful by providing us with plants of non- commercial stock, such as ‘Longwood Blue’ and ‘Lois Cornuz’. The latter looks very similar to Kew's herbarium specimens of C. mongolica. Liss have subsequently marketed other notable plants, such as the variegated ‘Moody Blue’, and the number of plants coming onto the market shows no sign of slowing down, with others such as ‘Grand Bleu’, ‘Summer Gold’ and ‘Summer Sorbet’ coming into cultivation.

Caryopteris backup collection at the ZooWe have had many management challenges in the last few years. We have moved our nursery and backup collections, moved our display collections twice due to zoo developments, created our own ‘zoo’ plant record system, developed a small herbarium, and we have had staff changes, so I hope that we are now going to be able to consolidate the collection and spend some time refining our growing and propagation techniques.

Currently the Collection is on display in one large oval bed in the Zoo. While it has advantages in terms of comparing plants, I feel that the Caryopteris would look better presented in mixed plantings that would be more representative of private gardens, and would show off their beauty in true Bristol Zoo gardens style."

Article reproduced from Plant Heritage Volume 11 No.2 Autumn 2004

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