Sometimes great plants just don’t get the attention they deserve, and the Bottlebrush Buckeye is just such a plant. Do you have shade in your garden? Do you want low-maintenance plants? Do you have large empty spaces to fill? Do you like growing native plants? If your answer is ‘yes’ to any or all of these questions, then the Bottlebrush Buckeye is a plant you want. This American native shrub grows tall enough to make a great background for smaller bushes, but not so big as to overwhelm the garden. It spreads wide enough to fill big empty spaces and shady corners of the garden with handsome foliage and attractive flowers. It will grow well even in dark areas where other plants fail, and it needs very little attention from you.
Plant your Bottlebrush Buckeye in partially or fully shaded areas of your garden, such as beneath large trees or along a shady driveway. It will grow in most soils, but it will grow best in rich, moister soils, especially when young. Older plants are more drought resistant. It grows readily all the way from the colder states in zone 4 to the warmer areas in zone 8. This plant is the perfect answer to those large, empty areas beneath older shade trees, where many other plants will not grow well.
Buckeye trees (Aesculus) are a group of about 15 plant species found in North America, Asia and Europe. Outside America they are usually called ‘horse chestnut’ trees, since they resemble the edible nuts from the unrelated ‘sweet chestnut’ tree (Castanea sativa), eaten in winter in many European countries. Most buckeye trees are quite tall forest trees, but several are smaller, really just large shrubs, and grow in the shade of larger trees in the forest. The Bottlebrush Buckeye, Aesculus parviflora, is one of the smaller, shade-loving species, which is what makes it so valuable in the garden. It grows wild in Alabama and Georgia, but it is hardy and will grow in gardens in much cooler areas, right down to minus 30 degrees.
The Bottlebrush Buckeye has large leaves, 8 inches or more long, and just as wide. Each leaf has 5 to 7 individual leaflets, with a large central one and the others becoming smaller on each side. Such very attractive foliage would be reason enough to grow this plant, but in July or August, depending on where you live, this shrub puts on a beautiful flowering display, producing tall, upright flower spikes, up to a foot long, covered all around with fluffy white flowers, looking rather like an old-fashioned bottle-brush. A large shrub covered with blooms is a gorgeous sight and one you will want to have in your garden. In warmer regions the flowers may be followed by large but inedible glossy nuts nestling inside the remains of the flower spikes. In fall the leaves turn glowing shades of yellow and gold, before falling to reveal an interesting architecture of thick branches that support this dome-shaped shrub. A single plant can cover 8 to 15 feet of ground, blocking all weed-growth and making an excellent cover beneath large trees. In time plants can reach 12 feet tall, but with some pruning it can be kept lower if needed.
Although the Bottlebrush Buckeye has received numerous awards for its value in the garden, and is very popular in Great Britain, strangely it is not grown much in America. This may be for two reasons. First, it does not have a dense branch structure, so young plants have only a couple of branches and don’t look so pretty. Don’t worry, once it is growing you will love this plant. The second reason is that there is a simple secret to success with this plant, especially if you want to grow it beneath trees. You need to dig a big hole, and put in lots of organic material, so that the roots can become established beneath the trees. As well, you should give your young Bottlebrush Buckeye plants plenty of water for the first few years, until they are growing vigorously. Do those simple things and you will really enjoy having this remarkable and beautiful bush in your garden. You will really appreciate too how useful it is in filling areas of full shade with beautiful foliage and flowers.
So if you are looking for a great plant to fill those shady spots in your garden with a low-maintenance, pest-free plant that will be attractive from spring to fall, then you should plant the Bottlebrush Buckeye. Because it is not known to many gardeners, it is not often offered, so we are sure that those ‘in the know’ will be buying up our stock very quickly. So order now, or risk being disappointed, and being left to stare at those big blank spaces in the shady parts of your garden for yet another season.