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Plant Profiles: Zenobia pulverulenta


Drawing by Rene Eisenbart


I know, be adult and don't lend her

Dusty zenobia

Late-spring-blooming deciduous shrub

part sun (preferably morning);even moisture; well-drained soil

Alkaline soil and extreme drought

Capitalize on its opalescent blue foliage in a mixed border; some forms are decidedly bluer than others, so shop around

Deciduous shrub

Ode to a Queen:

Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, A.D. 266! Did your skin glow pale in the moonlight? Were your robes made of opals and pearls? Is your sister Priscilla, Queen of the Desert? Whoops. I digress.

Zenobia! Last in all shrub literature, first in my heart. Good to see you so widely planted in the Northwest. Took a while, I know, but what a pleasure you've finally arrived.

Was it your foliage that finally brought the gardening world to its senses? I can well see why. In my own garden, short of Mertensia asiatica -- which remains a dicey proposition -- nothing holds a candle to your white-washed blue. I hope you don't mind that I show everyone who visits the impossibly glaucous undersides of your leaves; it's just that I don't think they'd believe me if I simply said "they're as ghostly as the ocean when the moon turns it silver and still."

And your new growth! How do you manage to achieve that faint raspberry stain on your miniscule young leaves? It's a fleeting touch and a marvel of the moment, which stays with me (if not you) all season, so that I always think of you as blushing just the slightest violet red.

Zenobia! I admire your tenacity. I've seen you clutch your foliage to your quaking stems through howling, winter winds. I admit you can be a little too greedy, wanting to hold on to what's past when it's time to let go, so I hope you don't mind that I sometimes give your winter-worn leaves a little tug.

No, I haven't forgotten your flowers, carillons of pure white, fragrant bells which, in your wisdom, you display from the tips of your cinnamon-brown branches. Such simple elegance! Such class! I love their music, their precision, their perseverance. And I can tell you enjoy your baubles -- your proud, arching habit seems ever so slightly enhanced when your fingertips sparkle.

How tall can you make yourself? Three feet? Five feet? I await your full splendor. I hope you like where I've put you, with not-so-nearly-blue sedum, a raven-winged Anthriscus (alas, a genus now banned in WA.), and a lovely blueberry who so resembles you. Or, if you prefer, I can procure that gorgeous blue Cerinthe whose purple flowers will make you blush, and lay a richly brocaded burgundy Heuchera at your feet should you grow cold.

Zenobia! I will never desert you. But beware of pretenders to your throne. There are many far less blue, and though rightful heirs to your genus, they go positively green beside the resplendent, dusty you.

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    Plant Profiles are excerpted from Plant This! by Ketzel Levine


    Copyright © 2003 National Public Radio, Washington, D.C.