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The Quest for Indigo Blue

by | May 12, 2014


The dreamy blue of wild false indigo eluded us for decades. Our very first wild flower garden, back in the 90’s, grew from a pack of seeds scattered over the lawn and a few choice plants bought at the Virginia Living Museum native plant sale.

One of those plants was the blue false indigo.

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We were in love with its graceful stems and beautiful blue blossoms. We planted and tended and waited.

What a disappointment when the flowers opened to be a creamy white instead of blue! The flowers were beautiful in themselves, coming off of charcoal-colored asparagus-like stems, and of course the same shapely leaves.

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But they weren’t blue. The word indigo tells us it should be blue. The word false should have warned us we were dealing with a fickle bit of flora. It became a goal and an obsession. Our indigo had to be blue.

We bought more plants. We watched them unfurl, hoping, hoping, only to see the telltale white peeping through the buds as they opened Some of the newly-planted blues died during harsh summers when we were too busy with our jobs to water.

One year we brought some blue indigo plants from Robby’s mother’s home. They were very tough to dig up, and very reluctant to settle into a new home. They died over the winter. (Since then we have read that it doesn’t transfer well—surprise, surprise!)

We tried seeds. Robby gathered them from the VLM’s wildflowers and planted them in a protected place. We were so excited when some green plants straggled up from the ground. But our hopes were dashed when they turned out to be corn and sunflowers from an adjacent bird feeder.

This spring, at the 2014 VLM Native Plant Sale, we looked around without hope. They had plenty of false indigo, but it was all white. Not a single blue indigo for sale. It was what we expected by now. The dreamy blue of false indigo was only that—a dream, and a false one.

The next Sunday, at the end of Robby’s workday managing visitor services at the VLM, he pulled into the garage with his trunk full of pots. His plan had been to install the plants in our garden overnight and surprise me in the morning, but he was too excited to wait that long. I came out to admire—buckets of tall, blue-blooming false indigo.

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These were plants that had been tucked away for horticultural reasons, and now had come home to bring the blue dream to our garden.

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Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at [email protected].

Indigo blue at last!