Vivacious Vitex

Vitex in the border with milkweed and eupatorium in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Vitex in the border with milkweed and Joe pye weed (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Though the ancient Greeks recognized it as a plant to calm the fires of passion, I discovered Vitex agnus-castus, or Chaste Tree, at a local garden center that was having an end of the season close out sale.  I had never seen Vitex before, and it wasn’t in bloom at the time of purchase.  Instead, I was attracted to its unusual (and slightly sage scented) five leaflet foliage and the spires of dried flowers that stood like candelabras from the upright stems.  There was no tag in the container, but the price was so minimal I figured it was worth giving this shrub a try. Boy, am I glad I did!

The upright lavender spikes of Vitex in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The upright lavender spikes of Vitex (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

In my zone 5 garden, Vitex died back to the ground over the winter, but before I could heave it into the compost pile, up from the base sprouted several new branchesI still didn’t know what the heck this shrub was, but figured since it survived the winter it was worth seeing what happened next.  I waited and waited while it made a gradual come back, not really growing much until the summer thermostat heated up in late July.  And then it happened.  My buxom beauty finally showed what she was all about and why it was worth the wait.

The five leaflet foliage of Vitex in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The five leaflet foliage of Vitex (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Panicles of the most intense lavender blue flowers-flecked with pearly white-vividly burst open from each limb, reminiscent of a crisp autumn sky condensed into a focal spot of your garden. Each blossom formed a narrow pyramid shape, but softer and more feminine, standing individually amongst the showy green fingers of foliage.  Bees and butterflies clamored for a spot on each of the enticing flowers, demonstrating that this shrub is the place to be in the garden.

**Not enough room to grow a shrub, ANISE HYSSOP offers the same striking flowers ~

Bees adore the flowers of Vitex in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Bees adore the flowers of Vitex (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

A member of the mint family, Vitex agnus-castus is native to the Mediterranean, where it can grow to 20 feet tall and wide.  One would think it couldn’t last a season in the cold of New England, but if in a somewhat protected spot with plenty of warm sun, this zone 6-9 plant will come back reliably year after year (growing 4-5 feet tall and wide), producing the most stunning display of violet blue blossoms, which partner beautifully with other late season bloomers such as Joe pye weed, phlox and ironweed. And remember, the dried flower heads provide fabulous winter interest as well~

*Note: This shrub has proved to be invasive in some areas of Texas and Georgia, so please check with your local agricultural extension before planting.  And no, I haven’t experienced any personality changes since growing this plant . . .


  1. Christina Benson says:

    I too love this incredible blue Vitex, which I’ve seen in masses of hillside color in California, but never here in Connecticut. It will grow happily out on Cape Cod, at least out in the Truro area. Perhaps I should try it and NW Connecticut, and see if it can survive our winters, as you did!

    • Yes Christina, Vitex is worth a try in Connecticut. It has come back for three years now, and last winter was particularly tough. Vitex does die back some over winter, and tends to sprout later than other shrubs — wait until spring before cutting back too much. Fall is a great time to plant if you can find one, and I wish you the best of luck. Thanks for writing! Happy gardening!

  2. R D Parsons says:

    I discovered vitex while living in NC. On a visit back there, I picked one up at the farmers’ market and plopped it into my shoreline CT garden. It thrived. Meanwhile I did find one for sale hereabouts (vastly more expensive) with white blossoms. Both have grown well, reaching 5-6′ so far. Hope to see even better growth this year (if they made it through this crazy winter/cold spring).

    • I’m so happy to hear you’re having success with Vitex in your CT garden, as it really is a Zone 6-7 and I consider CT to be a firm 5 despite what the new zone maps indicate. As I say in my article, it dies back over the winter in my garden but does come back in late spring – producing fabulous blue flowers in the fall border. I love white and am thrilled to hear about your experience; I looked on the internet and found the beautiful Vitex agnus-castus ‘Silver Spires,’ which sounds like the plant you’re growing. Thank you so much for writing and sharing your successes, I love to hear from my readers!

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