Last updated on August 12th, 2012
I WISH YOU COULD VISIT ME IN AUGUST, for this is when Clethra alnifolia ‘Pink Spires’ is in bloom. What a romantic plant! Butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects are drawn to the sweet nectar of the shrub’s fluffy, candle-like flowers. The flowers offer a strong, but never-cloying scent that recalls honeysuckle, rose, clove, and heliotrope. You’ll find this North American native is extremely easy to grow:
Ideally, Clethra (or “Summer Sweet,” as it is commonly called) wants filtered light, abundant moisture, and slightly-acidic soil. My plant, however, flourishes in full sun, alkaline soil, and dryness. Still, in five years’ time it has never failed to put on its pink-spired show from late-July through late-August.
Although the scent can be smelled some 100 feet away, you might want to locate Clethra near a porch or a frequently-walked path. There, the butterflies and humming birds it attracts can be appreciated in summer, while its vase-like form will contribute winter interest. The shrub makes a pretty sight in my well-traveled Serpentine Garden, where it grows in a bed of Vinca minor.
Not an exuberant grower, ‘Pink Spires’ has achieved for me a height and spread of not more than 4 feet after 5 years. I have never pruned the shrub.
Because it is drought-tolerant, pest- and disease-free, and a magnificent magnet for beneficial insects, I consider ‘Pink Spires’ a perfect perennial. The shrub is hardy in zones 4-8.
Oh. And then there is the scent. Folks, it’s a perfume you won’t believe.
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