It’s peak pollinator time in New England gardens and I’m a little surprised at what plant in my garden is getting all the action. I do maintain a garden that is constantly in bloom but I’m more of a blooming woody shrub lover than perennial flower lover for two reason. Shrubs need less maintenance than perennials… and there’s something quite magic about the color green… the variety of shapes, colors, and textures of green leaves that shrubs and trees provide in a garden attracts and soothes me like no perennial can.
All that being said, I do provide perennials as accents and splashes of color in the garden. I especially want to provide nectar for pollinators and host plants for a variety of butterflies. The summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) is just beginning to burst upon the scene but it’s being ignored by insects. The butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), liriope, hostas, daisies, sunflowers, and a few others are being shunned for this small bloom. Mobbed by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, this small allium seems to be the bee’s knees right now.
Not in full bloom but those blooms that are open are a’buzzing with activity. Sorry… butterfly bush, daisies, summersweet… I’m sure your time will come.
When I saw the scraggly thicket along the foundation wall of our new home, I made a mental note that it needed to go. Summersweet (Clethra alnigolia), was planted in the wrong place. This native plant looks lovely along the edge of the property but as a foundation plant, it was a tangled, unruly mass that grew in all directions. I planned to do the deed as soon as spring thaw arrived.
When March rolled around, I waded into the tangle with clippers and began to chop. After 30 minutes, I stepped out and was taken back at what I saw. I had tamed the thicket and liked the look. I decided to keep the clethra as a foundation plant. Bare during the winter months, spring brought green serrated leaves, and two months into summer brought fragrant and spicy clusters of white racemes that stood upright in 6-inch candles. Bees loved it. Hummingbirds loved it. Butterflies loved it. I love it…
The shrub does sucker and tries hard to grow into that thicket again. I simply don’t allow that. With a sharp bladed shovel, I chop through each sprout to keep the shrub tidy and I make sure I don’t over water as it seems to sucker more in wet soil. Late fall or early spring, I will prune out the dead and remove some of the oldest stems at ground level since the plant blooms on new growth.
Today I am enjoying another season of color from our clethra. Autumn brings bright yellow leaves that add some interest to the yard. Yes, I’ll be keeping my clethra.