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Summersweet Surprises

Like good friends, good shrubs have the capacity to keep surprising us with their many virtues!

Clethra alnifolia blossom.

Summersweet is the common name for Clethra alnifolia, a deciduous shrub that enjoys filtered sun.

The variety I have is ‘Pink Spires’, which has charming pink flower spires in late summer.

As well as enjoying partial shade, it also likes moisture and some acidity in the soil, so it combines well with azaleas and rhododendrons and Japanese maples.

I have always liked my summersweet, as it blooms when few other shrubs are in flower and is pleasantly but lightly fragrant. However, I now find that I had underestimated this carefree shrub. Recently one side of my garden was being trenched for a new water line, so I cut back the summersweet hard to avoid inadvertent damage to its branches.

The branches were just full of flowers—so not wanting to waste them, I hammered the woody stems and filled a number of vases with the fragrant flowers. I had never used these flowers in vases before. Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that clethra blossoms last for ages in a vase, and the flowers and foliage almost arrange themselves and also look attractive in just about any container.

I can’t imagine why I had never thought to cut the flowers for arrangements before. Perhaps it was because they looked so attractive on the bush in the garden. But like good friends, good shrubs have the capacity to keep surprising us with their many virtues.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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