Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Variegated Tree Clethra

clethra-barbinervis-takeda-nishiki-foliage-640

 

Here's foliage pretty enough for a fabric pattern, or as your computer's wallpaper:  Variegated tree clethra.  I first planted it just because of the pink in the very young leaves.  I've got a pair of Pink Borders—one's big and the other's even bigger—and because there isn't much pink in hardy shrubs, perennials, or trees, I welcomed all comers.

 

Variegated tree clethra, though, is elegant enough to be in the gardens even of pink-o-phobes.  It's difficult, indeed, not to want to recognize this plant's charm by giving it a hand. 

 

clethra-barbinervis-takeda-nishiki-fingers-640

 

Someday, many years from now, I guess, the plant will be ten or twelve feet tall.  There's no chlorophyll in the creamy areas of the leaves, so the plant doesn't have the horsepower for speedier growth.  But taking the long view, a twelve-foot 'Takeda Nishiki' will be quite a vision.  Be patient. 

 

 

 

Here's how to grow this elegant and colorful shrub:

 

Latin Name

Clethra barbinervis 'Takeda Nishiki'

Common Name

Variegated Tree Clethra

Family

Clethraceae, the Summersweet family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 5 - 9

Habit

Multi-trunked and upright.  Shrubby unless limbed up to create a small tree.

Rate of Growth

Medium to slow.

Size in ten years

Four or five feet tall, three feet wide.

Texture

Medium and open, with small foliage in butterfly-like whorls on the horizontal ends of the branches.

Grown for

the foliage, which is heavily splashed with cream and white and, when very young, also has a pink blush.  Young foliage appears well into the Summer, so this bush's pinkish show isn't just a Spring fling.  There's a good Fall foliage display as well.

 

the flowers, which are fragrant small white bells in graceful horizontal sprays in July or even August, when few other shrubs or trees are in bloom.

 

the bark, at least on the larger branches and trunks of mature individuals, which is as multi-colored as that of stewartias, the gold standard of colorful bark.

Flowering season

Summer: July into August.

Culture

Tree clethra appreciates a welcoming environment.  Full sun to part shade, reasonable to wonderful soil, reasonable to attentive watering.  Variegated tree clethra handles full sun as well as the straight species, but can scorch if drought-stressed. 

How to handle it

Variegated tree clethra is a tree whose every detail—flowers, foliage, bark, and overall branching and form—is worth savoring close-at-hand.  So plant it close to the front of a bed, with low groundcovers of contrastingly large leaf (hardy ginger?  hostas?  pachysandra?) beneath.  It's noticeably slower growing than the straight species, so try to help it along with extra humusy and deep soil, plus a weekly watering in the dog days of Summer.

 

Eventually (be patient) the bush will be large enough and old enough that the oldest branches and trunks—which will be, inherently, at the bottom of the plant—will start to show the sensational multi-color bark.  Experiment with thinning the lower branches, or removing them entirely, to show those older trunks and their marvelous bark better.  And don't underplant the bush with high groundcovers, which would hide the very bark you're trying to reveal.

Downsides

Wow, is this a slow-growing plant!  Mercifully, it has only slight interest in reverting to all-green twigs, which grow three times as fast and would quickly overwhelm the variegated portion of the shrub.  On the other hand, their all-green vigor makes them very obvious, so you can clip them off right away.

Variants

The straight species, C. barbinervis, is itself a peerless all-season species, and should be in every garden where it's hardy.  Other "tree" clethra species are as desirable, although not so different that you'd collect them all.  And then, there are the cultivars of the native C. alnifolia, a colony-forming shrub of which every garden should have at least two:  The dwarf 'Sixteen Candles' and the pink-flowered 'Ruby Spice'.  Their Summer flowers are as fragrant as those of C. barbinervis, but are held strictly vertically, at the tips of every new stem. 

Availability

On-line, and, very occasional, at specialty retailers.

Propagation

By grafting.

Native habitat

Japan.

 
 
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