ShadyGardens Blog

July 18, 2010

Clethra Attracts Hummingbirds and Butterflies to the Garden in Summer

Filed under: alnifolia, Butterfly, Clethra, Hummingbird, native, pepper bush, ruby, spice, summer, Sweet — shadygardens @ 1:18 pm

If you’re lucky enough to have a moist spot in your garden, consider Clethra alnifolia. Clethra is also known as Summer Sweet or Sweet Pepper Bush.

Blooming in the middle of the hot summer is enough reason to name it Summer Sweet, but I think that common name derives from either the sweet fragrance or the sweetness of the nectar. Butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators love it as much as you will, and they’ll appreciate you for planting it in your garden.

Once the blooms fade, dark black seeds are visible on the tips of the stems, hence the other common name Sweet Pepper Bush.

There’s a Clethra suitable for just about every garden, since a variety of types are available.

  • Ruby Spice has rosey pink blooms on a large growing shrub up to 10 feet tall.
  • Hummingbird has white blooms on a more compact plant around 3 feet tall. This is the one seen growing around Hummingbird Lake at Callaway Gardens.
  • Sixteen Candles 6 inch long white flowers on a tidy shrub about 4 feet tall.


All Clethra varieties are very fragrant, reminding me of fresh honey.


Clethra is easy to grow, but does need regular water. Perfect around a pond or stream, but you can grow it right in your garden as long as you can water it weekly.


Clethra grows well anywhere in USDA Zones 4-9.


An added bonus is that Clethra displays lovely yellow foliage in fall! 


For Clethra plants by mail, go to Shady Gardens Nursery.

July 18, 2009

Four Oclock: Fragrant Blooms for the Evening Garden

If you like fragrant plants, the old-fashioned Four Oclock will be one of your favorites. Small pink blooms scent the garden with their sweet perfume every evening during summer. Mirabilis jalapa is a shrub-like multibranched perennial plant that emerges each spring from a large carrot-shaped tuber. The common name Four Oclock comes from its fascinating habit of opening its blooms around 4 oclock in the afternoon. That alone is enough to intrigue me, since I have a natural interest in plants with unusual traits. Although it’s called Four Oclock, in our garden Mirabilis actually opens her blooms around 5:30 pm, perfuming the air right about the time it begins to cool off enough to sit in the shade on the patio.

Four Oclock is very easy to grow. Easy to please, four oclock can be grown in sun or shade. Our plants get morning sun and afternoon shade, but four oclock grows equally well in full shade with a reasonable amount of water. She’s not a water hog, but good soil with regular water will keep the plant looking healthy and green with plenty of those fragrant blooms. Just so you’ll know, plants in our shade garden get very little water, yet still bloom and multiply with profusion. Plants in the sun that receive occasional water perform just about as well as those in dry shade. The few Four Oclocks we have in dry sun are just surviving.

I can’t really describe the fragrance–it’s just a sweet, pleasant scent that invites me to relax outdoors. You might not notice the scent until your plant gets large with many blooms. And if you’re never outdoors in the evening, well…you’ll just miss out entirely.

Another important feature of the fragrant Four Oclock is that hummingbirds just adore it! The hot pink blooms are tubular and full of nectar for both butterflies and hummingbirds. You’ll further enjoy sitting on the patio observing the tiny creatures flitting about around the plants.

Four Oclock dies to the ground with the onset of winter in colder zones, but re-emerges again in late spring. Hardy in USDA Zones 7-11, mirabilis can be grown anywhere in the southern half of the United States.

I must tell you also that Four Oclock is definitely a reseeder. Toward the end of summer you’ll notice small black cannonballs on the plants and the ground beneath. Those are very viable seeds. If you’ve had no luck growing Four Oclock from seed, that’s because these very hard seeds need a cold treatment to break them. It’s best to plant them in fall, but most gardeners don’t think about it then and seeds often are not available in the big box stores at that time of year. You’ll have nearly instant gratification if you go ahead and purchase a tuber instead. Heavy black carrot-shaped tubers will send up a stem very quickly after planting in warm summer soil. Four Oclock tubers are available for summer shipping from Shady Gardens Nursery.

July 30, 2008

Purple Passion Vine: Food for the Gulf Fritillary Butterfly!

Passiflora Incarnata is one of the most exotic-looking plants I can think of, yet it is native to right here in the Southeastern United States!

Dark green foliage begins scrambling over the ground and up neighboring shrubs in May each year. Soon after, large buds open into very unusual purple flowers that attract pollinators of every sort.

Purple Passionvine is an easy to grow deciduous vine that can be found growing along roadsides and in open fields in Eastern Alabama. Large serrated leaves have 3-5 lobes and can be up to 5 inches across. This plant forms tendrils which help it climb up nearby support.

Passionvine, or Passionflower, is also often called Maypop, because of the large egg-shaped fruits that develop all along the vine. My parents say childeren used them as weapons in their day! Some say the fruit tastes much like guava, but it reminds me of green plums. The fruit will open with a ‘pop’ to reveal hundreds of pulpy seeds. Try sucking on them to enjoy the sourness.

Passiflora incarnata is an important larval food source for the Gulf Fritillary Butterfly, so you might observe orange caterpillars devouring your plant!

One suggestion is to plant Passionvine where it can scramble up a shrub, thus disguising the chewed leaves as you enjoy the flowers. (The caterpillars eat only the leaves & fruit–not the flowers.)

For more information, contact us at http://shadygardens.biz.

July 19, 2008

Attracting Butterflies into the Garden

Butterflies are probably everyone’s favorite garden creature. They’re beautiful, mysterious, and romantic. It’s a goal of many gardeners to attract these lovely butterflies into the garden.

Butterflies need 3 things: Water, a nectar source, and host plants on which to lay their eggs.

The preferred source of water for butterflies is a mud puddle. This can be easily created by filling a large clay saucer with clean sand. Place this in a sunny spot in your butterfly garden and keep it moist at all times.

Nectar plants are the food source for adult butterflies. You’ll need Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) of course, which is now available in many colors. Lantana can’t be beat for attracting butterflies. Clethra is a large-growing native shrub that produces sweetly scented flower spikes up to 6 inches long in either pink or white and attracts butterflies by the hundreds. These blooms come in August, a time when flowers are more scarce. You’ll enjoy the fragrance as well, which reminds me of fresh honey. Clethra, also known as Summersweet and Sweet Pepper Bush requires moist soil and full to partial sun. Joe Pye Weed comes in many forms. Eupatorium Chocolate has interesting purplish/black foliage all summer and contrasting white blooms in September & October. Eupatorium coelestinum, Perennial Ageratum or Mistflower, displays bright periwinkle blue blooms in August and September. Helianthus is another late-blooming flower that butterflies love—it has large yellow sunflower-type blooms on tall stems. Of course all the beneficial insects, including butterflies, love Blackeyed Susan, Gaillardia (Blanketflower). In September, butterflies are attracted to Stonecrop (Sedums like Autumn Joy, Matrona, and Vera Jamison.) Dianthus flowers just about all summer, and butterflies are particularly attracted to this plant. You can fill in between bloom times of the perennials with annuals like cosmos, marigolds, and zinnias. Just try not to ever use pesticides in your butterfly garden, because then you would kill the butterflies you are trying to attract.

Host plants are those on which butterflies lay their eggs. Yes, the larva will eat the plants, but without a place for the babies to grow into the beautiful adult butterfly, you can’t have the butterflies! So plant extra parsley, dill, fennel, and milkweed, so you can have plenty to share with the butterflies. An added bonus is that these plants also attract many other beneficial insects!

For more information on this topic, contact us at http://shadygardens.biz/.

November 7, 2007

Antique Shrub Roses for A Carefree Rose Garden

Filed under: antique, Beauty, Butterfly, Carefree, Cascade, China, drought, dry, garden, gardens, Georgia, Mutabilis, nursery, red, rose, Shady, shrub, shrubs — shadygardens @ 6:18 pm

Now that our weather is cooling off a bit, roses are beginning to give us another great show. Even the most popular repeat blooming roses often bloom sparingly during our summer heat. I don’t blame them—I don’t think I’d bloom either! But roses, like us, enjoy this time of year, because the temperatures are more to their liking. Mutabilis Rose is one of my favorites. Sometimes called the Butterfly Rose, because the multicolored blooms look as if a flood of butterflies have landed on it, Mutabilis Rose is an antique rose from China. Single petals open yellow, change first to orange, then to pink, and finally turn crimson, with these different colors on the bush at the same time! Mutabilis Rose is almost thornless and retains its glossy green leaves with no spraying. Carefree Beauty is a large growing shrub rose with huge, fluffy double blooms to match. The pure pink blooms are more vivid during the cooler fall season. This rose literally blooms until the first frost, and I’ve had buds on mine in winter. Blooms are large—up to 5 inches across. Red cascade is classified as a miniature rose, but that’s because of its small leaves and flowers. This rose is certainly not miniature in size or flower power! Once established, Red Cascade is simply covered with blood red double blooms from spring to fall. It makes an excellent groundcover for steep banks but is equally beautiful climbing on a fence or trellis. These roses really bloom continuously all summer, but the fall show is simply spectacular and very welcomed in my garden. If you’re too busy to spray roses, try one of these—they are truly trouble free. Fall is an excellent time to plant roses, because the roots will have plenty of time to become established before next summer’s heat wave. Since we still are not receiving enough rainfall, remember to water regularly after planting, as long as Georgia continues to remain under extreme drought. At least it’s cooler. Enjoy Fall!

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