Harlequin glory bower

One of the most asked about shrubs on the property is the one that nearly hits us all in the nose as we walk towards the North Garden from the mansion. The Harlequin glory bower or Clerodendrum trichotomum stands at the very corner of the top of the North Garden wall and in August it really-truly does pack a wallop. The scent from its clustered white flowers is knock-out strong, even cloying, if it isn’t dissipated by a breeze off the water. But the shrub is almost more noticeable now that the bright blue – a kind of southwestern turquoise – berries have formed. And just so that we won’t miss the berries, they’re surrounded by glossy red calyxes. It’s a stunner of a plant and I’ve never seen a single visitor pass it by without stooping to look for its name.

The harlequin glory bower (also known as the peanut butter shrub because – and I never knew this until this minute and haven’t gone back out to sniff for myself – the foliage smells like raw peanut butter – who knew?!)  is listed as being hardy from zones 7-9 and is supposed to die back to the ground in the colder zones. Ours however, even in this exposed, zone 6 to 7ish location (only its feet are protected by the North Garden wall) has grown over the years into a very elegant specimen.

The species’ one liability is aggressiveness. It suckers like mad and seeds itself around – a bad combination that has earned it the reputation for being invasive. But I believe it isn’t in danger of escaping cultivation because the birds aren’t interested in the berries. Berries simply drop and grow where they fall. And you know me – I think any aggressive plant that can be easily controlled by an attentive gardener with a weeder or a spade (and shared with friends) is a keeper.

I might have already mentioned that the North Garden wall, which not incidentally is celebrating its 100 year birthday this very month, is going to be restored this winter. The shrubs along its edge will have to be removed, along with all of the plants in the beds below, before the project starts. I’m sad to see this one go but my hope is that it will survive the winter in a nursery bed. But if it doesn’t come through, I’m sure one of its pups will take its place, if not in that exact location again, then elsewhere on the property.

Have you met a Harlequin glory bower yet? Do you think it’s more of a menace or a miracle?



6 thoughts on “Harlequin glory bower

  1. Okay, so about that hardiness, I’ve read that too, but I’M growing it, they grow tons of it at Arnold Arboretum–AND they have a whole grove of it at Van Berkum Nursery way up in New Hampshire. I’m thinking it’s a solid 5!

    I never realized until this year how great the flowers smell. Love it! It can spread all it wants here.

    Andrew, It makes me wonder if the literature has been wrong all along or is this plant changing for the hardier? -kris

  2. It is fabulous! I was there last week. Can’t wait to see what will happen in the No. Garden. You girls do a wonderful job!

    Thanks, Carolyn! -kris

  3. Will you save me a baby? Or, where can I buy this bush locally? Thanks.

    Lyn, Blithewold’s babies are spoken for but check out the comment below yours. And if you can’t find it at Tranquil Lake after all, remind me next spring – my own plant will probably have a suckers that will need new homes. -kris

  4. You can buy the plant at Tranquil Lake Nursery in Rehobeth. It needs protection the first couple of years but once established you will have no problems. Good luck.

    Anthony, Thanks for the tip! -kris

  5. HI Kris, yes, i noticed the Beauty on my first visit to Blithewold a few years ago, it must have been autumn as well because I recall the scent. I too have searched for the plant so I am grateful to know of a nursery where I might purchase it! I really hope the parent plant survives, it is a Beauty!

    Marianne, I hope the mother plant survives too! But if not, at least the babies grow quickly. You’ll see! -kris

  6. I bought this plant after seeing it at Blithewold, but I have a question about pruning. Do you grow this as a tree form or shrub? Should I let mine grow for a few years then prune the lower limbs?

    Anna, you can pretty much prune it any way you want! It blooms on new wood so early spring is the best time to shape it. -kris

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