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?