Clethra alnifolia 'Sixteen Candles'

Sixteen Candles summersweet clethra

CODE: 052-0001
ZONE: 5a
PRICE: $10.00
POT SIZE: 4.5"sq x 3.5", 475 ml

A while back the trend with clethra cultivars was smaller, smaller, smaller. 'Hummingbird' finally met the size requirements, but flopped. Not sales-wise -- everyone had to have it and it sold quite well. The problem is that it flopped visibly in the garden. White fragrant spires don't do much good when they're horizontal at ground level.

Mike Dirr and his wife, Bonnie, came to the same conclusion and were ready to yank theirs out. Fortunately, Mike had the foresight to collect seeds from his plants and raised 260 seedlings up until flowering. He picked out two seedlings that were 'exceptional', one of which held the flowers perfectly upright 'like flowers on a birthday cake'. And thus, 'Sixteen Candles' was born.

I should back up for those of you unfamiliar with this plant. Clethra alnifolia is a great 5-8' high shrub with clean, glossy foliage and extremely fragrant, six-inch long spires of white flowers in August. The flowers eventually senesce and give way to upright pedicels of small, round fruit that last all winter and into the next growing season.

It's always been one of my favorite plants, but size has always been an issue. 'Sixteen Candles' addresses this problem -- it's a dwarf that tops off at 30 inches and spreads to about 42" wide. It still has the same wonderfully fragrant flowers and interesting fruit, but all packaged together in a tighter, more compact habit.

I've grown this plant on wet, north-facing and dry, south-facing walls with equal success, although the blooms seem to last a little longer in shade. It's quite tolerant and should be given a space in every garden.

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