The Green Industry is in the business of marketing and selling plants. As a horticultural writer and a gardener, one of my goals is to inform readers of what happens in the real world once you succumb to those glossy photographs and decide to purchase a plant. Ergo, the periodic updates on particular plants, such as the Clethra alnifolia ‘Caleb’ (‘Vanilla Spice’).
I’ve come to the conclusion that all these newer Clethra varieties require considerable coddling. Even then, they don’t always succeed. My Clethra ‘Hummingbird’ lasted all of one season before succumbing to winter weather. The Clethra ‘Vanilla Spice’ has languished until this summer.
There’s a well-known adage among gardeners regarding newly installed plants: “The first year it sleeps; the second year it creeps; the third year it leaps.” Not so for the Clethra ‘Vanilla Spice’. Installed as a one-gallon plant, the first year it showed healthy growth; the second year it showed moderate growth; and the third year it didn’t grow at all. Finally, in its fourth year, the plant is starting to fill out nicely.
In spite of a long, cold winter that killed off all my Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ (I didn’t think anything could kill off catmint), my deceptively delicate looking ‘Vanilla Spice’ came through the winter without so much as a broken twig. In order to give the shrub some encouragement, I did apply a balanced slow-release fertilizer in early June, and that, along with regular rainfall this summer, seems to have improved its performance.
The ‘Vanilla Spice’ is now 3′ (91 cm) tall by 3′ wide. As you can see from the photo, the flower production is prolific. The glossy green leaves are fungus free, with just a bit of leaf chewing by some mystery coleoptera.
While not as robust as a species Clethra, I can recommend the ‘Vanilla Spice’ for its neat habit and deliciously fragrant flowers at a time of year when the garden needs a bit of a visual boost.