Yesterday I visited Blithewold, a public garden in Bristol, Rhode Island. Don’t remember ever driving there in the fall so I was surprised to find so much color in the landscape as I walked around the garden.
One plant that got my attention was the Harlequin Glorybower [what a name] or Clerodendrum trichotomum.
It is a small tree, probably eight feet high, planted along the wall at the corner of the North garden, right near the house. It’s a great choice for fall color since it forms brilliant blue berries surrounded by red calyxes by this time of the year.
I mention this tree because it is native to China and Japan, but it grows well at Blithewold, which boasts of many exotic plants.
In nineteenth-century America the search for newer plant varieties often supported an inclination to explore areas outside rather than within the United States, including China and Japan. Through most of the nineteenth century, the seed and nursery catalogs considered native plants to be less desirable for the home landscape or garden than exotic or imported plants. Garden historian Denise Wiles Adams in her book Restoring American Gardens examined American seed and nursery catalogs from 1750 well into the early twentieth century and found that there were one hundred and three plants listed continually in the catalogs. Although there were a number of native plants on the list, the majority were exotic.
Today the argument about the need to grow native plants is important, but American gardeners can still enjoy exotic plants in the garden as we always have.
Blithewold proves an example of a public garden that cultivates both native and exotic plants.