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It remains a mystery why some shrubs are never offered in garden centers and yet have feature after feature of desirability. Here is a one that is drought tolerant (as well as damp), alkaline spoil tolerant, salt air tolerant and requires relatively no maintenance for years. And it has outstanding ornamental qualities. It is the Clove currant, or Ribes odoratum. Ribes is a large genus of over 150 species spread about the northern hemisphere and the best know currants are the red, black and white currants which are so popular in the UK for their tasty fruit. The Clove currant on the other hand is a tough and rangy North American cousin that is almost totally overlooked even in North American gardens. And yet it has a wonderful combination of attractions. To start in Spring the Clove currant has lovely yellow flowers that crowd the branches and are almost as showy as forsythia and a magnet for butterflies. But even if the bright foliage remained out of sight, the wonderful fragrance of cloves (hence the common name) emitted by those flowers would easily proclaim its whereabouts. And this scented bloom continues for weeks. This unique fragrance makes the spring bloom of the Clove currant something that is eagerly looked forward to every year. And if that bloom and fragrance were the only traits this shrub possessed it would be more than worthwhile cultivating. But of course, there is more. The leaves, three to five lobed with a light scalloping, are a most attractive blue-green that turn a handsome yellow, flushed red, in autumn. And finally there are the fruit, beautiful little jewels shading from deep red to black found densely clustered along the stems. They can be eaten fresh, or as is more commonly done, made into jelly, jam or compote. But if some of the berries are left on the shrub they are blessing to the birds and small mammals.

Clove currant has a loose and irregular form and may eventually reach 12 feet with a similar spread. By the time it has achieved those proportions however, it will be several years old and may be in need of some tidying up by way of pruning shears. And with that maturity it may begin to spread by suckering, forming large thickets. This is easily controlled by regular mowing however if space is not available. But it does show another potential use for a Clove currant which its adaptability as a screen, or as a beautiful, showy and fruitful hedge. Otherwise it is beautifully suited to the back of the border.

Regrettably, Clove currant is almost non-existent in most nurseries so only a very, very few mail-order nurseries may offer it. This bullet-proof, animal friendly shrub has some degree of cold tolerance being well adapted to the upper US and perhaps southernmost Canada but it is intolerant of heat and humidity excluding it from the American South and parts of Australia. Otherwise it is well adapted to temperate Australia, New Zealand and the UK.


Questions or advice, please feel free to contact us at: selousscout7@yahoo.co.uk

Featured shrub 
Clove currant