Tuesday, May 22, 2012
The Virginia sweetspire was there after all
Those jeep rides around the farm back in late March and early April yielded some wonderful discoveries. First, the colony of Atamasco lilies. Then, the discovery of a Piedmont native azalea. I posted a photograph of the latter when it was in thick bud. At the time, though, I lamented that there was no Itea virginica along the creek where I'd seen it in profusion before.
It turned out, I couldn't see the forest for the trees. A return visit to the site of the native azalea, already past its bloom, yielded a surprise. I'd been so busy looking at the pink honeysuckle blooms of Rhododendron canescens that I'd missed the Itea virginica right next to it.
I was reminded of the plant this past weekend, when I went to Charlottesville, Virginia, to see my daughter graduate from law school. I took a walk around her neighborhood. The peonies were just going over, as were the roses. But, in a shady glade that was quite beautiful, I saw a row of Virginia sweetspire in bloom. I was reminded that I hadn't posted my own picture of this native plant.
This deciduous shrub grows along the creek banks of the Eastern U.S., but it does very well in shady garden situations. In fact, it does too well sometimes, spreading rapidly. But with a little management, this is a wonderful shrub to own if you don't have a lot of sun. Despite its position in shade, it turns beautiful colors in the fall.
Here's what Dr. Michael Dirr says of the plant: "An interesting native shrub valued for fragrant flowers at a time when few plants are in flower...on some specimens the fall color is fantastic.....not utilized enough in American gardens; it would make a good choice for naturalizing in moist areas...not given sufficient credit for drought tolerance which is considerable."
I remember seeing this in a garden on the Atlanta Botanical Garden's tour on Mother's Day weekend several years ago. It was amazing what the couple had done with a shady situation. The Virginia sweetspire 'Henry's Garnet' was dripping with long white flowers and blended well with all their Japanese maples and hostas.
So, it was a wonderful surprise to see it growing over the creek at the farm, so beautiful against the flowing water. I look forward to going back and seeing the plants in the fall. As I remember, the leaves were a translucent, glowing red. We shall see.