Monday, October 23, 2006

Virginia sweetspire - Inaugural garden blogging

Readers of A Lovely Promise complain, justly, about the irregular and infrequent posting here. And when a new post appears, more often than not it's about something grim. Say, what about that "gardening" that the subhead seems to promise?

So here's a resolution intended to brighten up the blog and guarantee a certain amount of posting each week: Monday garden blogging.

The plant in the image above looks exactly as it does in my garden, although the picture was not taken there. It's a selected variety of a native shrub, Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), called 'Henry's Garnet'. The leaves color in late September and stay on the plant through Thanksgiving, blazing especially brightly when backlit by the ever-lower sun. Sweetspire's natural habitat is moist stream banks. Even the wild, unselected forms turn brilliant colors in the fall. Another nursery selection I've grown is called 'Saturnalia', which lives up to its festive name when its leaves turn: each is a different shade of crimson, scarlet, orange, gold, or yellow.

Despite its natural preference for moist, acid soil, sweetspire seems to thrive in a sunny, unsheltered part of my garden in alkaline clay soil, where I provide no extra water except in drought conditions. Each spring I scratch in a little Holly-Tone (an organic fertilizer for acid-loving plants), mulch with chopped-up oak leaves, and that's it.

The long spires of white blooms in late May are pretty, but not as fragrant as advertised, and not reason enough to grow a plant with a somewhat rangy habit that takes up three or four feet in each direction. That reason is the month of November. When things are getting grey and bare all around it, sweetspire glows on. I hope not to need as much cheering-up this November as in others past, but if so, 'Henry's Garnet' can be counted on to help.



At 6:08 PM, October 24, 2006, Blogger Thomas Nephew said...

In-sweet-spiring! I may look around for some, it may work out well in my rather shady garden. I know, light is better, I just don't have much. Stupid trees.

At 8:53 PM, October 24, 2006, Blogger Nell said...

Seeing it in a nursery in November is how I came to grow it to begin with. By the time of year when Itea puts on its show, most gardeners have stopped visiting garden centers.

I think it will still color well in part shade, and you definitely have the more acid soil it prefers. Water well for the first year, to let it get established, and you're home free.

There's a miniature version called 'Little Henry'.

Stupid trees.

{LOL!} You sound like Henry Mitchell! One of my favorite garden writers. He was the Post's gardening columnist for many years, and there are two very worthwhile collections of his columns, One Man's Garden and... can't remember the title of the other right now. Though I can quote whole sections of his pieces.

He firmly believed that DC and its close-in surrounding cities had gone in way too heavily for trees. His distaste came from his own experience (he was a bearded iris nut, er, enthusiast) and from his role as advisor to DC gardeners (he'd been asked a few hundred times too many about what plants would flower prolifically in shade).


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