Jewel of the Garden

Itea with Stachys officinalis in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Itea with violet Stachys officinalis (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

I’m not much of a fashionista where jewelry is concerned, although I do own a few unique pieces that I absolutely treasure.  And that’s the case when it comes to gems of the garden, as there couldn’t be a more remarkable shrub than Virginia sweetspire, Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’.  An amiable border companion, native to woods and wetlands from Pennsylvania to Texas, this beauty embellishes the garden in spring (May-June) with fragrant, white racemes that dangle like tempting lures from each branch tip. Yet that’s not where the show concludes with good ol’ Henry, no sir.  Starting in October, and often lasting through December, itea virginica produces the most outrageous, stunning display of ruby red foliage you have ever seen.  I guarantee it.

Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet' in Fall in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Fall colors of Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Not only is Henry the handsome hunk of the border, but he is an accommodating gent that will tolerate a wide range of living conditions as well.  From part shade to full sun (I think the brightest display may come from more sun exposure) in zones 5-9, as long as the soil stays slightly moist, sweetspire will even grow in clay conditions.  Itea virginica makes a wonderful foundation or specimen planting, and you won’t find a better shrub for naturalizing a woodland or for planting in a wet area to help prevent erosion.  It has a nice mounding form that will reach about 4 feet tall by 6 feet wide, however, it does have one itsy bitsy drawback . . .

Itea's fragrant spring blossoms in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Itea’s fragrant spring blossoms (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Like a few of the male species, Henry often displays a sense of wanderlust.  He thinks the grass is greener, which results in multiple tendrils popping up a few feet from the original shrub.  The explorer that Henry is, you can’t blame him for trying to break out of the garden’s borders.  But with a little pruning every now and again, you’ll easily be able to curb his desire to travel too far.  Or, perhaps you’re a bit of an adventurer yourself.  If so, sit back and allow this crimson jewel to do what it does best-dazzle.

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