Henry is a dwarf or compact variety of Virgina
Eve is mesmerizing; it's the first pink selection of
Virginia sweetspire. It was introduced by Woodlanders,
Inc. in Aiken South Carolina but discovered by Nancy
Bissett of The Natives Inc. in central Florida and named
for her daughter. Woodlanders describes the flowers as
white but with pink pedicels making the long dangling
racemes or blooms look pink.
planted it a few years when I was with the Coastal
Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah. We placed it
close to the entrance of the shade garden, and it has
been stellar. When in bloom you’ll know from a
distance that you are looking at a Virginia sweetspire
that is something special. It reaches 4 to 5 feet in
height with an equal spread.
you have never grown a Virginia sweetspire also called
Virginia willow, I would ask, why not? They are known
botanically as Itea virginica and native from Texas to
Illinois to Pennsylvania and southward to Florida. That
is a vast area geographically, and they are cold hardy
from zones 5-9. "Itea" is Greek for willow,
and although it is not a willow, its graceful habit and
sweetly fragrant flowers will make it a natural for your
woodland gardens and paths.
be honest I don’t think I have ever met a Virginia
sweetspire selection or generic that I did not like. The
award-winning Henry’s Garnet and Little Henry a
compact version are-both dazzling in the landscape with
their fragrant white flowers hanging downward in spires
and bringing in the pollinators. Reports say Longspires
has the longest blooms and Saturnalia even more
sensational in fall color.
sweetspires usually bloom in April and May though I
photographed Sara Eve in full bloom last March 14 in
Savannah. The long, white or pink flower spires brighten
up shady areas as clumps produce hundreds of blooms.
Virginia willows have handsome dark-green foliage until
fall when it turns into striking shades of red-purple
and burgundy. I’ve seen Henry’s Garnet and Little
Henry both flaming in fall color that persists for
months, maybe all winter in the lower South.
gorgeous clump-forming shrub has other excellent
virtues. It is disease and insect resistant. It thrives
in moist, heavy soils, yet has proven to thrive in heat
and drought conditions. It is considered evergreen with
temperatures from 15 to 20 degrees and deciduous in
colder climates and has recovered from temperatures as
cold as minus 20 degrees F.
forms additional clumps by spreading underground stems.
It is not hard to keep in bounds or maintained. Pruning
will help you develop the desired arching, mounding
shrub look versus a thicket or briar appearance.
ideal location would be in a naturalistic area where
they receive morning sun and afternoon shade. They
combine beautifully with the Encore azaleas late booming
group like the pink Autumn Carnival or red Autumn Bravo.
you choose a shadier location, the growth habit will be
more open and sparse, while in a full sun site it will
be bushier and require more water. The best time to
fertilize is late winter. Use a cup of a slow release
balanced fertilizer around evenly under mature plants.
is coming and now would be a great time to start
searching out a source for your Sarah Eve or one of the
other great selections of Virginia sweetspire like Henry’s
Garnet or Little Henry. There are natives that deserve a
place in the landscape, and the Virginia sweetspire is
among the best.