If you have visited an old homestead in the north, chances are good that you have seen a Vanhoutte spirea. These were a staple of gardens decades ago, but fell out of fashion for a while. They are raising in popularity once again, as people want reminders of their grandparents garden. Called everything from Vanhouttei, Vanhoute, or bridal wreath spirea, these spring blooming bushes show a cascade of snow white clusters arcing down from the top of the bush.
These bushes also form pet tunnels – bare sections under the arcs that pets enjoy lounging in – when left untrimmed. They form mounds about 6 ft tall in the shade, higher in the sun. It’s amazing the amount of flowers it can produce in the shade, or on the north side of a house. The shade does keep it a bit more sparse, though. It would be a more lush mound with more sun. It makes an awesome privacy hedge if left in this large mound shape.
The small, lobed leaves give it a somewhat lacy look, in a soft fern-green in spring to a blue-green shade as summer comes. The leaves are very soft to the touch. The lily of the valley underneath ours blooms at the same time, and the leaf contrast stands out. Since it has been around for so long, you know it is very hardy, and will put up with a variety of abuse and still look good.
As with any plant, it has it’s disadvantages. As lovely as the flowers are, they don’t do well as a cut flower. Too much agitation has them loosing their petals. And while it can be used as a trimmed hedge, I find it is not the most attractive in that shape. It looks more twiggy that way, and there is little spring bloom. When not in bloom, it can look very average from a distance. The tips do seem to attract aphids in spring, but you don’t see much actual damage from the aphids.
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A new variety that I really enjoy is called Pink Ice. It has the typical wonderful traits of the white flowers and scalloped leaves, but the shape seems to be a bit smaller overall. Best of all, the leaves turn pink, cream, and bright green in spring. Absolutely stunning! That color can repeat in fall, if trimmed at the right time, since it appears on new growth. The new stems also have a pink tint to them. I miss the height of the regular vanhoutte, but this will work better in more gardens.
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