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Itea virginica (Sweetspire) ‘Little Henry’

Height: 1 m (3 feet – see below re hardiness)
Spread: 1.25 m (4 feet)
Bloom: Arching fragrant white flowers in early summer
Exposure: Full sun to part shade
Foliage: green, great scarlet fall colour
Pluses: fall colour

For me the jury is still out on this one. Itea virginica ‘Little Henry’ (Sweetspire) is a small go anywhere shrub. It has a low mounding habit but spreads by suckers which can be a problem. The best feature of this plant is it’s outstanding fall colour and each fall, after a non-discript summer, I reaffirm yes OK I really like this one. Overall consider it a good background plant most of the summer and let it come into it’s own in late fall.

Itea Virginica July
Itea Virginica (Litte Sweetspire) 2007

The overall shape is slightly arching although it spreads by underground runners or suckers which can run quite far from the original plant. It is an attractive small shrub although not a show stopper in summer. I consider it more of a background or filler plant letting other plants and shrubs take the spotlight like peonies and hydrangeas.

Itea virginica Little Sweetspire 2006
Itea virginica in bloom June 2006

Many pictures on the web show Itea Little Henry busting with bloom atop the foliage however this has yet to happen in our Zone 5 Southern Ontario garden. Although Little Henry survives our winter, the top suffers from significant dieback where it receives no snowcover. I have had to cut it back to less than 2 feet each spring which of course means I’ve lost many of the seasons blooms. Those that survive tend to be tucked inside the plant below the new growth encouraged by my spring pruning.

Itea virginica fall colour
Little Sweetspire Fall Colour

Then along comes fall. Little Henry Sweetspire is an outstanding performer for fall colour. The foliage is almost a translucent red with shades from deep red to a brighter orange-red. It holds it colour very late into the fall and in some years holds it’s leaves right to December.

Garden Location: While I still like this plant I removed them from my Kitchen Patio Garden in 2010 to be replaced by boxwoods. Between the winter dieback and severe spreading by runners they started to look quite bedraggled in the garden. I hope to add them back into the Woodland Garden soon where their more natural look will better suit the space they are in.

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