I am happy to welcome some old friends in my new garden. Some of these are plants that I grew many decades ago and others are more recent acquaintances. The garden is filling, as most gardens do I suppose, with a mix of plants that are bought on impulse, to do a a job, and plants that I am bending over backwards to find and make happy.
One of these is Spiraea prunifolia ‘Plena’. I have never seen this for sale in garden centres and I had great difficulty in finding plants but finally found a supplier and bought three small plants. Subsequently I have found a supplier in Ireland! The reason I wanted to have this in the garden is partly because the flowers are so cute. But it is largely because it grew in an overgrown garden when we lived in a ruined vicarage when I was a child (yes it was as strange as it sounds). The garden was dominated by a huge copper beech while the beds by the Victorian house were full of epimediums, Japanese anemones, Spanish bluebells, Siberian iris and pulmonarias, fighting it out, with some success, with ground elder. Surrounded by brambles and in part shade, a huge mound of Spiraea prunifolia ‘Plena’ was covered, each spring, with arching stems, laden with drifts of snow white blooms. As a child I was captivated by the flowers and I wanted to include this plant, that I had never seen since, in this garden.
It is actually a rather odd plant that, like the double kerria, is best known through the double-flowered form. Although I call it Spiraea prunifolia ‘Plena’, the plena bit is actually unnecessary and the plant was described from the double, garden form so in fact it is just Spiraea prunifolia . It is Chinese, where it has long been cultivated and was discovered by Wilson in W Hupeh. Like many plants from China it was also cultivated in Japan (and vice versa) and it was first introduced from Japan by Siebold in 1845. Just two years later it was already being appreciated for its beauty and plants were sold for a guinea each. It is curious that the single-flowered form Spiraea prunifolia var simpliciflora, is rarely cultivated and Bean (Trees and shrubs hardy in the British Isles) says that it rarely flowers.
Anyway, it is a shrub that can reach 2m high and across and has narrow leaves on slender branches. It is not ugly in leaf but nothing very special but autumn colour can be orange and red. It is definitely a plant with one main season of interest. We live in an age when every plant has to be everything to everyone and most new spiraea introductions are ever-blooming and have colourful foliage. But I think it is refreshing that this plant has one moment of sheer joy.
Obviously it did not bloom last spring but it is flowering now. It seems rather early to me and some of the flower buds are not opening quite as they should, which is slightly troubling. But we will see. It can be pruned (and mine will be pruned) immediately after flowering.
The flowers are small, about 8mm across and are pure white, with many concentric rows of white petals. I think they look like tiny roses. They are unscented. The blooms are in small clusters of three to six. The centres retain a green tinge. With most spiraeas it is the sheer number of flowers that makes them so attractive and useful but I admire every single bloom on this hardy shrub. Of course the flowers are not useful for insects but then the bees and go and feed on my honeyberries which they are studiously avoiding at present. These flowers are for me.