Elf's Home Spirea
"Spirit of Twilight, in the golden gloom
Of dreamland dim I sought you, & I found
A woman sitting in a silent room
Full of white flowers that moved
and made no sound."
-Lady Olive Eleanor Custance
The little deciduous shrub Spiraea cinerea 'Grefsheim' (also spelled S. cineria) is often pruned so that the arching sweep of its branches is ruined. We've let ours go "wild" with only moderate trimming, & it has become much more beautiful than the ones we've seen sheered back to ruination.
It was very small when we planted it (in 2000) & even now it started its third spring in our yard, it was still under four feet tall & before we moved it to another location it was about five wide. A typical mature height can be five to six feet high.
It deserves its delightful common name "Elf's Home Spirea" since it really is possible to imagine fairies moving among the fine branches of dark blue-green leaves & sparkling white tiny blossoms. It seems to be much more popularly grown in mainland European gardens than in American, & the more so in Scandinavian gardens because it is so cold hardy.
It prefers moist soil & full sun, though it will do very fine in Zone 8 in partial sun. In our garden it begins blooming a bit in March when new leaves aren't quite formed, & this is considerably earlier than other spireas most of which are late Spring or Summer bloomers. It is in full bloom in April when the leaves have emerged & are about half their eventual size.
In much colder areas than our region, such as high in Canada or around the Great Lakes, Elf's Home will wait until May to bloom, hence it is sometimes called Maybush.
The leaves start out almost miniature, but by summer have elongated so much they almost look like bamboo leaves. The autumn colors are yellow & lime-green. You can see an November portrait of this shrub on the Elf's Home Spirea Page of the Autumn Leaves Gallery.
The early April 2002 photograph up top shows the Spiraea behind a 'Girard's Crimson' Azalea that blooms later in April but is already showing some red through the buds. The Spiraea's leaves have not yet reached full size, which makes the tiny flowers appear larger.
Spiraeas generally need their old wood cut back to refresh them. With this one, this Spring (2002) starts its third year in the ground without pruning, & it still bloomed well on every branch. But we did finally prune it come Autumn when it was dormant, as it would otherwise eventually stop blooming on old wood. I was tempted to let it go another year unpruned to see what exactly it will do given its liberty. Unfortunately, other shrubs were outgrowing it so rapidly that it was at risk of becoming invisible, so I pruned it in autumn & moved it to a new location.
The usual recommendation is to take off one-fourth or one-third of the branches very close to the ground, trying to get only the oldest branches. This stimulates Spring growth from the crown just under the cuts. The few specimens I've seen in nurseries, peoples' yards, or in photographs, have all had considerably more than one-third pruned out, & often sheered instead of having older branches trimmed to the ground; this is why the fountaining effect is so often lacking.
I did hard prune it for the transplant, but then again let it grow wild & fountaining, & will not prune it much more often than every third year, though others may honestly prefer a smaller compact bush without sweeping branches, & for that effect a fuller hard pruning can be done as often as annually.
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