Old-Fashioned Virginia Shrubs to Give Your Landscape Charm

Virginia is known for classic gardens and beautiful native plants. Check out the following plants to bring old-fashioned charm to your backyard:

Spicebush – Loved by birds and pollinators, this modest understory tree/shrub is found native in Virginia woods. It’s early-April yellow blossoms are clustered along each leafless stem in bundles. The forsythia-colored flowers give way to dark green leaves that have a pleasing aroma when crushed. Swallowtail butterfly larvae feed on these leaves. Bright red berries in the fall will attract birds to your backyard. As an understory plant, it thrives in moist organic soil, and can even take wet feet if you have a swampy area of your yard. Landscape designers often pair spicebush with dark evergreens to highlight the blossoms and fruit.  Like hollies, this shrub has male and female plants, so you’ll need several for pollination and berries. Only the female plants have significant flowers. It spreads to about 10 feet in height and width but is a slow growing plant. You can find Spicebush at Meadows Farms in Fredericksburg, VA.

Snowball Bush – Perhaps you remember a vase-shaped tree in your grandmother’s yard, covered with huge, creamy flowers in June. More than likely it was a Viburnum opulus, often confused with a hydrangea because of the shape of its blossoms. Its puffballs emerge lime green early in the spring, and gradually whiten during the summer, then drying on the tree in a rosy-purple color. Snowball bush can be pruned to reveal the pleasing arches of its branches, with contrasting plantings layered below. This shrub or small tree loves full sun and can tolerate some dryness. Once established, an occasional pruning is all your snowball bush will require. It can be used in hedges (with appropriate shaping) or as small specimen trees.

Bridal Wreath Spirea – The tiny clusters of white blossoms on this large shrub suggests a bridal bouquet. Delicate, long stems are covered in white flowers during most of June. The arching habit of this spirea’s branches makes it an ideal choice for a hedge. It’s unlikely that you’d need a professional landscaper to maintain it or prune. It prefers sunny spots with moderately dry soil. A newer cultivar, Spirea ‘Renaissance’, has been developed with improved fall color. It’s sold by Monrovia Nurseries, which supplies Lowes in Culpeper as well as a number of other nurseries.

Lilac – Of course, nothing is more old-fashioned than the common lilac. The fragrant purple, white or even magenta blossoms occur in April or May in Virginia. Just a vase of these flowers can perfume your entire home. They prefer full sun and well-drained soil. While lilacs can grow into massive bushes, they are very tolerant of pruning and can be brought back into submission by a landscape pro. Lilacs grow when their suckers (shoots that emerge around the main stem of the shrub) are not cut off, and so the shrub will continue to creep into your yard if not pruned properly.


Spicebush Photo Copyright Jason Hollinger
Snowball Photo Copyright Andrew Fogg
Spirea photo Copyright by Luca Bove
Lilac Photo Copyright by Nikk Valentine