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Fothergilla 'Mount Airy'

Photo: Dr. Robert Polomski

As noted in previous columns, I am fond of shrubs and trees that provide multi-season interest. This month, I want to introduce you to fothergilla. Two species of fothergilla hail from the Carolinas: dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenia), common in the coastal plain and further south to the Florida panhandle, and mountain or large fothergilla (F. major), which occurs primarily in the mountains and in parts of Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.

Fothergillas produce white, honey-scented bottlebrush-like flowers, attractive summertime leaves, and vibrant fall colors of yellow, apricot, and burgundy. Large fothergilla tends to be less persnickety in the landscape than dwarf fothergilla; it also can grow up to 6 m high compared to the 60-90 cm high and wider spread as it suckers dwarf fothergilla.

I actually prefer the naturally occurring hybrids between dwarf fothergilla and the large fothergilla. Cultivars of Fothergilla xintermedia are vigorous, compact, prolific bloomers and reliable fall color. They typically grow less than 1.5 m. high. Two favorite hybrids are ‘Blue Shadow’ and 'Mount Airy,' whose summertime foliage is blue and blue-green, respectively.

This trouble-free stalwart native is a good choice for sunny to partially shaded woodland gardens, foundation plantings, and borders. To overwhelm your olfactory and visual senses, plant more than one fothergilla.