There is a shrub that is criminally underused in gardens. It is one of the few native shrubs that truly offers four seasons of interest, grows in sun or shade but is still unknown to many gardeners. Perhaps the name is offputting, Fothergilla gardenii. It sounds like a hairy paternal relative with poor al fresco table manners. (Or perhaps as Bugs Bunny would say, it is the ‘Gilla my dreams*.)

Yet this shrub is anything but crude, quite the opposite. Perhaps it has not had the sharp focus of marketing geniuses to tout its charms, giving it a catchy name and heavy advertising in glossy magazines, followed by ubiquitousness as every home gardener and professional designer uses it ad nauseum. Perhaps you can be the first on your block to have it, ahead of the crowd, cutting edge. Right now, in fall it sings the seasonal song with notes of pink, orange, red and yellow in the Fairegarden.

In mid April here in southeast Tennessee, the sweet smell of honey permeates the air as the white bottle brush blooms excite the scene.

It plays well with others.

Spring, summer,…

fall and…

…and winter. Please forgive the quality of this shot. I was surprised there even was one in the files. The budded tips of the graceful stems are actually much prettier than this illustration shows.

Here are some fact about Fothergilla gardenii from Mobot:

Common Name: dwarf fothergilla
Zone: 5 to 8
Plant Type: Deciduous shrub
Family: Hamamelidaceae
Native Range: Southeastern United States
Height: 1.5 to 3 feet (mine is taller)
Spread: 2 to 4 feet
Bloom Time: April – May Bloom Data
Bloom Color: White
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low

General Culture:
Easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Prefers moist, acidic, organically rich soils which have good drainage. (Someone forgot to tell my plants they needed moisture.)Best flowers in full sun. May spread by root suckers to form colonies if suckers are not promptly removed. (I dig the suckers and plant them elsewhere.)

Noteworthy Characteristics:
This fothergilla species (sometimes commonly called dwarf fothergilla) is native to the southeastern U.S. It is a compact, slow-growing, deciduous shrub with a dense, mounded, upright-spreading habit which typically grows 2-3′ (less frequently to 4′) tall and as wide. Best ornamental features are its fragrant spring flowers, summer foliage and superior fall color. Features terminal, bottlebrush-like spikes (1-2″ long) of tiny, fragrant, apetulous, ivory white flowers. Flower color comes from the showy stamens (white filaments and yellowish anthers). Flowers appear in spring, usually before the foliage emerges. Rounded to oblong, leathery, dark green leaves (to 2.5″ long) turn varying shades of red, orange and yellow in fall.

No serious insect or disease problems.

Group or mass in shrub borders, foundation plantings or native plantings. Hedges. Mixes easily with rhododendrons which generally share the same soil requirements.

Please consider Fothergilla gardenii the next time you are searching for the perfect shrub. Your garden will thank you. The shrub growing here in the Fairegarden is the species. It gets slightly taller than I would wish, so is pruned every three years or so to maintain the maximum height in the images, about four feet. I don’t want it to block the view of the shed. (The lovely copper rain cups were a giveaway prize that we won, offered by sweet Dee of Red Dirt Ramblings. We think of her while admiring them hanging on the corner of the shed. Thanks again, Dee!)

*Gorilla My Dreams is a 1947 Warner Brothers Looney Tunes theatrical animated short, released in 1948, starring Bugs Bunny. The story is a parody of the many ‘jungle’ movies that were prominent in the 1930s and 40s, including the Tarzan movies. The title is a play on the expression “Girl o’ My Dreams”. The short featured Gruesome Gorilla, who reappeared as a boss in Bugs Bunny and Taz Time Busters. The cartoon was remade in 1959 as Apes of Wrath.
To see the cartoon, click here.


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36 Responses to Fothergilla

  1. debbie in knoxville says:

    I tried this 20 years ago at my very first house in Knoxville – it failed to thrive, maybe from too much shade. I am inspired to try it again from your great photos. Beautiful.

    P.S. I totally enjoyed the cartoon!

    Hi Debbie, thanks. The Fothergilla can take some shade, but needs water to get settled in, like many plants, the first year. Some of the rooted pieces I have moved to other spots in the garden appeared to be dead, only to regrow from the base later. Laziness pays off sometimes. Glad you liked the cartoon, I am a huge Bugsy fan! πŸ™‚

  2. Eileen says:

    Frances, I did look at this shrub when redoing my front garden. However, the variety they had got taller than I had wanted. I will look again in the spring and try to incorporate it into my garden, it sounds lovely.


    Hi Eileen, it is a beauty. I recommend it. The pruning is easily done and does seem to promote a more bushy shrub. I would cut immediately after flowering in spring to not lose any flowers for the next season. πŸ™‚

  3. gittan says:

    Interesting. I googled it and it’s possible to grow that shrub in Sweden to / kram gittan

    Hi Gittan, thanks. I am glad it is possible to grow it there. It is a beauty! πŸ™‚

  4. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Lucky I won’t have to worry about jail time since I have one in the garden. They are beauties.

    HA Lisa, good one! I am glad you have it too. πŸ™‚

  5. Cindi says:

    This was my Father’s Day present to my Dad some years ago. He planted it among the hollies on a south facing slope where it thrived and bloomed on his birthday. My soil is very poor and the site I chose was flat and soggy in winter. I’ll have to try again this time on the south side of the yard under the pines. Thanks for the memories.

    Hi Cindi, thanks for visiting. Your dad and I must have the same general time of birthdays, it blooms on mine as well. Our soil is poor on this steep slope, it may be the soggy that caused the problems for yours. Do try again. πŸ™‚

  6. gail says:

    Dear Frances, It’s a beauty~I’ve tried it in two places three times, but it’s not happy in my nearly neutral cedar glady soil…We can’t grow rhodos here either. But, you’ve given me an idea: Fothergilla major might work in the new mixed border as Hedge is replaced. It’s a slope, in full sun and we can make the soil a bit more acid. xxoogail

    Hi Gail, thanks. Fothergilla would be a good resident in the replacement of hedge bed, if it will grow there. The rhodos struggle here as well, even though we are on the acid side, too dry I believe. Or too something. But the rosemary does so well, it makes me wonder if our soil is actually that acidic. Anyway, good luck to you and thanks for considering something you have already killed several times! That is a true gardener! πŸ™‚

  7. Frances, it is certainly beautiful in your garden. I can’t remember, is your soil slightly acidic? Here, I killed one because of our alkaline soil. It just didn’t make it. I would like to try again though because it is a beauty.~~Dee

    Hi Dee, thanks. I believe we are slightly acidic, although rosemary, lavender, lilacs, etc all do well here. I did not realize the fothergilla was picky about soil ph. It does need water to get established, but after that it is quite drought tolerant here, surprising so since most resources say it needs moisture. It is not getting that here on the steepest part of the slope. Hope it will work for you it you give it another go! πŸ™‚

  8. commonweeder says:

    The only fothergillas I’ve ever seen were way to big for me – so this is great information. Is this small variety as hardy? I am up here in Massachusetts!

    Hi Pat, thanks. You might have seen Fothergilla major, which grows to twelve feet tall. Mobot is saying zones 5 through 8, don’t know if that will work for you or not.

  9. Laurrie says:

    I love this shrub and have two gorgeous ones lining my walk, both now in full fall color. I think they are hard to market because the flowers on a young shrub are spiky and funny looking and they come out before the leaves. Nurseries want to sell shrubs covered in pretty blooms and leaves and this one looks odd at first. But after it settles in the garden, and with a nice evergreen backdrop for the flowers, it’s a stunner. Thanks for highlighting it! Yours are beautiful.

    Thanks for that, Laurrie. I am glad you have these too in Connecticutt. The nursery industry needs to do some public relations work on this. The fragrance of the bloom alone should be enough to sell them.

  10. Fothergilla is very popular around here in commercial landscapes. I don’t know how they grow it, as I’ve killed 4 of them.

    Hi MMD, that is odd. What is their secret to success, I wonder?

  11. Cielo says:

    A wonderful place to be, wander and be lost in magical dreams… beautiful!


    Hi Cielo, thanks so much for those sweet words. That is how I feel about my garden, it is a sanctuary for me. Glad you enjoyed seeing it. πŸ™‚

  12. joey says:

    I love ‘underused’ dwarf fothergilla, Frances, and have 3 flanking my Kousa dogwood in a small front bed by the sidewalk/walkway to front of home. And yes, stunning fall color.

    Hi Joey, thanks for adding to the discussion. I am so happy you are able to grow this in your northern climate too. With the dogwood, that sounds like a spring and fall spectacle!!! πŸ™‚

  13. I have long admired them,but they just never quite made it into my cart. This may be just the extra needed push.

    Hi Ricki, thanks, so nice to see you here. I do hope the next cart pass they jump in! πŸ™‚

  14. I think good drainage is a real key. You are right that it is underused, but judging by how many people have no luck with it, maybe that is why. They do look great in a hedge if left in natural form. I like the bottle brush look. It is such a different texture to have in the garden.

    Hi Donna, thanks for joining in. I am curious as to the reasons for failure, but one thing is for sure here, we have excellent drainage on the steep slope. The fall color right now is unlike anything else, quite pinky orange. It goes with everything. πŸ™‚

  15. I love this shrub too Frances.

    My friend knows that it’s on my wish list and today he was down at a wholesale nursery and he rang me to say that he could get me a 3 foot one but I turned him down as the one I really want is Forthergilla gardenni “Blue Shadow”.

    Hi Rosie, thanks for visiting, so nice to see you here. Blue Shadow sounds nice. There is nothing that I would call blue about mine, but I know there is one named Blue Mist too. I would ring him back and say to get it! πŸ™‚

  16. debsgarden says:

    I am so glad to see you promoting this shrub. I have two of them, and they are among my favorites. Their beautiful leaves have great blue-green color in summer, as well as fabulous fall coloring, and those fragrant spring blooms can’t be beat.

    Hi Deb, thanks. I am glad to hear you have a couple of these fabulous shrubs. Preaching to the choir in your case then. πŸ™‚

  17. Lisa Ueda says:

    I must have this!! I’ve been looking for a nice shrub to block out the view of my neighbors yard and this is lovely. Thank you so much for posting this profile!!

    Hi Lisa, thanks for stopping by. I am so glad you are familiar with the qualities of Fothergilla. There is a tall one, F. major that is also available, if you want privacy, although both are deciduous. πŸ™‚

  18. Hi Frances, Lovely colors and blooms are offered by your Fothergilla. Beautiful images in all the seasons. My little dwarf is not so full as yours. Perhaps I do not give it enough sun or need to dig in some sweet food. I do love the fragrance and texture of the blooms. ;>)

    Hi Carol, thanks. This was a group of three shrubs originally. They have suckered to become on larger group, then outer ones were dug out to plant elsewhere and allow the view of the shed. It gets quite a bit of sun there, but the soil is poor. Good luck with your little one. πŸ™‚

  19. brian says:

    Frances, I LOVE Fothergilla,um, so do the deer here, but I’ll try again! Just received my “Midnight Mystique” bulbs from abroad-you will get some off -set bulbs if I get any!

    Hi Brian, thanks. That is great news! I wish you and your hyacinth the best! πŸ™‚

  20. Cindy, MCOK says:

    I doubt it could take the heat here on MCOK, but oh, how I wish it could!

    Hi Cindy, thanks for stopping by. I don’t know about your zone, but it gets pretty hot here too. If you see one for sale locally, I would ask about that. πŸ™‚

  21. Frances, As I mentioned in my October’s GBBD post Fothergilla is my #1 on my wish list. So beautiful, ever changing, full year interest. LOVE LOVE LOVE it! Great photos as usual πŸ™‚

    Hi Melanie, thanks, glad to hear it! May you find the ‘Gilla your dreams! πŸ™‚

  22. Janet says:

    I put in three Fothergilla in my new garden. They are just starting to turn to their fall colors. I can’t wait for the spring honey scented blooms.

    Hi Janet, that is great! Your new garden already sounds delicious. How fun to begin a new garden. The Fothergillas will be a joy, and probably already are. πŸ™‚

  23. Lola says:

    Oh Ms Frances what lovely gardens you have. It sure is a delight to see it.
    Best of all was the “Bugs Bunny Show” at the end to make me smile after semi-bad news today. Macular Degeneration.

    Hi Lola, thank you. I am so sorry about your bad news, my friend. Glad the Bugsy helped bring a smile.

  24. Phillip says:

    I love this shrub!

    Hi Phillip, thanks for stopping by. Congrats on the cover too! πŸ™‚

  25. I love this shrub and have one planted under a paperbark maple. Usually they don’t quite color up at the same time but some years it happens and is spectacular. I like the way you have a grove of them. Mine got munched by bunnies the first year so I caged it for a few years. Now it’s big enough that they can prune if for me!

    Hi Linda, thanks for joining the conversation. I am so glad you were able to protect the fothergillas while small. Cages have many uses in the garden, even if they are unsightly. I use them when needed. Under a paperbark maple sounds delightful! πŸ™‚

  26. Carol says:

    I have some Fothergilla and I agree, more people should plant it in their gardens. It is good in a massed planting, since it tends to sucker a bit.

    Hi Carol, thanks for adding to the conversation. Glad to hear you have it too. A grouping of it will spread to form a nice thicket. I take the outer ones to plant elsewhere, but don’t really have to. Nothing beats free plants. πŸ™‚

  27. Rose says:

    This is better than any layout in a glossy magazine, Frances! And perfect timing–I planted a fothergilla ‘Blue Shadow’ just a few weeks ago. I had been skimming through different books on shrubs, looking for something with spring blooms and fall color, and one of them highly recommended the fothergilla. But their photographs certainly didn’t show the four-season interest as you do here. I didn’t know about the suckering, though–thanks for the tip. More free plants, maybe!

    Hi Rose, you are too kind, thanks! I hope your blue shadow turns out to be as blue as the photos I have seen. If mine is blue in any way, I have never noticed it. This is a fine shrub, and the scent of the flowers is reason alone to have it in your garden. The flowers and fall foliage are gravy. As for the suckering, it is not in a bad or aggressive way at all, it simply sends up new shoots from the ground, as do many shrubs. πŸ™‚

  28. Sweetbay says:

    That’s one I’ve been meaning to add to my garden for a long time. Unusual flowers and spectacular fall color. Must * get * one! (or several) πŸ™‚

    Hi Sweetbay, thanks for adding in your feelings about Fothergilla. I would definitely call them a must get. πŸ™‚

  29. Hi Frances! Love the photo of your Fothergilla in full bloom! Who wouldn’t love that?! I’ve got two of them – by accident – but it’s a good accident! I planted one several years ago, on the recommendation of Deidre from Big Dipper Farms. The following year, when spring came, I noticed the rabbits had chewed it off all the way to the ground. 😦 I didn’t bother to dig it up, because it was small and what was left was just not in the way. Shortly after that, I purchased another while at the Cincinnati Flower Show. Later in the season, I noticed that original shrub had started growing! And that’s how I was so fortunate to now have two. I protected them from the rabbits by putting a poly tile around them for the winter. Now they’re large enough they don’t need that kind of protection, although neither is as large as your beauty yet.
    And I agree, VERY underused!

    Hi Kylee, thanks, nice to see you here. Good deal on the thought dead but came back to life Fothergilla! That is a good outcome for sure. My planting began with three tiny plants and has spread. The outer ones have been dug to plant along a chain link fence to hide it, mixed with Osmanthus fragrans for evergreen leaves. I hope writing about it will help people look for them at nurseries to add to their gardens. πŸ™‚

  30. Patty says:

    Hello. I have a dwarf cultivar Blue something or other, that just survived its first year. Got some mildew this summer and the colour show in the fall did not happen, but after seeing your wonderful photos I know what I can expect, and eagerly.

    Hi Patty, thanks for visiting. That is great that you have one of the pretty blue foliaged Fothergillas. As you can see in my first photo, the leaves here are less than perfect. It happens sometimes. The fall colors, like those on the trees are different each year, depending on so many conditions. I do hope you get these sherbert colors in time. πŸ™‚

  31. I love dwarf fothergilla and had several of them growing successfully. Then my ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel got the disease it gets (I can’t seem to find the name but Chris Lane who holds one of the National Witch Hazel Collections in England was visiting and identified the disease on my ‘Arnold Promise’)and the fothergilla died. Fothergilla and witch hazel are in the same family so maybe they are both susceptible. Anyway, I cut down the ‘Arnold Promise’, and your article has inspired me to try fothergilla again. Thanks.

    Hi Carolyn, thanks for adding this. I have Arnold Promise and Diane and am horrified to hear that witch hazels get a disease, the fothergillas too! So far they all appear healthy, but I will keep an eye out for anything weird looking. Thanks for the heads up about it. Good luck with trying them again.

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  33. that plant looks fantastic – not sure if it would survive the UK climate?

    Hi Phil, thanks for visiting. I don’t know about the Fothergilla in your climate, but if you can find it, give it a try!

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  35. Marilynn Collin says:

    We live in Portland, Oregon area. Just planted a Fothergilla Major in October. Staff at a large nursery recommended it, as we wanted some Fall color in our backyard ‘Island’. The shrub had only one red leaf when we got it, but we had faith! By mid November, it was red, orange and yellow. Fabulous shot of color mixed in with other plants of dark green, plum and lime green. Can’t wait until Spring!

    That sounds lovely, Marilynn. F. major will get quite large. Mine is the smaller type, but I still have to prune it by half every other year to keep it from blocking the view of the shed. You will love the fragrance next spring.

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