For the rest of my life, no matter where else I live or for how long, I think I will associate spirea with Northfield, and Northfield with spirea. The large, lovely, old-fashioned shrubs seen so often in Northfield's older neighborhoods are notable for their gracefully arching stems covered with white flower clusters in late spring. These distinctively arching spireas are Vanhoutte spirea (Spiraea x vanhouttei), and are often called bridalwreath, although apparently this name more properly belongs to Spiraea prunifolia, which looks quite different.
These spirea, along with the tall, lush, many-colored lilacs that grace many of the same neighborhoods, epitomize for me the nostalgic "grandma's house" charm of historic Northfield: lovely old houses, both large and small... big backyards with vegetable gardens and fresh-smelling laundry hanging on the line... stately, mature shade trees... front porches that actually get used on warm summer nights... That's the Northfield I fell in love with when we moved here more than 18 years ago, and spirea is inextricably a part of that experience.
The group of spireas that includes the Vanhoutte (there is another group that bears pink or red blooms in summer) blooms on old wood, so it is important to do any pruning only after it has finished flowering for the season. If you trim it in the early spring, you'll have no flowers, which would be unfortunate indeed. And -- let me be blunt here -- this is one of the shrubs which it is a crime to prune into a standard boring snowball shape, since the beauty of this shrub is in its long, arching, blossom-laden stems. We've probably all seen the pitiful results of spirea that have fallen victim to both the mistakes described in this paragraph: a featureless round blob of a shrub, pruned in spring, so that it bears only a few stray blooms at the bottom where no trimming was done. It's such a sad sight, though I'm sure the tidy-minded property owner meant well.