Gardening: Viburnums for every occasion

By Leigh Bramwell

We have a big viburnum behind the house, and we want more. Not because we're deeply attracted to viburnums (or weren't until yesterday) but because we have a large area we need to cover quickly, cheaply and thickly, and our viburnum looks like it might do the trick.

Until now we could fairly have been accused of having taken it for granted. Because we can't easily see it from anywhere we tend not to notice what it's doing in any particular season, and apart from occasionally hacking off a branch so the clothesline can still rotate, we do absolutely nothing to it. The fact that it has grown tall, wide, thick and lush all by itself puts it in the lead as a contender for the area of bank we need to cover.

Not being particularly knowledgeable about the viburnum I decided I'd better find out its full name and where I might buy a dozen or so for sixpence each, so I looked it up on the internet. To my embarrassment, I discovered there are dozens, possibly hundreds, of different kinds, and I had no idea which one ours might be.

The images function on Google narrowed the choice somewhat, but it wasn't until I paired it with the following description that I knew I had it right: Viburnum Emerald Lustre.

"Large vigorous dense shrub with bold lustrous green leaves. New shoots are tinged with pink. Fragrant cream-white flowers in spring in pyramidal panicles. Fruits are red, turning black. Will grow in well-drained soil, sun or shade. Tolerates heat, drought, and coastal conditions. Allow plenty of room to grow. Avoid heavy frost."

The description confirmed for me that the impressive performance of our viburnum is not just an accident. Obviously they're a nice, unfussy sort of specimen that will do the business without having to be mollycoddled. Bring them on.

While I was boning up on Emerald Lustre I came across Emerald Beauty.

"You get more than just handsome foliage and beautiful flowers with Viburnum Emerald Beauty," said the blurb. "In addition, there are deep pink buds which look good for some time in winter before they open to reveal the pure white flowers and when these finish there are clusters of attractive, very dark, shiny blue berries."

Oh dear. Maybe Emerald Beauty would be better, I wondered. The pink buds sound yummy and blue berries might be nicer than red. Furthermore, it's a darker green which might look better against the silvery pittosporums nearby and it could be underplanted with Daphne Leucanthe or Rubra, whose flowering time coincides. Or we could intersperse it with Michelia Fiona or Velvet and Cream, or Dichroa Blue Sapphires, an evergreen relation of the hydrangea that keeps on producing big heads of beautiful, sky-blue flowers all summer and autumn.

When it comes to gardening, the internet is a dangerous place.

We're going to go with Emerald Lustre for our bank project, but now that I know a bit more about viburnums I can foresee another half a dozen or so getting space. Viburnum Eve Price is already flowering in among a group of camellias and I think she might be joined by Viburnum opulus Sterile, also known as the snowball tree. Its sterile, snowball-like flowers are often 10cm across and weigh down the branches. It will grow in full sun or part shade and is frost-hardy.

Viburnum macrocephalum is another one that has trusses of snowball flowers opening from green buds in early summer. It does red and yellow tones in autumn and will put up with just about anything except hot, dry winds. Although it is deciduous it may be semi-evergreen in warmer zones.

I also like the idea of Viburnum davidii Female, a little shrub that forms a wide-spreading compact mound.

Its dark, leathery leaves have a pale underside and you get creamy white flowers in spring, followed by gorgeous blue berries through winter. The disadvantage, or advantage, depending on your point of view, is that you only get the berries if Viburnum davidii Female has a mate. Allow me to introduce Viburnum davidii Male. It does the same business as the female, and it's usually recommended you plant one male for every three females. Do not try this at home.

Viburnum Lanarth is a deciduous shrub whose tiered layers of branches are draped with white, lacy florets in late spring. The fresh green foliage is serrated.

Again, it's quite easy to grow and tolerant of most conditions.

And for something rare and unusual, go for Viburnum rhytidophyllum aurea.

It has elongated leaves that are deeply veined and wrinkled, with a dusting of bright gold on the upper surface. (Sounds like me on a bad morning, without the gold.) Green-tinged white flowers come in November, followed by scarlet berries.

The best thing about viburnums is that they soldier on. They tolerate just about any soil, although they have a preference for rich humus that stays moist in summer, and they'll put up with constant neglect.

You can hack and slash them and they come back smiling, or you can not hack and slash them and they'll continue to grow and flower.

If you choose carefully you can plant a selection of these little troopers that will give you flowers and berries just about all year round. They don't deserve to have their light hidden under a bushel, so give them a full frontal position - and not behind the clothesline.

- Hamilton News

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