Plant of the month


Viburnum is a genus of about 150–175 species of flowering plants in the moschatel family Adoxaceae. 

My childhood memory of walking to school clutching a bunch of snowballs for my teacher is so strong even today, many, many years later. I have always had a love affair with ‘the snowball bush’ and am still filled with delight when I see them in my neighbourhood, bowing under the weight of heavily laden branches of snow white powder puffs. I know now that my dad’s snowball bush was of course Viburnum opulus ‘Sterile’, however for me they will always be called the snowball bush. Thank goodness we will soon be able to enjoy wandering through other people’s gardens again as mine is now too small for snowballs!

What a fabulous genus we have with the versatile and garden-worthy Viburnum. There are so many different varieties, it is impossible to choose a favourite. They offer something for everyone, whether it’s their colourful bird attracting berries, showy pink, white or cream flowers, wonderful fragrance, or sometimes brilliant autumn foliage and stem colour, the options are seemingly endless. They can be either deciduous, semi deciduous or evergreen and their tiny flowers cluster together to form what is called an inflorescence, or a corymb which when studied closely, or viewed from afar, is very complex and very beautiful. Viburnums have certainly stood the test of time and there are a few that stand out for me.

Of course, Viburnum opulus ‘Sterile’ – the snowball tree. This large shrub flowers during spring, starting with small slightly perfumed apple green showy and profuse snowballs that grow larger, turning to white. It is one hardy shrub that enjoys growing in all positions. I used to love to pick the small green balls for a pretty vase for inside, so lovely. Great for the shrubbery, as a specimen or like my friend did, try using this one for a hedge! Spectacular! Full sun to part shade. Frost and drought tolerant. Height to 3m. Width to 3m.

A hybrid called Viburnum x burkwoodii is a real beauty. Flowering in spring with 10cm round heads of white tubular flowers with a tinge of pink, this bush is intensely fragrant. It is a partly deciduous shrub that I would like to see planted more often because it is so hardy and offers so much. Just a small sprig of this heavenly perfumed plant will weave its delicious scent throughout your home. Full sun to part shade. Frost and drought tolerant. Height to 3m. Width to 3m.

Hard to go past, Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’ always reminds me of a magnificent bridal gown – the type referred to as a meringue! It has to be one of the finest deciduous garden shrubs available today. A wonderful pyramid shaped shrub featuring tiered branching with large flat lace-cap heads of flowers in late spring, covering the rich dark green foliage. This gives a wonderful flowing waterfall effect. The leaves turn yellow/bronze in autumn before they fall. It makes for a brilliant specimen shrub. Height to 2.5m. Width to 2m. Full sun to part shade. Frost and drought tolerant.

The regular form of Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum is a much larger deciduous mounded shrub of the plicatum species. Again pyramid shaped with tiered branching. Covered with large flat flowers in spring, in autumn the leaves turn a yellow/bronze colour. A great one for the large garden for hedging, a specimen or a down the garden path plant. Height to 4m. Width to 4m. Full sun to part shade. Drought and frost hardy.

Viburnum odoratissimum is my favourite for hedging and screening. It is a large upright evergreen Viburnum with long glossy leathery leaves. In spring, clusters of small fragrant flowers appear. Its dense foliage makes for a neat, tight lush looking screen that can be clipped to a lower height. Height to 4m. Width to 3m. Full sun to part shade. Drought and frost tolerant.

Viburnum tinus Laurustinus is a much used, reliable tough shrub often used to create a strong, thick hedge. It flowers in winter with lovely pink and white clusters and thrives in full sun. This evergreen shrub survives in a range of conditions and soil types and as we all know, it is bullet proof! Height to 3m. Width to 3m. Full sun to part shade. 

Viburnums are really tough plants that don't demand much attention. They are not particularly bothered by any pests. When the flowers are finished at the end of spring, you could remove them to tidy up the bush if you wish but they are happy to grow without you having to fuss over them. Once you plant a Viburnum or three in your garden, you are guaranteed much enjoyment from season to season for many years to come. Your local garden centre will be happy to help you with ‘click and collect’ if you just can’t wait!!!