Documents: Latest From: Dan Clost:

Viburnums (viburnia?)
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

July 1, 2001

There is a family of shrubs that doesn't seem to be very well known or used in this area. (Bay of Quinte, North of Lake Ontario, Zone 5 to 6a) I'm referring to the viburnums. One of the great gods of gardening, if I may bestow a lower cased appellation of deity upon him, Michael Dirr has this to say, "A garden without a viburnum is akin to life without music and art." 
Koreanspice, V. carlessi, is the least visually appealing to my eyes.
However, if it is presented in a standard form, i.e., grafted onto or grown into a long stem, and then located in a complimentary location, it can make a minor architectural statement. So, Gentle Reader, you know there must be a reason for mentioning such an unremarkable looking plant. In mid to late spring, when this lassie is in bloom, it releases a fragrance that is almost indescribable. 
Olfactory ambrosia is close. Make sure that you site this gift to your nose upwind from the patio or any place where people will be stationary. The windward side of your front door is a subtle choice to create a subliminal impression on callers. Its foliage is sort of disappointing but any landscaping plan would be incomplete without its inclusion. Design around it but be sure to draw it into your plan. Try slipping it in amongst some yews or dwarf tsugas. If you ever wanted to start a fragrance garden, this would be a spring mainstay. 
If I had my druthers, I would go for an Allegheny. (See the following paragraph for an explanation of the less than complete botanical name.) The leaves are rugose (crinkly) having dark green upper surfaces and slightly tomentose (silvery) on the underside. The stems seem to have a velvety covering while the plant is one of the more compact viburnums. Nice white flowers with lovely fruit that changes from red to black. Its main drawback is that some of our winters might be problematic. However, if you have successfully nurtured a Japanese maple then you might be ready to give this one a try. 
For the record, GR, this Allegheny is a cultivar of V. x rhytidophylloides, itself being a cross of V. lantana and V. rhytidophyllum. As a joke, Mr Dirr even includes a pronunciation key in his book. 
You know, horticulture has been given the short end of the stick. When the common folk were in charge of growing stuff, plants had simple names- apples, roses and lambs quarters. Once the naming boffins were given free rein, things became a tad more difficult. The other sciences like astronomy (stars, moon, sun), anatomy (arm, leg, eye) and mathematics (add, two, graph) got in at the start. All the short words were snatched up for each discipline. Once Carl Linnaeus got around to developing a proper taxonomy there wasn't much left. The real trick is to learn one or two and wait for your gardening conversation to works its way towards your carefully rehearsed jawbreaks. 
Nonchalantly slip in your bon mots and then move on. You may never be required again to repeat them but you will always be remembered as a very learned lad or lassie. 
Back to the point. For the less intrepid, one of its parents, the Mohican or Wayfaring Tree, is a good choice. It exhibits all the characteristics of the Allegheny although it has a more open or coarse form. However, it is a striking specimen. The fruits make a wonderful show often displaying white, red and green simultaneously. This chappie is an avian favourite. In a small grouping, Mohican can beused as a specimen. 
Wonderful reddish bronze colours are best supplied by the plicatum tomentosums. See what I meant by the good words not being available? The cultivar best known may be Mariesii and is one of the best flowering. 
A closing thought on viburnums: they seem to like cross-pollination. Abundant floral and fruiting displays will result, a wonderful opportunity to have several viburnums on your estate.

  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row