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Credit: Peter Symcox

Viburnum are (extremely) easy-to-grow shrubs that deserve some space in the home garden


There is a genus of over 150 different shrubs which, as far as I can tell, seems to be overlooked by the majority of gardeners in favour of the more flamboyant varieties of rhododendron and azalea.

The shrubs to which I refer are less brazen in their appeal, their leaves less spectacular and in general they are more – dare I say it? – dignified. I am referring, of course, to all those varied members of the Viburnum family, which are extremely easy to grow and which, in my opinion, deserve to be far more extensively cultivated than they are.

Liking nothing more than a reasonably fertile soil and plenty of moisture (thus ideal for the Pacific Northwest), they are all beautiful in flower, as well as in berry – the latter being either red, purple or, in some rare cases, yellow. Prune them after flowering, if you will, but by doing so you will have to forsake the splendour of their berries.

With few exceptions, most species originated from Asia and it is that indefatigable gardener Lord Aberconway whom we have to thank for some of the more fragrant and desirable species, such as V. x bodnantense, with its whorls of dark-pink, fragrant flowers atop one another on slender stems; it blooms almost continuously throughout the winter – very gratifying.

Most viburnums bear heads of smallish flowers, either pink or white, frequently with pinkish buds opening to white-flushed flowers, often covering the whole bush with colour. V. tinus ‘Gwenllian,’ pictured above, is particularly attractive, easy to grow and a source of pleasure during the winter.

The leaves of many species turn red or purple in the fall (as with V. plicatum f. plicatum, also known as the Japanese snowball bush). Curiously, the similarity does not end there, for there are other varieties of viburnum known as lace-cap, each with an outer ring of sterile flowers surrounding the fertile flowers within, V. opulus being one of the better known. Also known as the European cranberry bush, V. opulus has bright-red berries. V. opulus ‘Xanthocarpum,’ however, bears bright-yellow fruits.

Of course, there is always a serpent in Eden, and in this case, it is the viburnum’s susceptibility to a variety of pests and diseases, which may account for the wariness of gardeners concerning these lovely shrubs. Aphids, weevils, Japanese beetles and mealybugs are among the most common pests, although, to be honest, I have never known them to be a problem. So, why not try them, if you have not already done so. Give them full sun or partial shade, and play the adventurous soul, and include two or three varieties in your beds and borders.