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"The many faces of the genus Viburnum," by the Whistling Gardener

We have a vast palette of plants to choose from for our northwest gardens, and in many cases they come from the same genus. The genus Pinus for instance includes eastern white, Japanese white, red, black, Swiss, Ponderosa, mugo, and so on and so forth. These are all different species within the same genus.
Brandywine Viburnum. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

We have a vast palette of plants to choose from for our northwest gardens, and in many cases they come from the same genus. The genus Pinus for instance includes eastern white, Japanese white, red, black, Swiss, Ponderosa, mugo, and so on and so forth. These are all different species within the same genus.

Cotoneaster is another genus that provides us with at least a half dozen different species, from low growing ground covers to larger shrubs.

The genus Viburnum is yet another one that gives us multiple species to enjoy in our yards.

Viburnums are all shrubs that grow well for us here in the northwest. They can tolerate a wide range of soils and are happy in sun or shade. They come in evergreen forms such as Viburnum davidii, which has a distinct tri-divided midrib and sparkly blue berries, and Viburnum tinus “Spring Bouquet,” which repeat blooms throughout the season with red buds that open to clusters of white flowers.

Some Viburnums are semi-evergreen - which simply means that in a mild winter they will keep all their foliage, but in a harsh winter they will be completely deciduous. Viburnum burkwoodii is a good example of a variety that will lose about half of it leaves every winter. For me, I would prefer that it just makes up its mind and either loses them all or keeps them all. Being in a state of indecision drives me nuts.

Several Viburnums have deliciously fragrant blooms. The above mentioned burkwoodii has a nice smell, as does the “Korean Spice” Viburnum - both are early spring bloomers.

Fall color is a hallmark for all of the deciduous varieties, with the leaves turning a nice rich burgundy. Also, in the fall, many varieties sport very attractive berries from black to blue to yellow-reddish and pink.

The flowers on Viburnums are mostly white and grow in clusters. Two exceptions are “Mary Milton,” which has “snowball-like” flowers in pink, and “Molly Schroeder” which is also pink but is a “lace-cap” form.

Probably the most popular white forms are the common snowball bush and a lacecap form called “Mariesii” that has layered flowers often confused with dogwoods, it will also re-bloom in the fall.

Here are two varieties that caught my eye the other day in the nursery as I was snooping about…

Viburnum “Brandywine — This shrub grows to about six feet tall with glossy green oval leaves that turn a burgundy-wine red in the fall. The white flowers in spring produce incredible clusters of multi-colored berries later in the summer that are pink to blue and are edible (but probably not very tasty). “Brandywine” is both moisture tolerant and deer resistant (I think all viburnums are deer resistant).

Viburnum “Sparkler” — This one struck me because of its brilliant blue berries this time of year. “Sparkler” is a densely branched shrub that can reach 12 to 15 feet tall, thus making it a great choice for a privacy hedge. The dark green, ruffled foliage turns a bright yellow to red in the fall and is accented with clusters of blue-black berries that will delight the birds.

Regardless of what variety of Viburnum you might be drawn to, you can find many choices in the garden center this time of year, sporting their fall colors and attractive clusters of berries. Some like “Summer Snowflake,”Mariesii,” and “Spring Bouquet” might even be re-blooming. Whatever your pleasure, there is probably a Viburnum that will fit the bill for your garden.

Sunnyside will be hosting a hands-on class (fee required) all about how to Make Your Own Terrarium next Saturday, October 5th, 2019, at 10:00 am. For more information or to signup, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

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