Among the choice company of hardy shrubs with winter bloom, none is more pleasing than Viburnum fragrans.
During mild weather, the flower buds expand into 2″ inch clusters of delightfully fragrant pink flowers. This may be as early as January, but more often, it is in March and April.
The blooms are amazingly hardy and long-enduring, and a plant with a fair quantity of buds will usually display the last flowers in May, often turned white, as the leaves unfold.
With such outstanding qualities, this shrub should be well-known in American gardens.
However, strange to say 40 years after its introduction, it is still a collector’s item and only appreciated in comparatively few gardens.
This is difficult to understand since layers easily increase the plant. In fact, established specimens produce suckers in abundance.
Farrer’s Style Of Growing Fragrant Viburnum
One would expect it to respond very well to the new air-layering technique with polythene film.
Though fragrant viburnum has long been popular in China as a garden and forcing subject, the native home of this shrub was for years a matter for conjecture.
Reginald Farrer wrote in his typical exuberant style of finding it growing wild in the rugged hills of southern Kansu, south of the small village of Soho, on April 16, 1914.
During the following summer, Farrer obtained an abundant supply of seeds, though only a few had been anticipated.
This reduction arose from one of the countless amusing incidents in his travels that Farrer described so aptly.
At this time, Farrer and William Purdom were exploring and collecting in the small principality of Joni, or Choni, as the maps have it today.
The Prince of Joni was at first most affable and promised to contribute the fine crop of fruits from the viburnums in his garden.
Later, however, the potentate became annoyed with his visitors and peevishly ate all the berries!
Still later, Farrer wrote of seeing plants growing in cottage gardens in “so high and cold a situation of that cold, bleak region that even corn will not ripen there, except, perhaps, in one season out of three.”
This account should dispel doubts about the shrub’s hardiness.
Cultivation Of Viburnum Fragrans
In cultivation, Viburnum fragrans make vigorous upright growth as a young shrub, but after attaining a height of 5’ feet or so, becomes more dense and bushy.
Older specimens usually have a vase-shaped cluster of strong arching branches in the middle, often pulled to one side by the weight of the twiggy tops, and a supporting or even thicket-like mass of stickers around the base.
A height of 8’ or 10’ feet may be reached, but in situations requiring it, lower stature can be maintained by the discriminating pruning so easily done on plants with winter flowers.
Characteristics Of Fragrant Viburnum
In its stocky branchlets and prominently veined, deciduous leaves, fragrant viburnum follows the pattern of many others in this genus.
The leaves are typically bronze or copper-colored when young and mostly 2” to 3” inches long when mature.
Farrer also collected seeds of a variation with white flowers, forma candidissimum; the young foliage is light green.
Fruits seem sparsely produced except in warm situations, but when matured, their brilliant red display is reported to be very fine in summer.
Judging from Farrer’s own description and the performance of the Prince of Joni, they must be moderately palatable.
This shrub thrives in any well-drained and sunny situation but more vigorously in the soil of good fertility and generous humus content.
Well-rooted plants can be put out at any season, but spring is as good a time as any for the best start.
Top growth is moderate until the roots are thoroughly established, but once a specimen is 4’ feet high, it should produce more and more of the large clustered flower buds each year.
English and Scotch gardeners have found rather marked differences in the original plants raised from seeds.
Growers Of Ornamental Plants
In California, W. B. Clarke and Co., wholesale growers of ornamental plants, raised a quantity of Viburnum fragrans from seeds imported 12 years ago from William Watson and Sons of England.
Among the seedlings, one showed a marked dwarf and compact habit. This dwarf variation, is formananum, promises to be especially good for planting in small gardens. It should appeal particularly to rock garden enthusiasts.
Fragrant Viburnum In Winter
As with all winter-flowering shrubs, Viburnum fragrans should be used where they will be seen when they bloom.
A situation beside windows with a southerly exposure is ideal, and also in borders near the drive or front walk.
Although the opened flowers stand considerable freezing without damage, they last longer in protected exposures out of the way of winds.
In a carefully selected situation, even a single plant can be enjoyed during winter’s mild weather, and this shrub will soon become one of the garden’s favorite personalities.
Neither can it be recommended too strongly to horticulturists and landscape gardeners who like to have unusual plants in their display areas to interest discriminating visitors!
44659 by Ben Blackburn