True Love…

True Love…

When I got around to ringing my friend Jeff back yesterday, I said, “So sorry I couldn’t take your call; I was wrestling with a Viburnum.” He said, “Did you win?”  “No, ” I said, “I think the only remediation is chain saw.” But you need the back story.

About ten years ago when we were first installing this garden,  I purchased a whole bunch of plants from a nursery that has since gone out of business. This is your first clue as to where this whole thing is going. In trying to be efficient with time and rental truck resources, we went to gather plants at the places where I knew we could easily get most of what was on the design schedule. While I write this, I can hear my grandmother’s voice in my head, “Haste makes waste.” Don’t you hate when you have to admit all those idioms you heard as a child come ’round to be true? It’s like we think our decisions are better, different and our outcomes will be perfect.

At this nursery that shall not be named, with list in hand, I went rounding up plants. “The Viburnum are in Aisle 12,” called the attendant. I love nearly all Viburnum. Except Leatherleaf which I consider only appropriate for the backside of the garage facing the home of a neighbor you don’t especially like. I suppose it has its place in the Kingdom, –the Viburnum, not the neighbor–just not any I design. Yet there I stood in front of the Shasta Viburnum, raising an eye brow over the selection. None of the plants were great looking, but I thought to myself, “I can make them work out.” Gentle readers, if you ever hear that thought pop into your head at at garden center, leave that plant alone as if you would catch the worst of rashes from it. Most likely, you will not, I repeat N-O-T, be able to make it work out. It’s really like your best girlfriend, crying to you over a glass of wine saying, “I knew he was a bad choice at the beginning.” He was and became the fulfillment of even worse.

And so there I stood yesterday, on the most glorious February day we could ask for (a bit of a weather 180 from today) wrestling with Shasta. The mate to it was edited from the garden a year two after planting and good riddance. But I kept the other and dealing with it would try even the patience of a saint–and I lack that virtue, I admit. Here’s the problem–and it has to do mostly with pruning time when I can see the poor habit more: This Viburnum is supposed to have a horizontal branching habit, which is very striking in the garden. All well and good except on my plant, springing forth from the horizontal branches, and from nearly anywhere else the plant darn well pleases, in straight verticals come a multitude of other branches. And if that isn’t bad enough, they then twist and turn when they remember they are supposed to grow horizontally. There are very few branches that grow out horizontally from the main trunks. This is where I should have made a better decision at the gate. I console myself in that Michael Dirr, the world expert on woody plants, says this in his book on Viburnums: “I nurtured as supposed specimen of “Shasta” into a 7-foot by 8-foot specimen, only to decide it was just the species of a cheap imitation. My garden heart was broken, especially when I saw the real McCoy, with wide-spreadng, horizontally accentuated branches and immense inflorescences that literally smothered the leaves.” By contrast, the other day I was at a client’s home to supervise a winter pruning. Each of her Viburnum received only about three or four cuts. The plants were gorgeous in the containers and have stayed that way, requiring very little pruning each year. The moral of the story: pick well at the gate and it’s less work, less suffering and full beauty. 

That leaves me here, dear friends with a question:  Should I rub this Viburnum out of the garden roll call? Or continue the same story? I’ll take votes….please write your comments to me in the space below.

All this aside, Viburnum are really wonderful plants and I have others in the garden that I adore: Korean Spice Viburnum, a variety called “Kern’s Pink,” and a Cranberry Viburnum. You will find your Mr. Right and have Viburnum True Love.



  1. Nancy Thomas says:

    If the Virburnum brings you no joy at all when you look at it – take it out. However, if it makes you smile, adds something to its place in the garden – leave it. It’s already there and it’s thriving. Can’t we love it even with its imperfections?

  2. Robert Klein says:

    I have the Korean Spice and I like it a lot, mainly because of the fragrance that can fill the entire garden. It also roots from cuttings easily and one of them is not offended by the two roses I have growing up through it. I had a row of viburnums beside the driveway (the variety name escapes me) that grew well and look okay, but the flowers had no fragrance and were rather sparse. My number one rule of gardening is “A plant that is growing where you don’t want it to is a weed, be it a dandelion or an oak tree” (if I could only stick to it), could be amended to also say ” a plant that is not doing what you want it to is also a weed” (I really wish I could stick to THAT). The underperforming viburnums were not doing what I wanted them to do, but before I could act they had the good courtesy to contract some kind of crown rot and were dead within a month (a blink of an eye in gardener’s time).
    On the other hand, a long time ago I planted some Clethra alnifolia,( Summersweet) for the previous owner of my garden. It sulked around for more than ten years and never amounted to much of anything. Until last year. Suddenly new shoots burst from the ground and by midsummer they were covered with fragrant blooms. It was not as if I was waiting for something to happen, it was more like I just didn’t get around to doing something about it. It’s not like I had something else in mind for that spot.
    So back to your dilemma. If you have the time, energy and ambition you should probably remove it and put something you want in it’s place and you know me, it would probably be a rose bush. (I have some very nice ones that could us a good home.)

  3. Bob Waller says:

    There are no failures in gardening just things we learn not to use or tolerate.Chainsaw that monster. LOL I’m sure you have it’s replacement in mind already and can see the beauty that awaits!

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