Spring in New England is glorious this year and I’m finding myself spending every free moment fussing around the garden. I don’t have a big garden as I had in years past but time spent in this one matches the time spent in my larger gardens. I pinch, I plant, I weed, I transplant, and I visit with nature. The frogs are singing, the toads are hopping, bees are buzzing, and the birds are visiting. It seems easy to dismiss or put off all other jobs and tasks on my ‘to do’ list…. like blogging.
Bleeding hearts are still vivid spots of pink here and there in shady areas. The blooms below hover over a tiny moss and lichen covered pagoda that once graced my mother’s garden. I can’t think of a more natural way to honor and remember her than having some of her garden passed down to my garden… both plants and art.
This is the first year for my Purple Sensation allium, a bunch of ornamental onion plants, and it seems to be a great sensation indeed for the bees. My bees seem to prefer anything in the blooming onion family more than other flowers in the garden. That also goes for chives that are beginning to open and soon to open garlic chives.
The most stunning blooming plant in the yard right now is our doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’). The layered horizontal branches are clustered with blooms in great profusion. Great white blooms like little soldiers are standing at attention in rows along the branches and it is breathtaking. Each flower is flat with large sterile flowers surrounding the center of smaller fertile flowers. This shrub was pruned to a horrible round ball before we bought the property and I’ve been working with it for a few years to help it regain its layered branch look. It has responded well and has grown to about 10′ in height.
Lots more going on around here in the garden and elsewhere… the noisiest of which is a small addition being added to the home, an office/gathering room that I’ve longed for since our move from Virginia. It’s happening and I can’t wait!
It’s not a dogwood but when in bloom, it is a stunning lookalike and a good substitute for the spring-blooming dogwood for showy white flowers. It’s the doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum tomentosam).
It is a large shrub and needs a wide space to grow. Ours is close to 9′ tall and the branches spread horizontally almost as wide as as it is tall. In the spring, each layered branch is thick with white, flat flowers that are about 3″ in diameter.
The outer ring of florets are sterile and the small buds in the center, yet opened, are the fertile blooms. In the fall, these fertile flowers produce a profusion of red fruit that darken to black, but I hardly have time to photograph them before the birds consume them. By far, it’s the most relished bird food in my fall garden.
The blooms stand in paired rows or in ‘doublefile’ above the stems like little soldiers. And it’s just as beautiful from our second story window as from the ground.
In the fall, it produces a lovely display when the leaves turn a firery deep red and in winter, the gray bark is interesting as well. Truly, the doublefile viburnum is a fabulous multi-season shrub.
Hardiness Zones: 5-8
Maybe locals in New England have heard of “Crape Murder” in the south when the tops of beautiful crape myrtles are hacked off to control size. It’s a sad sight done in the name of pruning every spring but it’s a familiar scene in strip malls and neighborhoods in Virginia.
I had a similar thing take place by the arborists who labored in our neighborhood last week. I’m sure they were hired to work fast with the only tool they carried… the chain saw. I stepped outside to the sound of the saw and to my horror, they had sheared the doublefile viburnum into a ball shape. By the time they saw me, there were only two or three stems left to cut.
This is a species with a naturally graceful horizontal form. In the spring, lacy white blooms line up like soldiers along a bough, developing into tasty drupes adored by birds in the fall. Shearing all the ends of the branches destroys the viburnum’s natural form. Terminal buds are removed and the lateral buds are stimulated to grow creating a water sprout nightmare at the end of each stem requiring more maintenance than ever. And removing the stems this time of year also sacrifices spring blooms and the subsequent fall fruit that birds adore.
What this shrub needed was thinning or trimming back branches that allows the tree to maintain its natural form. Viburnum authority, Michael Dirr, summed up pruning viburnums, “Pruning viburnums should be an exercise in restraint…again, as with so many things, less is more.”
Judging from the broom-like tips of the branches, this viburnum was probably sheared yearly. Once done, is there any help for the shrub? My guess is not… unless it is taken back almost to the ground and allowed to redevelop naturally. Yes, I think I must do that.