Early viburnums

Judith Adam

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Judd viburnum blossoms are highly fragrant. (Photo by Brendan Zwelling)
Judd viburnum blossoms are highly fragrant. (Photo by Brendan Zwelling)
Judd viburnum blossoms are highly fragrant. (Photo by Brendan Zwelling)

The past two weeks of near-freezing night temperatures have made frost damage to emerging perennials a threat. However, there’s always a silver lining, and the viburnums love this extended cool period. I have four viburnums with perfumed flowers that bloom sequentially (one beginning as another is finishing), and their season started when ‘Dawn’ arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’, Zone 6) burst into bloom in early March, and lasted for a full month. I have two of these, because I’m greedy about anything blooming so early; one is by my office window.

Next to bloom is Burkwood viburnum (V. x burkwoodii, Zone 6, possibly Zone 5 if not in a windy location) that fills a back corner. Its dark green foliage has an attractive lustre that shines in sunlight all summer, and the many white flowers have a spicy scent that moves across the garden in waves. (Woody plant expert Michael Dirr says this is a favourite in his garden, where it asks little and gives much.)

My favourite, Judd viburnum (V. x juddii, Zone 5), blooms next, and is planted under the living room window where I can keep an eye on it. It produces beautiful creamy flowers from bright pink buds, and is highly fragrant. The perfume is impressive, and some think this might be the best of all the scented viburnums (and I agree). The Judd viburnum is now in full bloom, and will be followed by its fragrance rival, Koreanspice viburnum (V. carlesii, Zone 5), which has this morning opened its first flower. The buds and eventual blooms on Koreanspice viburnum are the most substantial of all these shrubs, with semi- hemispherical cymes of white flowers with thick waxy petals.

These viburnums fill the early spring air with delicious scent for at least six weeks, and make the most of cool temperatures. All this, even before we get to the first lilacs!

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