Plant pro­file: vibur­num

Of all the plants grown for their late-sea­son fo­liage colour or berries, hard-work­ing vibur­nums can hold their own

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - CONTENTS - WORDS ANDY McIN­DOE

Vibur­nums are prized for their au­tumn berries and fo­liage, and there is one to suit ev­ery gar­den. Hor­ti­cul­tur­ist Andy McIn­doe se­lects 13 of the best

Vibur­nums are such ver­sa­tile shrubs, and they fea­ture in so many gar­dens, that they are eas­ily taken for granted. We all have our favourites, and our pref­er­ences may be based on fra­grance, flow­er­ing sea­son, fo­liage (ever­green or de­cid­u­ous) or just plain avail­abil­ity. It is easy to over­look their en­dur­ing con­tri­bu­tion: these are hard-work­ing plants, most of which have more than one sea­son of in­ter­est. Flow­ers are of­ten fol­lowed by colour­ful fruits and many de­cid­u­ous va­ri­eties colour bril­liantly in au­tumn, of­ten putting on a more im­pres­sive dis­play than they did ear­lier in the year.

I first came across the birch­leaf vibur­num, Vibur­num be­tuli­folium, at Llanover Gar­den in Mon­mouthshire. Llanover is a treasure trove of choice trees and shrubs. On an au­tumn day, this par­tic­u­lar vibur­num was an ar­rest­ing sight, its arch­ing branches weighed down with abun­dant, glis­ten­ing clus­ters of translu­cent, ruby fruits. No leaves, just jew­els on the branches.

Vibur­num be­tuli­folium is too big for many gar­dens, but Vibur­num op­u­lus ‘Com­pactum’ is no less im­pres­sive. A smaller form of the Bri­tish na­tive guelder rose, its loose clus­ters of shin­ing, spher­i­cal fruits start to colour in late sum­mer and per­sist un­til after the leaves have fallen. The fo­liage de­parts in a blaze of glory: scar­let, flame and gold. As much as I love the so-called snow­ball, Vibur­num op­u­lus ‘Ro­seum’, with its im­pres­sive spring flower clus­ters, is a one-hit won­der: no au­tumn leaf colour and no berries.

Hardy ever­green shrubs that re­main mod­est in size are al­ways at a pre­mium, hence the en­dur­ing pop­u­lar­ity of Vibur­num da­vidii as a land­scape plant. Be­cause of its ex­ten­sive use in com­mer­cial projects, this su­perb ever­green is of­ten shunned by gar­den­ers and de­sign­ers. Few shrubs have such hand­some fo­liage, how­ever, and if you se­lect fe­male plants they pro­duce spec­tac­u­lar blue­black fruits. Buy plants when they are in fruit in au­tumn and win­ter and pair with a male pol­li­na­tor for re­li­able re­sults.

I re­mem­ber show­ing Vibur­num ‘Le Bois Mar­quis’ at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show a few years ago, but I can’t say that it gen­er­ated very much ex­cite­ment. The fo­liage was a glossy dark green and hand­some, but f low­ers were no­tably ab­sent. Its two best sea­sons were still to come: sum­mer f lower clus­ters and won­der­ful au­tumn leaf colour with the bonus of berries. This com­pact ever­green de­serves wider plant­ing, but a young plant in a pot will never show its real po­ten­tial.

This is true of many won­der­ful gar­den plants. You might pass a Vibur­num rhyti­do­phyl­lum in a pot in a nurs­ery or gar­den cen­tre with­out giv­ing it so much as a sec­ond glance, but see a ma­ture spec­i­men in a large gar­den, with shin­ing clus­ters of scar­let and black fruits dis­played against deep-green leaves, and its value is clearly ev­i­dent.

Per­haps it is be­cause some vibur­nums, such as Vibur­num ti­nus and Vibur­num x bod­nan­tense, are so widely planted that other no­table species and cul­ti­vars are over­looked. Ad­mit­tedly some are more par­tic­u­lar about their grow­ing con­di­tions, which lim­its their use. Vibur­num fur­ca­tum is an ex­am­ple of this. I came across this won­der­ful plant on a visit to RHS Gar­den Rose­moor in Devon. On a glo­ri­ous au­tumn day, the gar­den was full of glow­ing enkianthus, stew­artia, fothergilla, hamamelis and a host of other glo­ri­ous shrubs that thrive on acid soil. For me, Vibur­num fur­ca­tum was the star of the show. Those su­perb leaves, beau­ti­fully ar­ranged on the branches, per­fect de­spite the on­set of rich au­tumn tints.

Au­tumn re­ally is the most colour­ful sea­son, and the long­est, so it is worth plant­ing for, and you can’t go far wrong with vibur­nums. No flash in the pan colour, gone with the first strong wind, here. Vibur­nums de­liver long-last­ing au­tumn in­ter­est, an en­core after ear­lier flow­ers.

• Au­thor Andy McIn­doe is a writer, broad­caster and hori­cul­tur­ist. His rec­om­men­da­tions for the best vibur­nums for au­tumn in­ter­est can be found over the next five pages.

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