Thursday May 28th 2009, 11:26 pm

viburnum opulus at The Laundry

The viburnum opulus I planted in my garden 20 years ago would have been the first thing I planted after moving in. I knew this shrub as guelder rose, and went to a garden centre to order one. A couple of weeks later when I returned to pick it up, I was presented with a gerber rose, a pink rambling country-style rose with a leggy habit! It seemed that fate had meant me to have this rose so I took a philosophical view and planted the rose in the garden instead. So that was the first plant I planted after taking residency. The guelder rose became the second.

viburnum opulus sterile detail

Now, 20 years on, my little shrub has become a massive fully grown tree that straddles the borderline between mine and my neighbours garden and every year, during May, it gives a really spectacular display, covered in pom-pom blossom that is totally lovely. I like it best when the flowers are just beginning to open, when they are a subtle shade of greenish white, and the balls of flowers are still quite small. The whole process begins and ends within the month, ending up with the big blowsy snowballs going over and dropping the individual flowerlets all over the garden in such abundance it looks as if it has snowed. While the flowers are in bloom they look great used like cut flowers in a large container and I have been using them over the last few weeks to decorate the shop. The display has provided a real talking point and customers have come up with several other names for the shrub including snowball bush and Whitsunboss.

viburnum opulus in the hedgrow

This variety of viburnum opulus is the sterile one more likely to have been commercially bred as a decorative garden shrub. The non-sterile version, often found in amongst the hedgerow, has much more modest blossoms but saves its real splendour for the autumn, when it produces bright red translucent berries that look like they are made of glass, very like redcurrants. Sterile flowers around the edges of the flowerheads open up but the smaller fertile inner flowers in the centre, when pollinated, will become the berries later in the year. Here follows a description captured in biological jargon about the blossom, which I think sounds strangely poetic: ‘Inflorescence – Terminal, flat-topped cymes. Compound and resembling umbels, to +13cm broad. Stalks glabrous to very sparsely pubescent.’ Both varieties have beautiful coloured foliage in the autumn.

viburnum opulus in the hedgrow