Viburnum fragrans – The Fragrant Viburnum


Among the choice company of hardy shrubs with winter bloom, none is more pleasing than Viburnum fragrans. During mild weather the flower buds expand into 2-inch clusters of the delightfully fragrant pink flowers. This may be as early as January, but more often it is in March and April. The blooms are amazingly hardy and long-enduring, and a plant with a fair quantity of buds will usually be displaying the last flowers in May, often turned white, as the leaves are unfolding.

With such outstanding qualities, this shrub should be well known in American gardens, but strange to say, 90 years after its introduction it is still a collector’s item and only appreciated in comparatively few gardens. This is all the more difficult to understand, since the plant is easily increased by layers. In fact, established specimens produce suckers in abundance. One would expect it to respond very well to the new air-layering technique with polythene film.

Though fragrant viburnum has long been popular in China as a garden and forcing subject, the native home of this shrub was for years a matter for conjecture. Reginald Farrer wrote in his typical exuberant style of finding it growing wild in the rugged hills of southern Kansu, south of the small village of Siho, on April 16, 1914. During the following summer, Farrer obtained an abundant supply of seeds, though not quite so many as had been anticipated. This reduction arose from one of the countless amusing incidents in his travels which Farrer described so aptly. At this time, Farrer and William Purdom were exploring and collecting in the small principality of Joni, or Choni, as the maps have it today.

The Prince of Joni was at first most affable, and promised to contribute the fine crop of fruits from the viburnums in his garden. Later, however, the potentate became annoyed with his visitors and peevishly ate all the berries! Still later, Farrer wrote of seeing plants growing in cottage gardens in “so high and cold a situation of that cold bleak region that even corn will not ripen there, except, perhaps, in one season out of three.” This account should dispel doubts of the shrub’s hardiness.

In cultivation, Viburnum fragrans makes vigorous upright growth as a young shrub, but after attaining a height of 5 feet or so, becomes more dense and bushy. Older specimens usuï ally have a vase-shaped cluster of strong arching branches in the middle, often pulled to one side by the weight of the twiggy tops, and a supporting or even thicket-like mass of stickers around the base. A height of 8 or 10 feet may be reached, but in situations requiring it, lower stature can be maintained by the discriminating pruning so easily done on plants with winter flowers.

In its stocky branchlets and prominently veined, deciduous leaves, fragrant viburnum follows the pattern of many others in this genus. The leaves are typically bronzy or copper-colored when young, and mostly 2 to 3 inches long when mature. Farrer also collected seeds of a variation with white flowers, forma candidissimum, and in this the young foliage is light green.

Fruits are Few

Fruits seem sparsely produced except in warm situations, but when matured their brilliant red display is reported to be very fine in summer. Judging from Farrer’s own description and the perforMance of the Prince of Joni, they must be moderately palatable.

This shrub thrives in any well-drained and sunny situation, but more vigorously in a soil of good fertility and generous humus content. Well-rooted plants can be put out at any season, but spring is as good a time as any for the best start. Top growth is moderate until the roots are thoroughly established, but once a specimen is 4 feet high it should produce more and more of the large clustered flower buds each year.


English and Scotch gardeners have found rather marked differences in the original plants raised from seeds. In California, W. B. Clarke and Co., wholesale growers of ornamental plants, raised a quantity of Viburnum fragrans from seeds imported about 60 years ago from William Watson and Sons of England. Among the seedlings, one showed a marked dwarf and compact habit. This dwarf variation, formananum promised to be especially good for planting in small gardens. It should appeal particularly to rock garden enthusiasts.

As in the case of all winter-flowering shrubs, Viburnum fragrans should be used where it will be seen when it is in bloom. A situation beside windows with a southerly exposure is ideal. and also in borders near the drive or front walk. Although the opened flowers stand considerable freezing without damage, they last longer in protected exposures out of the way of winds.

In a carefully selected situation even a single plant can be enjoyed during the mild weather of winter, and this shrub will soon become one of the garden’s favorite personalities. Neither can it be recommended too strongly to nurserymen and landscape gardeners who like to have unusual plants in their display areas to interest discriminating visitors!.

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