There are a few shrubs that every (temperate) garden should have. A top ten of must-have shrubs would include such reliable and dependable things as spiraea ‘Goldflame’, rose ‘Bonica’ and a shrubby potentilla of some kind. They are not necessarily the most exciting shrubs but they are dependable and have a long season of interest. The top ten MUST also include a viburnum of some kind and ask me at any other time of the year and I would probably go for Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’. But because it is in bloom right now I am going to choose something a bit less common; Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Anne Russell’.
Viburnum x burkwoodii itself is a hybrid of V. utile and V. carlesii. Viburnum utile is a rather scruffy evergreen shrub with glossy leaves and pink buds that open to white, fragrant flowers. It is rarely seen outside botanic gardens and is from China. Viburnum carlesii is a beautiful plant in itself, from Korea. It is a medium-sized deciduous shrub with dull foliage and red buds that open to white flowers and is also fragrant. Viburnum x burkwoodii was first bred in 1924 in Kingston-upon-Thames, near London, UK and has pink buds that open to white, fragrant flowers and is semi-evergreen. In cold winters it will lose most of its foliage but some of the leaves turn bright red or purple in autumn.
‘Anne Russell’ is a slightly more complex hybrid because V. x burkwoodii was crossed back with V. carlesii to make a plant that is rarely semi-evergreen but more often loses all its leaves in winter, but not until they have made a pretty good effort at showy autumn colour, usually gold, orange and red in my experience, but also purple according to other sources. It was raised by John Russell in Surrey, UK, and named after his wife. It was introduced in 1951 and is more compact than the normal form. The reddish pink buds open to pure white, wonderfully fragrant flowers. It is not fussy about soil and will grow in part shade or full sun. Some descriptions say it has flowers 8cm across but it is more accurate to say that the flower clusters are 8cm across!
There are other forms available such as ‘Park Farm Hybrid’ and, in the USA, ‘Mohawk’ and others, but ‘Anne Russell’ is a hard one to beat and a welcome source of fragrance at this time of year.
Be aware that this, and other viburnums, are often grafted onto Viburnum opulus and this can produce annoying and plentiful suckers. These must be removed from below soil level or they will completely overwhelm the shrub you originally bought!