Success and failure

I will start with a tale of success.

One of the first shrubs to go into the garden was a viburnum. I can’t say that viburnums set my heart a’flutter, and some are downright dowdy, but they are useful, generally attractive and some have several seasons of interest. Viburnum plicatum is one of those that can reasonably called spectacular. Typically they have wide-spreading, almost horizontal branches which are iced with white flowers in late spring and there are sometimes red or black berries in autumn. A ‘double’ form, with wholly sterile flowers (V. plicatum forma plicatum), was introduced from Japan at about the same time (circa 1860) as the ‘normal’ form – V. plicatum forma tomentosum.

There are lots of cultivars, as would be expected from such an ornamental shrub. The most common are ‘Mariesii’ and ‘Lanarth’ and both are good. Most are large and spreading shrubs, usually 2m high and rather more across. As they mature they send up vertical shoots from the centre that then branch with horizontal shoots that flower in subsequent years. Older stems can be cut out after a few years to maintain vigour and enhance the structure of the plant.

I planted two and this is ‘Shasta’ which is a hybrid of forma tomentosum and ‘Mariesii’. It is supposed to have larger flowers than others and there are supposed to be a few sterile florets in among the central, small, fertile florets in the cluster. I can’t say that I can see any but perhaps they will come as it ages – or I have been done! The flowers are also supposed to be purer white than most and it is supposed to fruit better than most. It was introduced in 1979 in the USA.

All I can say is that I love it because it is in a fairly exposed site, it is doing well and the flowers have been trying to open since April. They have been partially formed for months and survived all the April frosts and are now opening in the pouring rain. I can ask for no more.

On a less happy note, I had no idea when my philadelphus ‘Minnesota Snowflake’ produced half a dozen flowers last year, that it was its swansong.

Philadelphus are not obvious choices for small gardens because they have one burst of glory and are then as much fun as a low fat trifle. But their moment of glory, when they fill the air with perfume, is enough for me to forgive them 11 months of poor effort. I need them in the garden. So this was planted two years ago. Last year it made the typical, strong, upright stems that established plants produce, though late summer winds snapped some off.

Unfortunately the bed where it is planted is one of the wetter in the garden, partly because, although it is dug and improved with organic matter, I have not yet sorted the edges and dug out ‘gutters’ to help drain the soil. I have paid the price, and so has the poor philadelphus.

It is a good example of how root damage kills plants. When a plant is waterlogged the roots literally drown. They can’t breathe and they die. As a result the plant gets no water and the growth will wilt. As is typical, when spring sprang the philadelphus started to grow, almost as though it was living on stored energy from last year. But when that ran out the roots just could not support the growth and it started to wilt.

Sometimes it is possible to help the plant by pruning it back hard – which reduces the need of the plant for moisture. But I will not hold my breath. I need to sort the border out and then try again. It is not the only casualty in this area – a bamboo that was doing quite well for a year has succumbed as well. I tried to convince myself that it was wind damage but I am a fool.

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9 Comments on “Success and failure”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    May 29, 2021 at 7:35 am #

    Despite their less that attractive general appearance I would not be without Philadelphus in the garden. The fragrance is wonderful. Perhaps the best place for them is stuck in the back somewhere to give of their fragrance without offending the eye!

    • thebikinggardener
      May 29, 2021 at 9:01 am #

      Agreed. My poor plant was just where you suggest – at the back of a border. I have planted two ‘Virginal’ either side of a path. I want to be able to push my way through their fragrant flowers – one day. It is not my favourite and a bit big and lanky but just what I need in this spot.

  2. tonytomeo
    May 29, 2021 at 8:29 am #

    Viburnums are a mystery to me. I do not understand the allure, at least here. Only the snowball bush is visually appealing. Lauristinus is almost naturalized within irrigated areas, but looks rather shabby most of the time, with unimpressive bloom. (It does not naturalize in nature, so is technically not naturalized.) I know that they are prettier farther north, but even there, some Viburnum are not very impressive. Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariesii’ certainly got my attention in Eugene in Oregon, but I know it would not be so happy here.

    • thebikinggardener
      May 29, 2021 at 9:00 am #

      I think it is the toughness of many viburnums that is appealing. Viburnum tinus is widely planted here and is very tolerant of poor sites. Though the flowers are a bit dingy, the fact that they open in the coldest months makes them valuable.

      • tonytomeo
        May 30, 2021 at 12:40 am #

        You are the first to say that the bloom in dingy. Others proudly post pictures of the bloom. Although it is prettier than mine, and less dingy, I as still not overly impressed. Ours are not so resilient, and are susceptible to rot if irrigated to regularly.

        • thebikinggardener
          May 30, 2021 at 4:40 pm #

          It is interesting that they suffer from rot – they are pretty bombproof here

          • tonytomeo
            May 30, 2021 at 7:45 pm #

            Now that you mention it, rot is a problem for a few plants that have no problem with it in other regions, perhaps because they need supplemental irrigation here, through otherwise dry summers. They may be more resistant to rot where the climates are moister most of the time, rather than arid, but with damp soil.

  3. Meriel
    May 29, 2021 at 6:55 pm #

    You are no fool! My V. ‘Mariesii’ looking good just now, also V. rhytidophyllum, a handsome rather than pretty shrub and V. opulus ‘Roseum’/ Snowball tree looking great too. What about the fabulous scent from earlier V. carlesii’? I find Philadelphus ‘Manteau de Hermione’ a good neat cultivar, smaller flowers but equally good scent.

    • thebikinggardener
      May 30, 2021 at 4:43 pm #

      Hello – I hope you are well and the garden is growing nicely! You are right about the scented ones – I need to add some. I agree with your choice of ‘Manteau d’Hermine’ which is my ‘go to’ philadelphus. When I see one I will get it. I have the yellow-leaved V. opulus, which I like a lot and a pair of ‘Roseum’ which I hope will make a mass of growth either side of a path – but they are only 30cm high, having been planted this spring. It is the joy and frustration of a new garden – lots of ideas but not a lot of growth yet!

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