Rediscovering Viburnum tinus

It is all too easy, when it comes to populating your own garden, to ignore some of the common, bread-and-butter plants that you have known your whole life. It is a new garden, a new challenge and an opportunity to grow something new. But I have planted some old friends in the garden such as Spiraea prunifolia ‘Plena’, a shrub from my childhood, that will get a page of its own when the flowers open, and a mulberry tree because I used to scrump them as a teenager and had one in the last garden.

These were all carefully planted, with great thought given to their placement and, in the case of the spiraea, a great deal of effort even finding the plants. And because the spiraea was growing in the same garden as great clumps of daffodil ‘Van Sion’ I have even planted them together. It was essential to plant some viburnums, and I will plant more, and most were carefully selected and positioned but my one Viburnum tinus was plonked in an inhospitable bed that is largely shaded and, because it was early on, the soil was largely unimproved.

Viburnum tinus is a plant so common that it barely gets a second glance, or thought. It has been in cultivation in the UK since the 16th century and is native to southern Europe, north Africa and variations or distinct species, depending on your point of view, are found in the Canaries and Madeira. Because its native habitat is hot and dry in summer and mild and wet in winter, it blooms in winter and spring, a feature that makes it useful here. It is just a shame that, unlike many viburnums, the flowers are not sweetly fragrant. In fact, on a wet day, the flowers smell like a wet dog. This olfactory unpleasantness is accentuated if it is attacked by viburnum beetle, which turns the leaves to lace and produce prodigious amounts of nasty-smelling frass.

But despite its Mediterranean origin, this is a tough plant that can grow in sun or quite dense shade and it can be used as a stand-alone shrub or even a hedge. It has dense growth and can be lightly pruned or, if you need to, cut back to the base and it will regrow immediately.

Though the flowers are not fragrant, they are pretty and usually pink in bud and white when open. ‘Eve Price’ is the most common cultivar, with compact growth but I think mine is ‘Ladybird’. The variegated form is a lovely thing and there seem to be new cultivars introduced every year.

My appreciation of the plant was triggered when I saw it looking as colourful as I could wish any plant to be after days of wind, rain and frost. And I appreciate its usefulness. I have become aware that I am very fretful over the plants in the garden. Every time I walk past the honeyberries I wonder if they should be flowering so early and whether I will get any berries. I am worrying over the hardiness of the perennial impatiens. Has it been too wet for the nepeta to survive? Yet I will never fret over whether the viburnum is happy, partly because I know it is going to be happy wherever it is, and I value its contribution in the garden and I will be planting more.

6 Comments on “Rediscovering Viburnum tinus”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    March 12, 2022 at 8:59 am #

    It’s one of the tough old reliables!

  2. Jackie Knight
    March 12, 2022 at 9:57 am #

    I do agree, I have several in this garden which is so much larger than my last garden (a small London patch) and see them flowering from the comfort of the house, and surviving gales and frost etc. I never liked them much before but now see their value.

    • thebikinggardener
      March 12, 2022 at 9:59 am #

      Some plants we instantly fall in love with while others we come to appreciate for their qualities

  3. tonytomeo
    March 12, 2022 at 8:25 pm #

    Hey, I just mentioned to someone else that Viburnum tinus is somewhat naturalized within the landscapes here. It seemed odd to me that so many are so fond of it. However, after reading about how popular it is in harsher climates, I am sort of getting to like it. We can pull it up from where we do not want it, and relocate it as hedging.

    • thebikinggardener
      March 13, 2022 at 8:35 am #

      Because it blooms in winter it does not always produce many of its blue berries and I have not heard of it naturalising here – though perhaps it does in milder areas. Cotoneasters frequently self seed and are criticised for this but I do not think Viburnum tinus is a risk. Curiously I don’t see lots of bees on the flowers even though there are plenty around on mild days.

      • tonytomeo
        March 13, 2022 at 11:11 pm #

        It does not produce many berries here either, although winter is quite mild. It makes enough to get around though. Then, it spreads by roots. At least one species of cotoneaster naturalized a bit more aggressively.

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