As I drove down the long driveway of a client’s property this week, the Chinese fringe tree (chionanthus virginicus) that sits in front of a border of mixed trees and shrubs was in a spotlight of sun. The clouds of small white flowers hugging the underside of the branches moved gently in the breeze and sparkling sun. What a beautiful tree! I must confess that I don’t think about this tree until I see it in its glory. When not blooming, it retreats to its “regular” tree form and becomes another member of the border. I plan to remember it when I need a medium-sized tree for a lawn or border.
They are very hardy here, require little pruning, are virtually disease-free, will grow in sun to partial sun and adapt to most soil types. They have an upright rounded shape. Given all of this, Chinese fringe trees are a perfect tree for several applications. This property is the only place I’ve seen them on the East End. I think they should be used more frequently.
This client also has several leather leaf viburnums— viburnum rhytipophylum, I think. At maturity, it’s a 10’ to 12’ tall shrub with large course leaves that remain on the branches all winter and are very handsome. It makes small clusters of flowers that nestle into the leaves. After blooming it makes a “stately statement” on the lawn or in a shrub border.
I have a viburnum carlesii along the side of my garden. When I bought it as a small shrub, the plant seller told me that it was difficult to grow and disease-prone. It is now at tall as I am and as healthy as the other viburnums in my yard. I have done nothing to it except to give it water. I don’t know what that person was thinking of! It is another plant that I don’t think about until I walk into the garden in April and notice a specific wonderful fragrance. At once I know that it is the carlesii in bloom 20’ away. The pinkish buds open to waxy white and the leaves turn burgundy in the fall.
About 20 years ago, I planted three baby viburnum tomentosums (I think they are Shastas) at the edge of the yard. Now as mature plants, they are about 12’ tall and are absolutely spectacular in bloom—in April, shortly after the carlesii. This type of viburnum is called “double file” because the flowers sit about 2” on top of gracefully horizontal branches, two by two. Later in the summer, it makes a cluster of red berries on top of the branches, which are eaten by birds before I can enjoy them. These plants need very little care and are lovely structures in the border even when not in bloom.
On the other side of the yard, there is a Snowflake viburnum. It has flowers shaped like the Shasta but on a tiered, horizontally branched, large shrub that has grown to about 12’ tall from a baby. (I planted a lot of baby plants about 20 years ago!) While the Shastas are tall and wide, this one is tall and columnar. It also blooms in April, which relates well to the Shastas on the other side of the property.
These are the only viburnums in my yard—if I had more room, I would plant more. There are MANY varieties with many shapes, sizes, heights and types of flower and leaves. These plants are easy to grow, require very little care and deer don’t eat them!
And, speaking of deer, I am taking a course of antibiotic for Lyme disease as I write this and I use spray…well, I guess I forgot a couple times. The tick counters say that there will be more this year than last and they are carrying several diseases. Lyme disease is bad enough but ehrilichiosis and babesiosis can kill you. If you experience a sudden high fever go to the emergency room. In addition to repellant, used with care daily, repellant-infused clothes are available online. Whatever you do, take tick borne disease seriously.
Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067. jeanellemyersfinegardening.com