…. bring May flowers

I must hurry along to catch up on the month’s blooms while it’s still May. As I finished up on flowering shrubs last week ninebark, elderberry, and Arrowwood viburnum popped into bloom, and it seems a pleasantly impossible task for me to keep up with the month’s flowers.

The small purple flowers of tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis, below) don’t make a big show, but this tall, lanky perennial is somehow quite captivating. It is best planted beside stout, bushy perennials or shrubs that the tall, almost leafless stems can lean on for support. If the flowers hover slightly above, swaying in the breeze, the result is splendid. Without support the stems often flop under the weight of a spring shower, and inches from the mud the blooms are not nearly as attractive.Verbena bonariensis in late May

Tall verbena is a rambunctious seeder, so the gardener must be prepared for a number of volunteers in any sunny space in the vicinity (though these are easily controlled). In the moderate climate of the mid Atlantic it will return dependably each spring, though it is impossible for me to distinguish seedlings from the original plants. With too much shade tall verbena slowly fades and eventually disappears, so it is far from indestructible. Now is the second time that it has fallen victim to encroaching shade so that I’ve reintroduced it into the garden; this time in as sunny a spot as I have but between evergreen shrubs so that it can sprout up annually without notice until the flowers appear.Baptisia in mid May

I suspect that ever spreading shade is a problem in many gardens, and since I’ve planted dozens of small trees over twenty four years it should not be surprising that some sun loving perennials decline and must occasionally be replaced. Several clumps of another tough as nails perennial, false indigo (Baptisia australis, above) have diminished in recent years beside wide spreading shrubs, but in spots where the sun shines through they are as vigorous as ever. Baptisia asks for little except a bit of sun and dry soil, and before shade crept in the clumps had grown impressively in very poor, rocky soil that was excavated when the large koi pond was dug.Blue Star in early May

In a similar circumstance, Blue Star (Amsonia hubrichtii) has grown into a fine clump. It seems to tolerate a bit more shade, so I’ve planted a few more where the dense, but delicate foliage will fill areas between shrubs. The pale blue flowers are nice enough for a short period, but it is the foliage that is the main attraction. In autumn, the foliage turns a soft, glowing yellow that is simply superb.Catmint in mid May

In a nearby neighborhood a mass planting of Catmint (Nepeta × faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’, above) is quite marvelous in late May, but in my garden they have been shoved behind and between where space allowed, afterthoughts that are appreciated too little. I suppose there is not enough space in the garden for everything to be planted up front, but catmint is one that deserves a better lot. Fortunately, there are enough treats in the garden to assuage my guilt in paying too little attention to the placement of this fine perennial.Sweet Kate spiderwort in mid May

The yellow foliage of ‘Sweet Kate’ spiderwort (Tradescantia x andersoniana ‘Sweet Kate’, above) is brightest in May, and though this fades through the summer the contrast of blue flowers and yellow foliage is delightful. The grass like foliage of spiderworts is a favorite of deer in my neighborhood, so I must carefully spray deer repellent to prevent them from being chewed to the ground. By late spring the foliage is often in need of rejuvenation (so am I), and deer are up to the task if given the opportunity. Spiderwort grows back quickly, so it’s a neighborly gesture to throw the deer a bone on occasion.

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Why the garden must have five ponds

The development of this garden has not been an orderly process, but one better described as chaotic, and perhaps haphazard. This is not to say that the end result is not entirely pleasing. There was never a master plan to follow; sections were constructed as the budget allowed, and frequently well thought out planning and the budget suffered as additions were implemented. The garden’s design owes more to madness than genius, but twenty four years after the first dogwood was planted there’s hardly a thing I would change.A waterlily in the front pond

This is not to say there haven’t been mistakes. In fact, there have been many, though I’m fairly certain that even the most deliberate gardener will recall plenty of their own. Deliberation is not my strong suit. Looking back on the major additions to the garden, most were pursued with reckless abandon. One day an area was lawn, with no plans otherwise, and the next there was a tree, shrubs, a few perennials, and the grass was gone. The garden’s five ponds were planned in the same manner.The garden's first pond after three makeovers

The first pond was given some consideration. A small circular patio was cut into the gentle slope near the house, and just below this the pond was constructed. Since the pond was downhill from the patio, the small waterfall could not be seen or heard, so a stone bench was added beside the pond. This was satisfactory for a few years, but the pond was small, and it could not be appreciated from the deck only twenty feet away because of the slope. At once, the dilemma was resolved. There must be a second pond built just below the deck. And, since the deck stands six feet off the ground it would be ideal to construct a lower level onto the deck to stand just above the new pond.Pond with iris and hosta

Now, you are probably thinking that this is a logical progression. There’s nothing impulsive about the construction of this pond. Except. From the first thought of this project to the first shovel full of soil was about fifteen minutes. This all happened when my wife took off for a few days to visit her grandmother in Pittsburgh. I don’t recall the timing, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I didn’t have shovel in hand before she drove out of the neighborhood. I swear that this wasn’t planned to be done under a cloak of secrecy with the wife out of town for the weekend, it just happened that way.Pond with hosta and acorus

Anyway, the deck was added a few weeks later, but when my wife returned home the pond was dug, liner, rocks, gravel, and water were added, and the switch was flipped to start it up. In the following weeks tall nandinas, plump hostas, and a tree lilac were planted alongside the pond. The new planting was thick enough that one pond could not be seen from the other, though they were no more than six feet apart. A large slab of stone was laid across the narrowest part of this two level pond to bridge a path from the circular patio to the stone bench beside the original pond.Hostas and Forest grass border this shady stream

After a short while the path between the ponds seemed less than adequate, so a second circular patio was built. The slope is steeper here, so boulders were used to retain the hill on the upper side of the patio. Stone steps were cut into the wall, and of course more hostas, a couple Japanese maples, and a dogwood were needed to complete the area. From this lower patio parts of both ponds were visible, and now I figured this was really coming together.Japanese iris blooming by the swimming pond in early June

Except, there was a void between the nandinas and hostas surrounding the second pond and the border of the forest. This must be filled with something. And, there are two sets of steps from the deck. One leads to the upper patio, but the steps on the far side lead only to the backside of the nandinas, where only a few hostas are featured. How about another pond? With a stream that originates in the clump of nandinas so that it appears if you look close enough that the water is overflowing from the second pond. The stream will wind down the wood’s edge, with a stone path close beside. Just above the lower circular patio there will be a small pond that will capture the water from the steam, which is then recirculated back to the top.Iris and dwarf cattails border the swimming pond

This planning, I recollect, took the better part of ten minutes, and as soon as my wife closed the car door on her way back to Pittsburgh I was out the back door, shovel in hand. Now, let’s stop for a moment to say that my wife was not in the habit of running up to Pittsburgh every few weeks, so there was a year or so between each of these projects, but it was entirely coincidental that the planning and construction occurred with these trips. And, before you get to thinking that way, there was much less deviousness about this than you’re thinking. Think of it as a coming home surprise. When my wife leaves there’s a half planted, open area in the garden. When she returns home there’s a pond, stream, and stone path.

A fourth pond was built just off the front walk sometime after this, the only pond in the front garden, and doesn’t it figure that it gets lonely? Anyway, there’s not enough space for another, so it’s has been reconstructed a bit larger and further into a slope to accommodate a stone platform beside it. At this point I can hardly keep my stories straight, and the truth is I can’t remember when this pond was dug, or even if it was done with the wife at home or away.Waterfall of the swimming pond

The largest of the ponds , the swimming pond, was most recently constructed. It is now and forever more to be referred to as the koi pond since there are a hundred or so koi and goldfish in it, and now I’ve been instructed that because of this it’s too unsanitary to swim or even float in it. Our story of the five ponds is meandering along, but the planning for the swimming pond was more brief than the other ponds, if that is possible. The construction, however, was a bit more time consuming, so this pond was not dug while my wife was away.Koi in the swimming pond

I can’t quite recall the inspiration for the swimming pond, but it was quickly followed by research into the proper biological filtration necessary to keep the water clear without expensive gadgets. The pump, liner, and plumbing were ordered within the hour, and instead of  a shovel, this pond was mostly dug with a small machine. Except, the digging was done over several weekends in September, and before it was complete a tropical storm turned the hole to muck, so the remainder of the excavation was done by hand.

Fortunately, when you’re inspired this doesn’t seem like so much work, and just before a second storm came in the deep hole was considered to be good enough. The liner was stretched to cover the hole with the assistance of my son, and over the next several weeks storms filled the first eighteen inches. There was not eighteen inches of rain, but with excess liner and sloped sides the pond filled quickly with frequent storms.Japanese iris

Over the next few months many tons of boulders were moved to retain the slope on the upper side, and to cover ledges that were built into the pond so that the rubber liner was not visible. Months later, after rain and snow filled the pond, irises and cattails were planted along the edge and in the gravel filtration area. A year later, a stone patio was built beside the pond, and of course there are dogwoods and Japanese maples and other goodies to fill in between.

And, there you have it. Over ten or twelve years this is not so much work, and I’m certain that you’ll agree that there was no alternative at any juncture but to keep building, to add the next pond, the next path and patio. Today, I occasionally get the itch to get started on something new, but the garden is pretty much built to capacity, and I don’t know where I could possibly squeeze another pond in. Also, since her grandmother’s passing, my wife doesn’t go to Pittsburgh any longer.

More in May – trees

The splendid excesses of spring in the garden are abundantly evident in May, where blooms explode from every corner, and subtle charms are easily overlooked. I’ve made considerable efforts in recent years to plant for flowers in autumn and winter, but still there are more spring flowers than can be readily listed. With cool spring temperatures this April and May, there has been a delightful succession of flowers, with many blooms persisting a week or two longer without warm weather to speed their decline. Dogwoods flowered for nearly a month, and azaleas that began to bloom in early May are only beginning to fade.Fringetree in mid May

The ribbon-like flowers of the native fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus, above) lack heavy substance, so the fragile blooms often decline quickly with extreme warm or cold temperatures that are typical through the spring. But, this year they are fading slowly, losing vigor now because the new foliage is forcing its way in rather than from the cold. Occasionally, I see articles touting the Chinese fringetree (Chionanthus retusus), but I see no benefit in planting this rather than the extraordinary native. Chinese fringetree flowers a few weeks earlier than the native, so if both are planted the garden will have fringetree flowers a few weeks longer, but if the selection must be one or the other, the simple choice should be the native. Stellar Pink dogwood in early May

The Rutgers’ hybrid dogwoods (Cornus ‘Rutgan’ Stellar Pink, above) are in full flower, and soon will be fading as the Chinese dogwoods come into bloom. In my garden, the vigorous, upright growing variegated ‘Samaritan’ (Cornus kousa ‘Samaritan’) has refused to bloom for several years (and perhaps it has never flowered, though I can’t recall), while the similar ‘Wolf Eyes’ dogwood flowers dependably. If you care to look back to previous years, I’ve probably written something about the late flowering dogwoods every year, but I’ll spend little time on this today so I can cover it again in more detail in a few days. For now, let it suffice to say that I recommend the hybrids and Chinese dogwoods in addition to planting our superb native, but for cautious gardeners who are concerned by the native’s poor disease resistance, these are excellent substitutes.Forest Pansy redbud in mid May

While flowers are the main attraction of the spring garden, there are other delights that must be pointed out. The new foliage of ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’, above) is an annual treat, with the newest leaves an extraordinarily glossy, deep red-purple. The gloss fades as the leaves mature, and by mid summer the color often fades to a mottled green-red that is a considerable disappointment after witnessing the spring foliage. Eskimo Sunset maple in late April

The variegated foliage of the Sycamore maple ‘Eskimo Sunset’ (Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Eskimo Sunset’, above) fades only slightly from its spring glory as the summer heats up. The splashes of pink turns to green and white variegation, but this is still quite nice. The typical, green leafed Sycamore maple grows to be a large forest tree, but the lack of chlorophyll stunts ‘Eskimo Sunset’ to grow slowly to only thirty feet tall. With a bit of protection from the late afternoon sun the variegation stays stronger, but I have not experienced the burning of leaves that is cautioned about in recommending that ‘Eskimo Sunset’ be given a shaded setting. It would be unfortunate to be distracted by the garden’s many blooms to miss this marvelous foliage.Golden Chain tree in late May

At a point several years ago I was ready to give up on the weeping Golden Chain trees (Laburnum x watereri ‘Pendula’, above). Their growth was weak and flowers were scarce, and I decided they must not like the Virginia humidity. But, just as I made this pronouncement the two small trees began to grow with vigor, perhaps sensing their imminent demise. In less humid parts I assume this tree grows like a weed, but in my garden it took only a little patience to be rewarded with a fine tree, though it still doesn’t flower heavily.Purple smoketree in late May

The purple smoketree (Cotinus coggygria, above) was misplaced in too shaded a spot from the start, but I wanted its darkly colored foliage, and dark, lacy flowers as a contrast to a golden Lawson cypress. Smoketrees have an irregular habit that is best tamed by pruning it severely every year or two, and when left alone and planted in too much shade its branches wind around and over anything in its path to the sun.

This is not the worst mistake I’ve made, but the result is that the foliage of the purple smoke is difficult to see, and the blooms are barely there, the inevitable result of cramming too many good things into too small a space.

The garden in mid May

With warm temperatures arriving late in the spring it’s unsurprising that the garden’s azaleas have flowered a bit late. Several hot days in early April pushed dogwoods into bloom exactly when they’re expected (if there’s such a thing), but this was followed by delightful cool weather that has caused the azaleas’ delay from their usual late April blooming time.Encore azalea in early May

I’m pleased that the evergreen azaleas are flowering at all. In previous updates I’ve chronicled my failure to spray the deer repellent in late autumn, which was predictably followed by deer nibbling all foliage on azaleas, camellias, and aucubas through the winter. I suspected that in their haste to devour the leaves that deer would have also chomped the flower buds at the branch tips, but many of the azaleas are blooming as if nothing happened.Delaware Valley White azalea

With the exception of a tall and wide spreading Delaware Valley White (above), and another unidentified pale pink that peeks from beneath the white flowered azalea, the remainder of the azaleas in the garden are from the Encore group that flowers in the spring and again in late summer into early autumn. Problems with lacebugs twenty years ago convinced me to give up on other azaleas, and only when Encores were introduced was I persuaded to give them another try. After a slow start when a few varieties were weeded out as reluctant to flower a second time, I’m pleased to recommend Encores to the exclusion of typical azaleas. Except Delaware Valley, that is, which shares the Encores’ resistance to lacebugs.Twist Encore azalea

Exbury azalea flowering in mid MayThe various deciduous azaleas should not be considered in the same manner as the evergreens. Most are tall with an upright form, and while evergreen azaleas are often suitable for the front of the garden, the deciduous types are more appropriate for the back where they tower over most other shrubs. But, not too far back, and certainly not where their fragrant and brightly colored red, orange, and yellow blooms cannot be enjoyed. In most years the blooms of the deciduous azaleas follow the evergreens, but this spring they coincide for a marvelous display in mid May.Sweetshrub in early May

The fragrant flowers of sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus, above) are unremarkable by comparison to azaleas, but the unusual red-brown blooms have a unique charm. This native shrub is well adapted to sun or part shade, and it manages nicely in my garden with root competition from neighboring tulip poplars and swamp maples. The yellow flowered ‘Athens’ (below) blooms two weeks later, and is equally undemanding.Sweetshrub Athens in mid May

The foliage of Rainbow leucothoe (Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’, below) is streaked with white, and with lily of the valley blooms this should be quite a delightful evergreen shrub. But, it seems to fall just short for me. The foliage is not striking, but still, it is carefree, and if given space enough to spread its arching stems, leucothoe is a fine addition to the garden. Its common names, dog hobble and fetterbush, are head scratchers.Rainbow leucothoe in mid May

Deutzia Nikko in mid MayDeutzia ‘Nikko’ (Deutzia garcilis ‘Nikko’, above) is under utilized as a ground cover, and though it’s deciduous, it has sufficient attributes to earn a prominent place in the garden where a massing is a splendid sight through much of May. The shrub is covered in white blooms, followed by pleasant green foliage. The yellow leafed ‘Chardonnay Pearls’ (below) grows just a bit taller, but yellow foliage is best used in moderation, so it is perhaps best used in smaller numbers rather than in masses.

Chardonnay Pearls deutzia in mid May

There is so much of interest in the garden in May that it cannot be included in only one chapter, so when I return in a few days we’ll catch up on the rest.

More about Japanese maples

The Golden Full Moon maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’, below) leafs several weeks after the garden’s other Japanese maples. It’s in nearly full sun, which is not it’s preferred location since the yellow foliage is prone to sunburning (though this has not been a problem for me). But, this should speed leafing in the spring, not delay it. I suppose that it’s the nature of the beast, and it’s not a problem, but it creates a bit of concern when other maples are full and lush and there’s barely a bud showing on the Golden Full Moon maple. Even when it begins to break into leaf, there’s a leaf here and there, and it takes a few weeks for it to fill out. Today, it’s about three quarters full, but it’s progressing nicely.Golden Full Moon maple

This is a tree that I lusted after for years, and was even tempted to purchase a small sapling through mail order since I could not find a larger one. The Full Moon maple is slow, and I’m an impatient gardener, so fortunately I stumbled over a tree in a Japanese maple grower’s field in Aurora, Oregon that had been left behind due to damage to its trunk. The injury proved to be superficial, and I’m overjoyed to include this treasure in my little collection of Japanese maples.Shaina Japanese maple in early spring

Most of the maples in the garden are not unique or rare, and several are downright common, but rare or commonplace matters little to me. A few of the Japanese maples have been here for more than twenty years, and others only for a year or two (and one for only a few months). As the garden has filled to capacity in recent years my selections have turned to ones that stay relatively small, and I’m always anxious to add another.Trompenburg Japanese maple

A simple fact is that red leafed types will be most popular in garden centers, and that red leafed varieties with pendulous branching will be most requested. I’ve planted red leafed upright and weeping varieties, but also ones with green, yellow, and variegated foliage. I don’t think that there are any foliage types that I don’t have at least one of, though my collection of twenty three varieties is only a small fraction of the twenty five thousand named varieties.Butterfly Japanese maple

The most recent Japanese maple I planted was the green and white variegated ‘Butterfly’ (Acer palmatum ‘Butterfly’, above). There is another on the shaded south side of the house, and while most maples perform best in full sun, ‘Butterfly’ has done quite well with little sunlight. I planted the new maple at tip of a curved point in the large koi pond (which was previously referred to as the swimming pond, but my wife informs me that I should not swim/float in it any longer with so many fish). A Japanese maple that was planted a year ago was removed, which was a shame since I planted it believing it was the variegated ‘Floating Cloud’ maple (Acer palmatum ‘Ukigumo’, below). As it turned out, the tree was mislabeled, leafing out a sad looking green and proving to be the single most unremarkable Japanese maple I’d ever seen.Foliage of Ukigumo maple

This was a horrible disappointment since I have seen too many ‘Ukigumo’ maples going to waste with the vast oversupply of Japanese maples the past several years in Oregon, and it seemed such a simple thing to have one of my own. Alas, it was not meant to be, and I’ve moved on, though if the opportunity to get a genuine ‘Floating Cloud’ comes around I’ll certainly find a spot for it. In any case, the green leafed maple was dug out and ‘Butterfly’ was planted in its place, where it is a slightly better choice since it is a bit more tolerant of one of the few full sun spaces remaining in the garden.

Late spring is the prime season for Japanese maples in the warm and humid mid Atlantic region (or upper south, whichever you prefer). By mid summer many maples in full sun begin to show a bit of stress, and some red leafed varieties begin to fade. They are still healthy, but the maples are much happier in cooler temperatures, and in May and June their foliage color is most vivid.Gwen's Rose Delight Japanese maple

In May the foliage of ‘Gwen’s Rose Delight’ (Acer palmatum ‘Gwen’s Rose Delight’, trade name ‘Shirazz’, above) is purple with a pronounced pink edge, a striking combination that attracts the immediate attention of visitors. Unfortunately, by August the foliage has faded to a bedraggled red-green, and the pink edge is only a memory, but for a few months in the spring there is no Japanese maple so delightful. For this reason, ‘Gwen’s Rose Delight’ should probably not be the only maple in your garden, but in this garden it is one of many, so I can simply avert my gaze when it’s not at its prime.

The well maintained garden?

No, I’m sorry. Perhaps you’ve mistaken my garden for another. Mine is not well maintained at all, but barely managed. Still, there’s a time in May when all seems right about the garden. I’ll claim that it’s only for a day, but it’s longer, not a month, but perhaps two weeks when the garden looks just the way the gardener envisions it on a snowy January afternoon.

The lawn, never a priority to me, is lush and green, and mostly without weeds. Trees and shrubs are growing vigorously, and with perennials and bulbs planted thickly between there is little light or space for weeds. There are flowers at every turn, and foliage in vibrant greens, yellow, and red.Shaina Japanese maple and weeping spruce

Considerable effort was required earlier in the spring to reach this point, and now for a few moments there is time to enjoy. In fact, by early May most of my labor to maintain the garden is complete, and with a low standard of neatness I’m satisfied to barely manage the garden through the remainder of the year. It’s possible during this two week period that a visitor might be fooled into believing that this is a well maintained garden, but a discerning eye will realize that the abundant foliage conceals an underlying wildness. It’s not quite a look that the gardener has given up and walked away, but compromises have been made. And, I’m not bothered by this at all.Ferns, dwarf hemlock, and hosta

This is not a manicured garden, to say the least. One tall boxwood is sheared into a cone, and this only because it was growing too wide across a path and the wife threatened taking matters into her own hands to keep the flagstone walk passable. She is aware that this flips a switch for me, and as soon as she picks up her pruners I spring into action.  No other pruning is done except to cut out a stray dead branch, and occasionally to clip a branch that encroaches too far into a neighbor.Geranium and euphorbia

In fact, I’m disturbed when neighbors do not encroach into another’s space. Certainly, there are limits when one plant is too close to another, and one or the other is injured by the proximity. But, I prefer less defined lines between neighboring plants, so that one branch flops over another, and the wildness is barely controlled (or not).

This is not my wife’s preference. I think she would prefer a larger lawn, and a smaller garden. Paths should be wide, with stones that are stable and not obscured by wide spreading hostas and Forest grasses. Edges of planting beds should be sharply defined, and plants pruned in an orderly fashion (though not sheared into a series of balls. On this we agree.). Debris should be raked, swept, and discarded, and not left to decay.Japanese Forest grass and hostas along stream

Oh well, most of  us learn early in life that not everything will go our way. Occasionally, there will be piles of debris, and some might linger from one year into another. In late spring the stone paths will be partially obscured by overhanging foliage, and beware what lurks beneath, so it’s best to move along quickly.

Mostly (and by mostly I mean completely), this garden is for me, and if anyone (with the minor exception of my wife) has other ideas, I’m sorry. There is certain to plenty in this garden to annoy dedicated gardeners, and if you must have order it’s probably best if you don’t drop by to visit. Plants are too close, the design is cluttered without a unifying theme, and heaven knows what else, but the garden is exactly how I prefer it, well maintained or not.

Big blooms, small flowers

There is  no larger shrub in the garden, and certainly no larger blooms than on the Chinese Snowball bush (Viburnum macrocephalum ‘Sterile’, below). In fact, the huge blooms are composed of many smaller flowers, much like mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla), but Chinese Snowball is considerably taller and wider than the largest of the mopheads.Chinese snowball viburnum in late April

This tall, wide shrub has been a problem for me for the past several years. I’ve no quarrel with the viburnum, which is quite wonderful in flower and pleasant enough after bloom, but it’s a considerable nuisance to my wife, and of course the trouble is passed along to me. The bother is that the shrub has grown to block most of the light from our library windows, and annually I’m assigned the task of cutting it down to size.

Each year I promise (with a hedge, as is my usual manner) to prune the viburnum after flowering. It would be much simpler to prune while it’s dormant, but I argue that would cut off the many hundreds of blooms, and that would be such a waste. I should wait until after flowering, but the spring comes and goes and there’s so much to be done, and of course time must be set aside to appreciate the garden, so that the pruning doesn’t happen, again. I figure that much the same will occur this year, and so the library will remain dark. (It has lights, for Heaven’s sake, so I don’t know what all the fuss is about.)Snowball viburnum

Chinese Snowball does benefit from annual pruning after flowering or it grows with a bit too much of an open form, and though I don’t recall I suppose that I could have done this years earlier when it was a much smaller shrub. Now, it’s far too tall to reach the uppermost branches, so pruning to shape is out of the question, and only with a tall step ladder and an open afternoon would there be any way to cut it back to a reasonable size. As long as my wife doesn’t learn to use the chainsaw I’m safe, the Chinese Snowball will be allowed to roam far and wide, and I’ll take my tongue lashing without complaint.Shasta viburnum in mid April

The garden’s other large viburnum, the doublefile ‘Shasta’ (Viburnum  plicatum tomentosum ‘Shasta’, above) takes nearly as much space, though it is not nearly as tall. Fortunately, it’s not blocking any part of the house since it’s planted out into the garden at the forest’s edge. Actually, the forest and a large serviceberry have grown so that ‘Shasta’ is now an understory shrub. In this shaded setting it doesn’t flower as heavily as long ago when it enjoyed at least a half day’s sun, but in early May most of its branches are cloaked in white blooms.

Looking down from the kitchen windows the snow white blooms of ‘Shasta’ are seen peeking out from behind the serviceberry, but walking through the garden you must walk around through the forest, or push aside branches of too many shrubs to get to it. From the stone path twenty feet away, ‘Shasta’ is barely evident, which is shameful design to hide such a beauty, and I’ll take full blame. In a sunny spot the foliage of ‘Shasta’ turns to plum-purple in autumn, but with too much shade under tall swamp maples the color is lost.

Both viburnums require substantial space, and I laugh when I hear people suggest that they will keep a shrub or tree “pruned back”. Perhaps long in the past I fooled myself to think I would dependably keep after pruning something, but it’s just not going to happen, so plan on the space from the start. If there’s room enough for one of these delightful viburnums, the large flowers are certain to please.