How to grow spring-flowering viburnums

Val Bourne

Every garden should contain at least one spring-flowering viburnum because for their clusters of highly fragrant flowers in apple-blossom shades of pink and white.

The blush-white flowers of spring-flowering viburnums are often held in pink buds and this pretty combination epitomises the softness of spring - especially on a warm afternoon when the heady fragrance pervades the air.

Where to plant

All fragrant plants are more fragrant if grown in warm positions because higher temperatures increase nectar flow and scent. So spring-flowering viburnums are best placed in position where it gets warm afternoon sunshine in spring.

This could be in the lee of the outer branches of a deciduous tree or in a more open position.

However, size will dictate where you put it. The large upright Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ produces hyacinth-scented flowers from November until spring. But the perfume is so intense and the shrub so large that it can easily be grown on a boundary edge in most gardens.

Viburnums prefer fertile moist conditions and most can be grown in acid and limy soil. They are also recommended for clay soil. The spring-flowering ones are mostly from Asia and Oriental plants seem to love cool root runs - probably due to wet rainy seasons. So avoid hot-bake, south-facing positions.

Grow with…

These deciduous, semi-evergreen and evergreen fragrant viburnums make great additions to the spring woodland border.

Pick up the pink buds by growing plummy oriental hellebores and sultry May-flowering tulips. Late singles include the classic tulip variety 'Queen of Night'. But you could also use 'Paul Scherer' (a velvety maroon) the feathered 'Black Parrot', the double 'Black Hero' and the April-flowering Havran. Or use the lily flowered 'China Pink' to flatter the flowers, or the blowsy pale-pink and white Angelique. Plummy heucheras (particularly ‘Obsidian’) and dark euphorbias (like 'Blackbird') would also highlight the blossom-like flowers.

Top varieties

There are three award-winning (AGM) varieties:

'Deben' - almost-white when the flowers open
'Dawn' - a good pink form
'Charles Lamont' - said to have the pinkest flowers


Viburnum x burkwoodii
This is a medium-sized flowering viburnum with pink-budded white flowers that are set off by dark, shiny foliage. It is described as semi-evergreen as it loses some leaves but hangs on to others. It can be kept smaller by pruning after flowering and this one can flower in January in mild years.

There are two fine forms:

'Anne Russell' AGM
Named after the late owner of Rosemoor in Devon - lovely flowers with softer foliage.

'Park Farm Hybrid'
This is a very branching form with good clusters of flowers. However it flowers later.

Viburnum x juddii AGM
This small to medium viburnum has a rounded, bushy habit and it bears lots of deliciously fragrant, blush-white flower clusters in April/May. It’s tougher than many and easy to grow. The scent is as good as any too so this is probably the one to grow if you only have space for one. V. x juddii is also excellent close to a doorway or gate as it’s a manageable size and rarely exceeds 1m (3 ft).

Viburnum farreri
This is a stiff-stemmed erect viburnum that flowers in winter. All winter-flowering viburnum flowers brown in frost. So if you plant this one, choose the most sheltered place possible. The flowers appear along the stems in tight clusters so it’s very different from many. 'Candidissimum' is a lovely pure-white form with very green leaves - I wish I had room for it!

Pompoms of apple-white flowers in April and May, supported by downy grey-green leaves, make this a plant that you fall in love with at the garden centre. 'Aurora' AGM is the loveliest form of all with very soft, substantial rose-pink buds and white flowers.

However, this shrub can be tricky to keep and it hates late frosts and the young foliage blackens. I’ve lost two in full flower and (as Oscar Wilde said) "one may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness."

The first case of Sudden Oak Death (a fungal disease) in the UK was actually found on imported Viburnum and was subsequently reported in West Sussex, Dorset, Lincolnshire and Lancashire in 2002. My own plants died very quickly, were dug up and scrapped while I was still unaware of the link. Other gardeners have also told me of losses.

Sudden Oak Death is a notifiable disease in the UK and all suspect cases must be reported by law to the Plant Health and Seeds. Private gardeners will be asked to destroy their plants. (ring the Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate - telephone 01904 465625).

Viburnum x carlcephalum AGM
This compact, smaller hybrid (between V. carlesii and V. macrocephalum) has very large flowers which I find difficult to place. But you may love the globular, large heads of pink-budded white flowers. This one can also be tricky.

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The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.