This past spring there seemed to be an explosion of color in our landscapes. Every couple of years the stars seem to align and many deciduous beauties bloom, overlapping one another. Forsythia, magnolia, cherries, crabapples and pear trees were all blooming at the same time this year. Mother Nature dished out a harsh winter, gave us colors we were all starving for and then deprived us of any significant rain. Who could ever predict the weather?
Blessed that I am able to not only work with my wife every day, but her family as well, our garden center is truly a family business and we all have our responsibilities. My wife, Allison, is much more interested in the business/fiscal part of our operation, yet sometimes she surprises me and remarks on the “greener” side of things. Not that she doesn’t know her plant material, far from it! Let’s just say she wouldn’t stand on a ladder and photograph a trees leaf color seldom seen from the ground, something my wife and daughter caught me doing the other night. So when my two special ladies both caught me off guard this spring, remarking about two particular plants in bloom, there was an “aha moment” for me. As many plants were overlying one another this spring, with their respective attributes, two plants in particular seemed to cause a “whiteout” which was enough for my wife and daughter to comment on. That in itself was a “win-win” for me.
“Whiteout”, defined by merriam-webster.com is “a surface weather condition in a snow-covered area (such as a polar region) in which no object casts a shadow, the horizon cannot be seen, and only dark objects are discernible.” While we were not blanketed with snow in early May, thank God… we did seem to be smitten with a handful of white flowering plants screaming for attention. Two, in particular, that held the attention of nearly every customer that walked through our door, earlier this spring, was viburnum and spirea.
Viburnum is a genus and has about 175 species. “With their abundance of flower, handsome foliage, robust constitution, and frequently stunning fruits, viburnums are among the most beautiful and versatile hardy shrubs available to gardeners” Michael Dirr Viburnums Flowering Shrubs for Every Season. And despite the fact that many can grow well over 10 feet tall, providing excellent screening with all of the afore mentioned characteristics, many continue to dimple, into their limited spaces, behemoth Giant (Western) arborvitae ‘Green Giant’, Thuja plicata ‘Green Giant’. One Viburnum type that provided “shock and awe” to almost every gardener this spring was Doublefile Viburnum, Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum. And two cultivars that really did steal the show were ‘Shasta’ and ‘Summer Snowflake’. Doublefile Viburnum offer everything you could truly want in a shrub. Broad-spreading branches with flowers rising on 2-inch high peduncles, held above and against heavily textured leaves with more than appreciable fall color and colorful fruits. ‘Shasta’ is an outstanding introduction from the U.S. National Arboretum and Don Egolf’s breeding program. If you have never heard the name Don Egolf before, Google this renowned shrub breeder from the U.S. National Arboretum. ‘Shasta’s’ pure white flowers smother its outline and the summer bright red fruit maturing to black and fall color are equally exciting to me. ‘Summer Snowflake’s’ features are more diminutive across the board than the species. Flowers, leaves and fruit all fit tidily on its frame and its ability to flower prominently in spring and sporadically through the fall distinguishes this one from other Doublefile types. This type of Japanese snowball, another common name for this plant, attracts birds and butterflies, is drought tolerant and was introduced by the Canadian Ornamental Plant Foundation. Interesting side note, in China, viburnums have been part of their botanical pharmacopeia for centuries.
The other notable white flowering plant that most everyone commented on this past spring was ‘Snowmound’ Nippon Spirea, Spiraea nipponica ‘Snowmound’. Touted as a superior alternative to Spiraea x vanhouttei, ‘Snowmound’ grows 4-6 feet tall and wide and certainly didn’t disappoint this year. Small dark blue-green leaves were engulfed by white flowers in small corymbs this past May. The species is native to the island of Shikoku, Japan and is hardy in zones 3-8.
It’s not often that my wife and daughter comment on plants in landscapes. In fact, my daughter often says to me, “Dad, give it a rest! Why do you always have to point out all these plants to us?” To which I reply, “Liv, I only hope one day you love your work as much as me, then you really will never have worked a day in your life.” At least that’s what Confucius said.