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GARDENING : Bridesmaid revisited...; Those vile viburnums have some very pretty cousins.

Byline: JANET WHEATCROFT

PITY the poor old viburnums. They're real bridesmaid shrubs, like flowering currants and weigela.

Sure, they're useful and undemanding. But where's that "Oooo" factor which sets hearts racing and cameras snapping ?

Still, I've been to plenty of weddings where the bridesmaids were prettier than the bride. So let's take a fresh look at those Plain Jane viburnums.

True enough, the viburnum family contains some real shockers. Viburnum davidii is that shrub with dusty green pleated leaves beloved of landscapers.

You see it everywhere, adorning supermarket car parks and motorway service areas.

It does nothing except collect windblown sweetie wrappers.

But why settle for one of the ugly sisters when you could plant one of its ravishingly beautiful cousins?

The best of the spring crop is Viburnum plicatum Mariesii. It flowers in May when there's plenty of competition.

Yet it can hold its own against any of the rhododendrons and lilacs.

It's a real beauty, like one of the lacecap hydrangeas that bloom later in the year. But this viburnum is a pure white - rarely seen in hydrangeas.

The flowers appear with the fresh young leaves, and so profuse that the bush looks as though it's been draped in a white lace shawl.

Lanarth is just as good, an exquisite variety with tiered branches, like an especially ornate wedding cake.

The pluses don't stop there. Both varieties have an autumn bonus of rich crimson foliage. These are two faultless shrubs that should be much better known.

Of course, most folk will know the winter-flowering viburnums. I've planted one where I can see it in the worst days of the year. Viburnum x bodnantense is a real star. It never fails and the last few blooms are still on the plant.

This one has been flowering on and off since last November. Every time there was a frost-free spell last winter, it put out a fresh crop of waxy pink and white flowers smelling of hyacinths.

I grew the commonest variety, Dawn, but I'd love to get hold of Charles Lamont. This was raised at Edinburgh Botanics in 1933. Buy it if you ever see it for sale. The flowers are clear shell pink and the scent is divine.

Sure, the winter viburnums are gaunt, rather upright shrubs after flowering. But planting a short-growing clematis alongside softens their outline and transforms that rather angular look.

Gardeners with tiny plots, or even just a container, should look out for Viburnum x burkwoodii.

These tidy evergreen shrubs have shining dark green leaves, grey-felted on the underside. The flowers, carried all winter, are bun-shaped clusters of pink, opening to white.

The sweet scent wafts all over the garden. If space is at a premium, choose Anne Russell. All viburnum x burkwoodii are neat and slow growers, but this is an especially compact form.

Everyone raves about the fabulous oriental daphnes that flower in winter.

But put a sprig of Viburnum carlesii Diana next to a sprig of daphne bholua and you'd be hard-put to tell them apart, both in beauty and fragrance.

The difference is about pounds 30 on the price. You're also getting a completely trouble-free shrub rather than a temperamental beauty.

The viburnum flowers, pink in bud, opening to white, are perfect, especially against the young purple-tinged foliage.

Better still, good autumn colour makes this a true double-season plant.

Most viburnums are good and hardy, making them plausible if your garden is too cold for hydrangeas.

Good soil in sun or semi-shade suits them best and they need little or no pruning.

I reckon it's high time they got the recognition they deserve.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 20, 2002
Words:603
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