Viburnum Odoratissimum

In a small garden, you may need only one of these shrubs to screen off your neighbour, the dog’s kennel or the washing line, because Viburnum odoratissimum can grow up to 4 m tall and 2 m wide. In a larger garden, you could plant several in a crescent, circle or square; they will create a peaceful green ‘garden room’ where you will be able to relax (or simply hide), with the sights and sounds of the neighbourhood screened out and muted by the shrubs with their large, bright green leaves.

Viburnum Odoratissimum hedges can also be used to divide a big garden into rooms for different planting themes. Vast farm gardens can accommodate rows and rows of them as formal or informal hedges to act as windbreaks that will protect other plants. Next to the pool, in large pots, they become dramatic foliage plants and if they are trimmed into balls or cubes, they need never be in the way of those using the pool. In the herb or vegetable garden, you can trim them regularly to form low hedges that keep the dogs out of the beds.

In narrow passages between tall buildings (usually dark and cold wind tunnels, where the sun seldom shines), they flourish quite happily. In other words, there is no limit to the ways in which this dense, fast-growing, evergreen shrub can be used in a landscape (and the fact that it is pest and disease free is simply a bonus). What more do you need from a plant?

When does Viburnum Odoratissimum bloom?

With the exception of a few varieties, the viburnums available locally are planted for their neat foliage and their reliability as good framework shrubs, and not specifically for their blooms. Nevertheless, they do flower rather abundantly during spring and early summer. The tiny flowers are white or light pink and lightly scented. Later a rather sparse harvest of small black fruit appears and is quickly snatched up by birds.

Most suitable climate for Viburnum Odoratissimum

Viburnums prefer a cool, temperate climate with wet summers, but also endure the more challenging conditions on either side of that spectrum. They grow willingly in the cooler parts of the subtropical regions and cope well in very cold Highveld gardens. Very heavy frost can damage the leaves, but they grow out again quite quickly. The wet winters of the Western Cape don’t pose a problem. In fact, viburnums grow quite well in the winter rainfall region.

What they need

Location: full sun is best, but light shade such as that cast by buildings and other large shrubs and trees is not a problem. In shade that is too deep the foliage becomes sparse and they do not flower. They grow well on the southern side of a house where other sun worshippers will not be so happy. V. odoratissimum specimens in large containers are also very pretty in a formal garden.

Soil: any soil type is fine, but light, well-drained soil enriched with lots of organic material, such as good compost, is the best.

Water: the plants prefer cool and moist but, not constantly wet soil. Water regularly during summer when they are actively growing (but in times of crisis, they can survive a short drought). When they are just starting out, water young plants regularly. Older plants are medium water consumers.

Fertilizing and pruning: feed in late winter and in midsummer, using slow-release 3:1:5 or an organic equivalent. If the leaves appear a little pale, a little extra nitrogen in the form of LAN will be beneficial. They react well to it, especially after the plants have been pruned drastically. Only use LAN if you can give them extra water for a few weeks, otherwise this quick-acting fertilizer may burn the roots and foliage.

Additional pruning

If necessary, viburnums can be pruned for neatness throughout the year. Older plants that have outgrown their space can be ‘reinvented’ by removing all the lower branches, retaining only one or two of the larger main stems and the upper branches attached to them. These branches are then trimmed regularly, so that the foliage becomes denser. This will create a cute little tree in whose shade you can plant some new perennials. V. odoratissimum is also very useful for topiary; the young shrubs are pruned into sturdy lollipops and other shapes. Lovely viburnum hedges – lush and dense living walls – can also be created through regular pruning (and tender care).

In a nutshell

  • A great pioneer plant for a new garden.
  • Used to form dense windbreaks in cooler climates.
  • Wind resistant.
  • Low-maintenance and problem free.

Other viburnums

  • Viburnum Macrocephalum is an old-fashioned plant that is still worthy of recognition and pride of place in the garden. This is another of those spring flowering shrubs that also has a double bonus of autumn blooms. Large white heads of flowers top the stems of the shrub, which can grow up to 4 metres tall, for months on end. Evergreen in most climates, Chinese Snowball grows best in the cooler inland regions, battling to cope with the summer heat and humidity in sub-tropical areas.
  • Viburnum Awabuki ‘Emerald Lustre’ is a glossy foliage shrub with large, shiny leaves. The new growth is a rich caramel colour. It is evergreen, hardy and loves full sun and light shade. Mature size about 4 x 2 m.
  • Viburnum Tinus ‘Gwenllian’ is acompact shrub and a winner for gardens that are hot, cold and windy. The leathery dark green foliage contrasts well with the large bunches of pink to white flowers. From late winter and into spring the closed buds are bright pink and as they open, they fade to soft pink and white. This evergreen plant (±1.5 x 1m) is suitable for both full sun and light shade. Perfect for coastal gardens as a windbreaker. Low maintenance and problem free.
The Gardener