2.5.11

You can keep your lilacs...

Fragrant shrubs we should see more in Toronto gardens


I can't think of too many fragrant flowering shrubs that are blooming now in Toronto. Yes, I know, lilacs will be doing their thing in another month but we need spring to smell heady and overpowering right now! Since I love hyacinths but can't grow them due to the presence of those beady-eyed devils that inevitably nip off blooms the day before they are set to open, a woody substitute is a fragrant viburnum.

My wife worked at Mount Pleasant Cemetery this past weekend and before meeting her after work, I strolled/stalked around looking at tree and flower buds which are just about to open. As an aside, if you are a tree "nut" (bad pun absolutely intended), the cemetery has a selection that rivals any arboretum in Toronto. Not expecting to smell anything besides that distinctive earthy/wet odour heightened by a month of solid rain (it seems), I was smacked nasally with a clove-y, sweet and sharp waft of viburnum pungency remarkably akin to vanilla Coke! (Other viburnums like V. dentatum and lantana smell of dirty socks, wet dog, or cat urine according to some sensitive noses!)


I followed my nose to this shrub....




Detail of white Viburnum Farrerii blooms in Mount Pleasant Cemetery by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Farrer's viburnum in bloom
Lucky for me there was a label nearby as I was not familiar with this species. I have a Fragrant Snowball (Viburnum x carlcephalum) in my back garden but the leaves are different from those on this shrub that drew me in. This is Farrer's viburnum, named after the early 20th century plant explorer Reginald Farrer. The plant's height and width was around 8' by 8' or so with a loose and leggy structure. Like most viburnums, I suspect it doesn't need coddling with respect to soil and moisture needs. It's thriving in a cemetery after all!


After walking some more and clearing my head a little, I saw some pink-white blooms in the distance down-wind from me (the air flow direction will be pertinent in a moment.) Maybe Saucer Magnolia blooms? But with the slow spring and the fact that Star Magnolias are blooming now, the bigger and later blooming x soulangiana flowers were unlikely to be the answer. Purple leaf Sandcherries or a cherry in general? A little too early as well.

Getting closer...


pink bodnant viburnum blooms in Mount Pleasant Cemetery by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Bodnant viburnum blooms

That remarkable smell again but with pink flowers! No label to help me this time but with leaves very similar to V. farreri, I think this is a specimen of Bodnant Viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense "Dawn".)  The grouping of three of these viburnums amongst a grove of serviceberries produce a great show through most of the year in this part of the cemetery. The fall colour should be outstanding, I'll need to revisit.  The viburnum's fruits ("drupes") will turn from red to purple-black and last much longer than those devoured from the serviceberry. Additional winter interest from the berries makes viburnums make the genus a multi-season choice.


Space permitting, consider placing a fragrant viburnum down-wind near a deck or patio to enjoy. Or right near a path so that you can stick your nose right into the blooms, inhale, and bliss out for a few moments!





By Paul Jung, author of "garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog"
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