Thursday, November 08, 2007

Snowball trees

I had a new experience this weekend. I showed some flowers at the local horticultural society’s show. I think I once entered a sand saucer in a show when I was a young child, encouraged by my family no doubt. My grandparents were keen exhibitors, and in my late mother’s scrapbook, I have newspaper entries of her horticultural endeavours. Pride of place went to a photograph of a prize-winning ginger plant she assiduously cultivated against the wall of our house, where it was protected from frost. I can still recall her pride in the sweetly-scented plant. She would be horrified to know that it is now a noxious weed!
This Saturday morning saw me taking a bucket of my Pacific Coast Irises seedling flowers down to the local hall, where I carefully arranged them among the many other flowers. It was really just a chance to let other gardeners see how lovely they are, but I confess to being slightly chuffed at winning a couple of little certificates.
There were many different flowers in the hall – not many roses as it is still a little early in this late flowering season- and I enjoyed looking at other exhibitors’ vases. One of my favourites was a large vase filled with that most child-like off all shrubs, the Snowball Tree.
This delightfully old-fashioned shrub has instant appeal at this time of the year when its large white flowers – they really do look like snowballs – cover the bright green leaves. When the flowers first appear they have a greenish tinge, but they soon take on a pure white colour. They are very attractive as cut flowers, and I believe they are currently being looked at as a cut flower crop.
The shrubs grow to about four metres high, but they do better if they are trimmed, and also thinned out to stop the branches becoming crowded and the flowers reducing in size. The foliage is deep green through summer, and colours up in the autumn, although that is not so noticeable in warmer climates. It is very unfussy as to soil type, but prefers a sunny aspect. It will grow better is given some wind protection.
It glories in the odd name of Viburnum opulus ‘Sterile’. The wild form of the species has flat flowers, fully fertile, but in this form the individual flowers are all sterile, and composed of large florets, much like a mop-headed hydrangea. Being sterile the flowers do not set seed.
The fertile flowered forms are very popular overseas, but less so in this country. They are mot so attractive in flower, but they have a wonderful summer/autumn bonus with very attractive berries, usually red. The form ‘Compactum’ is dwarf growing, to about a metre, and has white lace cap flowers in spring. The berries are red.
Those of you who took Latin at school (there cannot be many of you left now!) will recognise that ‘Xanthocarpum’ will have yellow fruits.
There are many different Viburnums in flower at this time of the year in New Zealand, representatives of a large genus of trees and shrubs, some with sterile flowers interspersed among the fertile, others with fully fertile flowers. Have a look around – there is bound to be one you like.

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