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Plant Focus – December 2021: Bodnant Viburnum – Viburnum x bodnantense

This month Roy Philpott, a Friend of Highdown Gardening Volunteer, has written about the Viburnum x bodnantense.

Bodnant Viburnum: Viburnum x bodnantense
Season: October to April
Location: A single specimen in the middle garden

Viburnum x bodnantense is one of the few plants that flower at Highdown throughout the long winter months when little else is blooming. Clusters of white and pink, sweetly fragrant flowers are produced on bare wood stems from October through to April.

Photos: Viburnum x bodnantense – Bodnant Viburnum

Viburnum x bodnantense - Bodnant Viburnum

V. x bodnantense is a large, upright, deciduous shrub growing to a maximum height of 4m with a maximum spread of 2.5m. Like most Viburnums, it is very tolerant of soil type, is happy in full sun and partial shade and is fully hardy in sheltered or exposed positions.

Purple tinged leaves begin to appear in spring and gradually turn to a deep green as they mature. While happy on chalk, it does not like drying out completely and last summer I lost one of my specimens in the very hot and dry spell during May and June. Another V. x bodnantense, in a shadier situation, survived and is now in full flower.

Viburnum x bodnantense is a hybrid cultivated from two species: V. farreri and V. grandiflorum, both of which originated in the mountains of Northern China.

Viburnum farreri was collected from Northern China in 1913-14, by Reginald Farrer, a plant hunter whose expeditions were part funded by Sir Frederick Stern, and is sometimes called Viburnum fragrans. V. farreri was first introduced by William Purdom in 1910 and named for Farrer.

Sir Frederick germinated seeds brought back by Farrer, and V. farreri first flowered at Highdown in 1921-22. Stern also received some cuttings of V. grandiflorum from the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and grew them on at Highdown.

Viburnum x bodnantense was first raised at Edinburgh in 1933 and then by Lord Aberconway’s head gardener, Charles Puddle, at Bodnant Garden in North Wales in 1935, from which the cultivar acquired its name. V. x bodnantense has a more elegant habit than either of its parents with long straight stems arching up from the base, forming an attractive cone shape.

In 1947 Viburnum x bodnantense was awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) and Lord Aberconway presented Stern with a plant that same year. Alas, the plant currently in the middle garden at Highdown is unlikely to be this original shrub.