IMG_1992I have a fondness for snowball viburnums, in full dress right now. They are showy in an old-fashioned way, and are marvelous for cutting. At Duck Hill, we have the compact-growing ‘Newport’ with beautiful baseball-sized white flowers and ribbed leaves, and the flashy ‘Popcorn’ which is about 8 feet high and almost as wide, and littered with 3″ rounded white clusters all up and down its branches. It’s a “wow” shrub, wonderful for bouquets, with a bonus of coppery tinged leaves in the fall. But my favorite, swoon-inducing snowball type is ‘Mary Milton,’ a deliciously-hued soft pink sort with handsome leaves that are tipped with bronze in the spring. All three of these viburnums are members of the doublefile family, V. plicatum var. tomentosum, but in their plumpness quite different from the elegant lace-cap classic called ‘Mariesii.’

December 28

Holiday Red

At holiday time, I am sorry we don’t have more conifers at Duck Hill. Not because I want to see them in the garden particularly (most conifers seem to me out of place here), but because I wish I had them to pick for bouquets and wreaths and mantels. I make do with what we have, namely hemlock from our boundary hedge and yew from a conveniently overgrown specimen that was here when I came 32 years ago. Thankfully, we have broadleaf evergreens that offer branches and sprigs–boxwood, pieris, leucothoe, inkberry, rhododendron, and skimmia. They are the saving grace now, offering welcome patches of green in the gray and white winter landscape. And here and there, we have dashes of holiday red–berries, fruit, and branches, to cut for indoors or just savor their brilliance as we walk in the garden.


The winterberries, varieties of Ilex verticillata, have been especially floriferous this year, which is surprising when you remember how dry our early fall was, and knowing that their natural preference is for damp ground. I catch glimpses of their scarlet-studded branches in low-lying woods as I drive the country roads around here. But they seem to survive well enough in drier ground, as is the case here. Usually a flock of birds, often robins, has stripped our bushes by now, but this year they are still vivid with orange and red berries.


Our American cranberrybush, Viburnum trilobum, drips with lustrous fruit until sometime in dead winter when birds polish them off. Our bushes, planted as a screen by the road, are five to six feet in height, arching in habit, and decorated with these scarlet drupes starting in late summer. I love to cut sprigs to add to small bouquets of roses or dahlias.IMG_1871

The showiest of viburnums this time of year is V. dilatatum. This is a big shrub, to about seven or eight feet, rounded in habit, with masses of tiny deep red berries from early fall through much of winter. This is a stellar viburnum where you can use a big shrub, with handsome heart-shaped leaves, showy discs of white flowers, and then this painterly haze of red. I pick branches of the berries to mix with hydrangeas for bouquets in the fall and now to compliment those broadleaf evergreens.


Most of the hips on our roses have been gobbled up by now, or have shrivelled and turned brown. But a few still hold their brilliance–are they not as palatable for some reason?


I love the color of the shrub dogwoods in the winter garden–yellow-twigged, flaming orange, dark crimson. One small, shrubby tree stands out along our woodland path for the same reason. It is a maple in the moosewood family, called Acer x conspicuum ‘Phoenix,’ with rather spectacular white-striped, coral-red winter twigs. It isn’t big enough to dream of cutting. But I puposely take the path where it stands back to the house each afternoon to see it shimmer.


Happy New Year from Duck Hill.

December 22

Christmas Red

Our big winterberry bush (Ilex verticillata) cracked at its base, unable to withstand the weight of the snow in the freak October storm. Its branches are now added to the pile of debris from the storm waiting to be chipped, and their perfect,  round, glossy red berries–so treasured for Christmas decoration–are dry and shriveled. Usually I cut the winterberry branches I want for the holidays sometime in November before the birds get to them, for they are often picked clean by December. I store the fruited branches in a bucket of water until I need them. But this year, for that touch of red in holiday bouquets, I am relying on the linden viburnum, V. dilatatum ‘Erie,’ shown above, which is planted along our driveway and is still ladened with shiny fruit. The berries are small and slightly oval in shape, but born in such profusion they offer quite a show. This viburnum never looks shabby–the fruit will linger through most of winter, and the graceful mass of twigs on the eight-foot shrubs will be dressed all spring and summer with broad, lustrous, ribbed leaves. White discs of flowers cover the branches in May.

Do admit. Hydrangeas add punch to the garden with their blowsy blooms from summer right through fall and into winter, their fat plumes turning from green to chalk white to pink to rose to buff. Of course I am referring to the Hydrangea paniculata hybrids such as ‘Limelight,’ ‘Tardiva,’ Quickfire,’ and ‘Little Lamb.’ From August on, I depend on them for my big bouquet in the library, their showy blooms mixing well with flowers from the meadow and garden such as the tiny-flowered black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia triloba, and sprays of goldenrod, or, as now, the berries of autumn. Right now, I have a pitcher of ‘Limelight” mixed with branches of Viburnum dilatatum ‘Erie’ behind the library sofa. This viburnum is at its showiest right now with masses of tiny deep red berries littering the 8′ shrubs. The leaves are deep green and leathery, touched with bronze by the end of this month. Even after the leaves have dropped the fruit will linger, finally eaten by visiting birds.