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Celebrating surprise plants


There are plants in my garden that are coddled within in inch of their life. I check on them often enough that I usually know when a new leaf has emerged. And then there are the other plants that just quietly do their thing for years until one day you blink and wonder where that beautiful plant came from.

And last week a pair of viburnums demanded some attention.

surprise plant
The pair of ‘Onondaga’ viburnums rise above the growing foliage of Incredible and Invincibelle Spirit hydrangeas

I planted these ‘Onondaga’ viburnums maybe eight years ago during a time when I had a lot of space I needed to fill. I was buying anything and everything that I could get small and cheap and sticking it in the ground without much method to the madness. These came in 4-inch pots, and I want to go back and slap my former self for buying two when I should have bought one or three. I suppose I figured one would surely die. Or maybe one did die.

As near as I can recall, the history of these viburnums goes something like this: I plunked them in the ground and then I walked away.

But look at them now. They are covered in cranberry red buds opening to a peach color and then to white. They are also quite upright and easily 8 feet tall.

‘Onondaga’ has pink-veined leaves that echo the flower color.
It’s easier to see how tall the  viburnums are from the back side, where a mulch path divides a very deep bed. They help create a natural archway to walk through.

What they are not, is Viburnum x Juddii, which has ball-shaped flowers with a lovely scent, and also what I’ve been calling them (in my head) since I plunked them in. In fact they are Virbunum ‘Onondaga’ and they have no scent. But I’d argue that the flowers are even more lovely.

Flower closeup viburnum onondagaI can take no credit for what is happening with these shrubs, which makes this whole situation even more charming in my mind. Most plants just want to grow. I think gardeners hinder that effort as often as they help it. In this case my benign neglect probably was exactly what these shrubs needed.

I like a good surprise in the garden, especially when it’s this pretty. 

4 Responses

  1. My garden is so small ( downsizing ) and so regularly inspected that a surprise really is a surprise! I have been devoting space to milkweed…another surprise ..last year had a visit from a single monarch that gave me hope that my efforts would be rewarded. This year have found 3 that have self seeded! Also discovered very difficult to move….Such deep roots! Such a welcome surprise.

  2. I’m in the same situation you were in eight years ago. I have an acre+ lot and a third of it was a semi shady mess of invasives and junk trees and prickly weeds. For three years I’ve been studying up -your blog helps tremendously – and buying madly, plunking it in and seeing what does well. This year I’m finally seeing some of the tiny hostas and shrubs begin to do their thing and it’s so great. I have many years to go but there’s nothing I like better than to stroll around and visit my babies and see how they are coming along.

  3. You are right about things happening when you forget about them. Isn’t it a fun thing to find!

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