You won't win any accolades from plant snobs for planting Viburnum 'Shasta', but you will be rewarded with a beautiful four-season shrub that's easy to grow and extremely useful.
The Viburnums are an enormous tribe comprising lots of good garden shrubs, some native to North America, others worldwide. The ancestors of 'Shasta' hail from the forests of China and Japan, but it was bred here in the states by the U.S. Arboretum from a cross first made in 1954, and finally introduced into commerce in 1979. (This is almost exactly the time frame my lifetime took from conception to college graduation, so I feel kinship). Its correct full name is Viburnum plicatum forma tomentosum 'Shasta', but we can shorten that for our purposes to Viburnum 'Shasta'... we'll know which one we mean!
At any rate, most Viburnums aren't too picky about soil but want even, reliable moisture. Some, like Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) even tolerate swampy conditions. I have three Shastas planted in a shady shrub border that never really dries out and they're thriving, putting on a foot or two of growth every year now that they've established (it's year five for them). They've achieved seven feet or so already, nicely screening my neighbor's driveway.
Even if they were just green blobs they'd have already paid their way, but they offer so much more: distinctively tiered horizontal branching that gives them winter interest, then when they leaf out and bloom in April and May, fresh lacecap flowers all along the branches to rival any Hydrangea, followed by abundant red fruits that are relished by Robins and other fruit-eating birds. Healthy green foliage the rest of the summer and finishing out the year with tones of russet, plum and even violet... not a bright fall display but subtle and satisfying.
My plants are growing in filtered light under high shade, but a Shasta planted in full sun will flower even more prolifically, as long as there's adequate moisture. Its fast, dense growth and hardy constitution make it a good candidate for an informal hedge (unclipped, of course) and the lacecap flowers blend with native and naturalistic plantings better than some other Viburnums with larger, showier blooms. Plus, it's rated very resistant to the pesky Viburnum Leaf Beetle, which can devastate other types like Viburnum dentatum and Viburnum trilobum. Nor is it a martyr to aphids, like the European Snowball, Viburnum opulus. If you're not sold already, factor in that Viburnum 'Shasta' is rarely even nibbled by deer in my garden, even though they regularly maul the Hostas growing underneath.
'Shasta' has a broad growth habit, so make sure you give it adequate space. Eight or ten feet between plants is not too much; a mature specimen may easily measure eight feet tall by twelve feet wide. Then just sit back and enjoy it, season after season, a truly reliable and rewarding workhorse of a shrub!
Welcome to Sempervivum, an opinionated, sometimes informed and completely unqualified journal of gardens, plants and plantings by artist-gardener Robert Clyde Anderson.