Viburnum opulus, the Guelder-rose, is one of our most beautiful and versatile native shrubs. In November it is resplendent in hedgerows, boundary hedges, and woodlands with scarlet maple-like leaves, and jewel-like, red, translucent berries, which provide late Autumn nourishment for birds, especially bullfinches and mistle thrushes. Wouldn’t you love to see a mistle thrush ? I don’t think I’ve seen one since last January!
This is a great shrub/small tree for the wildlife garden, and for smaller gardens where a native shrub is wanted to encourage wildlife in a mixed planting. It has two seasons of real beauty. The first is in late Spring and early Summer, when it is covered with fragrant, white, lace-cap type flower heads, each composed of an inner ring of creamy-white, tubular, fertile flowers surrounded by larger, porcelain-white sterile florets. The second is as you see it here in Autumn, with vibrant reds and oranges, a magnet for the eye and the birds.
For smaller gardens there is an excellent berry-bearing cultivar Viburnum opulus ‘Compactum’ . There is also the very attractive V. opulus ‘Roseum’, Snowball plant, but avoid this if you are creating a wildlife area, as it is completely sterile and has no nectar or fruit.
Viburnum opulus associates well with other flowering and berry-bearing shrubs, such as the natives Prunus spinosa, Blackthorn, and Crataegus monogyna, the Common hawthorn, in a wildlife garden, or non-natives such as the evergreen Viburnum tinus.
It can be underplanted with bulbs and herbaceous plants – to continue with the native theme, Galanthus nivalis, Common snowdrop, and Leucojum aestivum, the Summer snowdrop would provide earlier interest, along with Viola odorata, the Sweet violet, and followed by the frothy umbels of Filipendula ulmaria, Meadowsweet. To finish off this association you could use the native climber, Clematis vitalba, Old-man’s beard – its fragrant, airy white flowers would extend the flowering season of the shrub, and the silky seed heads last well into early winter, providing shelter for both insects and birds.