A Favorite Perennial

By Kate Riley April 24, 2013

I’ve always believed that the simplest things can bring the most joy in life. People have said it over the years in various clever ways because you can’t escape its truth. For me, the presence of a simple botanical that costs me nothing and is within reach just a few steps from the back door brings much happiness.

I love our hydrangeas and roses and grapevines too, but if you asked me what my favorite blooming perennial is, I wouldn’t hesitate to answer “Viburnum!”  (Although ask me again next spring after the new lilac bush I planted has blossomed and I may have changed my story.) There are over 100 varieties of viburnum and the one growing in our yard is ‘Chinese Snowball’ which blooms in small white puffs that resemble mini hydrangeas.

viburnum in blue glass vases

It grows tall and wild on woody stems each season, but unlike the hungry citrus or temperamental grapevines, it tolerates my frequent neglect and still gives me the most beautiful white blossoms every April.

viburnum bush

They first bloom in a vivid lime green color (pruned and placed in a vase, seen here) and then quickly turn to white puffballs in the spring sunshine. They only bloom for a few weeks but when they do, I hurry to gather many arrangements and fill up vases around the house.

viburnum in vase on nightstand

viburnum blooms


In early fall the viburnum gifts me once more with gorgeous stems of leaves that have turned all shades of amber and gold (see them on last year’s autumn mantel). Wherever I live, I know I’ll always have a viburnum planted somewhere in the yard.

What is your favorite perennial that blooms each season?


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  1. Ditto! my favorite as well. They look amazing outside and in!

  2. They are beautiful. I would have assumed they were hydrangea if you hadn’t told us. Hydrangea are one of my favorites. They have been ever since my wedding when we used both white and green ones. I also had a few green Cymbidium Orchids in my bouquet. My husband also surprised me with green hydrangea for my birthday one year. I think they may have been one of my favorite things he has ever bought me in the last 8 years together. I can’t wait to have my own garden and grown hydrangea.

  3. I didnt’e even know what this flower was called! Another new thing I learned from you Kate! I love hydrangeas but have yet to make it surive (yikes!). Need to read up on your post about that. Glad your cat is ok too!

  4. I have always loved our snowball bushes. They grow so nice and big and have the prettiest white blooms. I just have to wait a month or so for them to bloom up here!

  5. I love hydrangeas but the ones I buy from trader joes keep wilting on me in a couple of days. Sometimes they will perk up again if i trim the stems and change water. But I couldn’t resist on NOT buying them when I pass the aisle. Soooo full of puffy goodness!
    We don’t have big yards in the city so I always feel bad cutting the flowers for inside!
    I have a tiny lilac plant (more like a stick with leaves!) that we planted last year, can’t wait for it to flower

    Beautiful photos as always Kate :)

  6. I’ve been wanting a viburnum bush since last year when I read about yours. I have to order it online because I never see it at a nursery. I don’t see any in landscapes around town, either (Dallas, TX) so I better make sure it can handle our brutal summers first. But I want one!!

  7. These are SO pretty! I’m so bad at knowing flower names – I just admire them and with I knew what they were – so thanks for sharing this. Your photos are beautiful too!!

  8. Oh how I miss my giant snowball hydrangeas from back east, just not the same here. These are so close & grow well in California it seems. Will try in my Southern Cali. garden Thank you!!

  9. In the garden, pansies and violets have always been my favorites. They never look quite as good in a vase as they do on their plants though, so I don’t pick them.
    The only flowers I have growing on my balcony right now are nasturtiums and some sorrel – not the most dramatic for bouquets, but they do have a sweet wildness about them which is a fun contrast to a delicate bud vase.

  10. The snowball viburnum are definitely one of my top five favorite spring plants. I just posted pictures of mine a couple days ago, although it’s not quite in full bloom yet.
    Lilacs are right up there too. SO pretty. Your pictures make me want to go out and cut a bouquet.
    Happy spring!!!

  11. Ah Ha! We have a mystery shrub in our backyard and this is it!!! I am so excited! Ours is s few weeks out from blooming (Brrrr Central Oregon climate), but I have loved it since we moved in! Your’s is lovely!

  12. I LOVE viburnum too but don’t have any in my yard (yet!) Right now I’m loving my bearded iris, hydrangea and lady banks roses. Looking forward to my black eyed susan and dahlias blooming later this summer. Pretty pictures!

  13. Hi Kate, i love your blog and your have been the source of much inspiration for me. I am a landscape designer and gardener. And I wanted to say that Viburnums are not perennials. They are ornamental shrubs.

    • Hi Cate, I understood any plant that lives for more than two years was a perennial and in my mind a viburnum certainly qualifies but thanks for the technical correction, noted!

  14. Wow, I love those flowers! I am so not the gardener at our house, and I will forward this info to my husband who does it all. How amazing that they change color at different times of year too! Thanks for posting. I can’t wait to have blooms like that all over the house!

  15. Hellebores (Lenten roses) are my new fave….they bloom in Jan and Feb when nothing else does, and still look beautiful in spring! But agree, on viburnum and will be planting one this fall in my side yard.

  16. I had never heard of this viburnum plant… it is gorgeous!!! I love that the flowers look like mini hydrangeas. And the fact that it can survive occasional neglect makes it a #1 in my book! ;)

  17. Thank you so much for sharing! I fondly remember these from my grandmother’s spectacular garden and have tried tracking down what they were for YEARS for their beauty and sentimental meaning. As a little girl, these are what I would always pick to clip and take home with me. What a lovely surprise to solve this mystery today.

  18. Can’t beat peony for beauty and fragrance. Once planted they last forever with little care. They only bloom about one beautiful month.

  19. I am so excited. Our 20 year in the making huge front porch is final finished, but we have NO landscaping. I don’t trust myself to design it myself because of our tricky red clay and surrounding woods, so someone will help me, but I am putting this on my LIST! YAY! I would never have thought of them. Yes, hydrangeas were already my #1 request, but these look just as lovely.

    Miss you, girl. :)

  20. I love ALL sedums. In the ground spreading readily, in pots as focal points, filler in baskets – to me they’re THEE perfect plant. The foliage is interesting, they bloom and they’re drought tolerant. PERFECT !!

  21. Definitely my peonies! When we built a new house, we had to live for about a month in an apartment between houses and my peonies (which were blooming at the time!) survived in a wheelbarrow until I could get them planted at the new place. I watch and wait for them every year, then bring them in to my house and office so I can enjoy them as much as possible.

  22. Cate beat me to it, but yes, viburnums, like hydrangeas, are shrubs, not perennials. My favorite perennial is echinacea, or purple coneflower. I love how it self sows all through my garden so I have more every year. I also love a perennial that was handed down to be from my grandmother, called spiderwort.

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