Wake Up to Pink Dawn and Birdsong with this Five Star Shrub
January 11, 2020
Opening my kitchen curtains this January morning, I see pink florets bubbling from little branch tips. Then, a flash of ruby face and green wings as the resident Anna’s hummingbird zooms in to land on his customary perch. At the sound of a thousand tiny twitters, I look again to see sprightly bushtits flocking to clean the branches of microscopic insects. A few birds visit the nearby Oregon grape, but, finding nothing there, they return to the tall leafless shrub with lightly lichened bark to join their companions for breakfast. Then, with unseasonably warm sun, the neighborhood honeybees waken and find sweetness down the necks of the miniature trumpet flowers. All this activity before the tea kettle even comes to boil.
What is the source of this wonder of winter color and life out my window? Let me introduce you to one of the finest of all landscape garden shrubs, the Pink Dawn viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Pink Dawn’). When we bought our house, we ripped out the drought-stressed rhododendron and replaced it with a young, one-gallon-pot-sized viburnum. Quickly it shot up vertical new growth and now, fifteen years later, we enjoy this winter spectacle annually.
There are over 150 species of viburnum and even more cultivars. Its genus is hugely represented in landscapes and nurseries. Pink Dawn is one of the best. We planted it in one of our earliest gardens for our dear client Sat Mander. There, it became a favorite perch of birds visiting the nearby fountain. Later, Pink Dawn found a home in Carlotta’s garden. After the first time she saw it bloom, she asked for another. In Kay’s garden, we added two new Pink Dawns to coordinate with one she already had that was untouched by the relentless browsing of deer. And in Katrina’s this viburnum was specially chosen to ensure something would be in bloom every day of the year.
You, too, need Pink Dawn viburnum. Plant it in a sunny spot where you’ll see (and smell) it in winter. Unlike other viburnums, Pink Dawn grows taller than wide (10’+ tall x 5’ or 6’ wide). This makes it perfect for smaller yards where you want to bring in an understory layer without taking up too much elbow room. Use it as a specimen or in a mixed hedge with Pacific wax myrtle (Myrica californica) and strawberry bush (Arbutus unudo). Its wildlife value is as significant as its visual beauty, which makes it a five star plant in my book. I’m all about beauty and habitat. Plus, this is one tough, easy-care shrub. It’s drought tolerant once it’s established and sails through our deepest winter freezes with only a brief pause in its long flowering season – so long in fact that blooms often start in November and continue into March. That’s pure botanical magic!
If winter blooming is not a common sight for you, you’ll understand why so many a passerby stop to gawk, some with misplaced fear and global warming to blame, some in open-hearted wonder. This plant exudes sweetness and joy. Go get one, dig a hole, put it in and get ready to enjoy the beauty in your own yard. Better yet, plant it for your loved one this Valentine’s Day!
Leave a comment below and let me know where you’ll plant Pink Dawn viburnum.