Viburnum plicatum, commonly known as Japanese snowball or wedding cake viburnum, is renowned for its stunning spherical flower clusters resembling snowballs, and layered branches that suggest its common name – the wedding cake bush.

Family: The full botanical name is Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariesii’, and it is part of the honeysuckle family, the Caprifoliaceae, which also includes deutzia, weigela and snowberry. The name of the honeysuckle family is Latin for goat leaf from capri meaning goat and folius meaning leaf. The word plicatum is Latin for pleated, which the leaves are. ‘Mariesii’ refers to French botanist Jean Marie Delavay. This shrub is native to China and Japan.

There is a smaller form called ‘Nanum Semperflorens’, which means small, ever-flowering. This one is also known as ‘Watanabei’ after a noted Japanese plantsman which does not have as pronounced a tiered shape. The lacecaps are smaller and more filled. It flowers all summer and into autumn even. It is rarely without a few flowers and it only makes half the height. ‘Rowallane’ is also a more compact form with very good autumn leaves colour, which they all have. ‘Pink Beauty’ is a pretty form with white flowers that take on a pink flush as they age.

Garden value

The wedding cake viburnum is in full flower these days and it is quite a sight to see. The plant gets its catchy common name from the way it holds its branches in tiers.

These might not be quite horizontal but they are near enough. This plant is not to be confused with the wedding cake dogwood, which is also famous for its tiered habit.

This shrub holds its branches in tiers and this is emphasised by the way the flowers grow, carried as a flattened cluster exhibiting a lace-cap shape with large, sterile flowers at the outside and smaller flowers grouped at the centre. The lace-cap shape draws pollinating insects to visit the fertile flowers at the centre of the flower cluster. The fertile flowers have no petals or reduced petals and they depend on the sterile flowers to attract pollinators.

The flat lace-cap flowers are held at right angles to the upright stems so they seem to float over the branch that holds them and the white flowers have a look that is vaguely reminiscent of white cake icing.

Even though it has a rather fanciful name, the decorative effect of the plant is very striking. This is partly due to the white flowers and how they are arranged but also to the fresh green foliage. It has a softness and liveliness that are very seasonal and suggestive of early summer.

Later on, when the flowers are shed and the foliage has turned to dark green, the bush is not so showy but it still retains a certain grace that makes it an asset in any shrub border or mixed border.

Growing wedding cake viburnum

This viburnum is a fast grower and capable of making a spreading bush to four metres wide and nearly as tall. When fully grown, it is spectacular in flower but it is a touch too big for smaller gardens. It can be pruned to reduce its size, if this is done carefully after flowering, shortening large branches and taking out whole branches, so as not to spoil its elegant, tiered shape. Branches that grow upwards can be shortened back for the same reason. These viburnums grow in any ordinary soil which is not very wet in winter. Soil that is continuously wet can cause the plant roots to rot and the plant dies. Hardy and resistant to frost, they look best in a sheltered spot where wind cannot spoil the flowers and foliage.

Early evening primrose

Oenothera biennis or common evening primrose is flowering early this year

Evening primrose is flowering exceptionally early this year. The name reflects the way the flowers open towards evening, and they are a bright yellow colour. They each last just a few days but are carried in succession over a long period through summer.

The common evening primrose is an annual or biennial, late-sown plant flowering the following year. The plants, once raised from seed and planted out, tend to self-sow thereafter. Even if no plant appears for a few years, plants can pop up years later after soil disturbance.

For flowers next year, the seeds could be sown between now and September to flower where they are sown, or they could be sown in seed trays and transferred to small pots for planting out in autumn. It is very easy to grow but likes well-drained soil in full sunshine. If you have an area of mixed border, or a semi-wild area with dry soil, open to the sunshine, and you like to let plants meander to some extent, this could be a very suitable flower. Evening primrose gives a lovely cottage-garden feel to an area.

This week’s reminders

Trees, shrubs and roses

Check young trees and shrubs for signs of drought, namely, loss of leaves, dry soil and poor or absent growth. Reserves are built up in summer to survive the following winter and they die at that time. Prune spring-flowering shrubs if they need it to reduce size and improve shape.

Fruit, vegetables and herbs

Make repeat sowings of fast-maturing vegetables and herbs, such as lettuce, radish, coriander and rocket. Thin out and transplant vegetables that have reached suitable size, and control weeds early. Liquid-feed sweetcorn and other tender vegetables if they are slow to get moving.


Less mowing is required as the peak of grass growth declines. If grass growth is poor, apply a dressing lawn fertiliser. Ideally, this should go on when rain is on the way and the ground is already damp after rain. Otherwise there is a chance of the grass becoming scorched and dry.


Snails can destroy bedding plants in a single damp night. Feed all containers if they have not had slow release fertiliser pellets added to the compost. Watch for greenflies on bedding plants and container plants. Patio plants such as petunias, osteospermums and marguerites are ready for planting.

Greenhouse and house plants

Continue to feed greenhouse plants and water freely to maintain strong growth. Use a shading material if the greenhouse gets too hot. Check greenhouse plants for scale insects, greenflies and red spider mites, which can build up rapidly at this time of year.

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Editorial: blooming inspiration