Viburnum vs. Lilac - Take a Stand!

The smaller the garden, the more we look for plants that provide more than one season of interest. As one of my college professors used to say, two weeks of glory may not be enough to justify planting a particular tree or shrub in your garden.

This afternoon, when I got home I was struck by the dark burgundy fall foliage on my Snowball Bush Viburnum, Viburnum opulus 'Sterile'.
Prior to noticing this, I might have said that this shrub really only had a few interesting weeks in the spring, when it is fully in bloom.

Compare this Viburnum's fall foliage with the fall foliage of a Common Lilac, Syringa vulgaris 'White Angel', on the other side of the back yard.Yawn. Nice green, huh? This lilac blooms in the spring, too. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of this exact lilac in bloom but here's a picture of a popular lilac, Syringa patula 'Miss Kim', blooming in another part of the yard earlier this spring. Imagine that same bloom only in white, which is what color this particular common lilac's blooms are, and a few less blooms on the plant.

So which shrub is the better one to plant?

Before you decide, consider also that I see many more birds nesting and roosting in the Viburnum than the Lilac, though neither provides any berries for the birds to eat. And between these two large shrubs, at least in my garden, the Viburnum has a much better shape.

Wait, don't decide yet! You should also consider the nostalgia factor. They say that we are more likely to remember scents, and the lilac bloom has a wonderful scent. This particular Viburnum has no scent at all. But growing up, I remember my grandmothers had the big Viburnums with the snowball sized blooms. I don't remember them having lilacs. But you may have stronger memories of lilacs in bloom.

Still thinking about which one to choose?

One more time, this is the Viburnum fall foliage close up.
This is the Lilac fall foliage close up. Now choose! Common Lilac or Snowball Bush Viburnum. Take a stand!

(My apologies for the pictures taken before sunset on a very cloudy day today!)


Viburnum all the way...Why do I say this?? Becasue in my garden the lilac is not a reliable bloomer so if a freeze gets those buds in the spring the lilac is just a green thing in the garden.

The lovely scent of a lilac certainly does warrant a space in the garden if you have room though. I wouldn't want to be without some.
Carolyn gail said…
No brainer for me, Carol. Viburnum has always been a favorite of mine. I have Viburnum plicatum Mariesii as a prominent specimen in my back garden and its foilage is about the same color as yours. It's blooms however are lacecaps instead of the snowballs.
Layanee said…
I say there is room for both! What one has the other doesn't! I know, I know, wishy washy can't take a stand! Both!!
Entangled said…
(Especially if the lilac gets powdery mildew.)

But I think I appreciate the supporting cast more than the leading actors in the garden anyway.
LostRoses said…
I'll take the lilac, Carol, for the reminiscense factor on the scent. But there's no losing here, since my neighbor has a big snowball bush that I enjoy!
I'll take Viburnum...for the nostalgia factor. Stay with me here. In my very first garden I had a snowball bush that I loved. It was too big to dig up when we moved, and I've always wanted another. As luck would have it, I found 2 on sale this weekend (along with fothergilla!)
vonlafin said…
I am grateful that I don't have to choose. I have several varieties of both, and don't know which I would give up if I had to.
Blackswamp_Girl said…
I would (and did) plant Viburnum in my own yard. That said, you almost--almost--had me with the fragrance/nostalgia factor of the lilac. There was one that would send fragrance wafting in my bedroom window when I was a kid. :)
Pam/Digging said…
We can't have lilacs here in Austin, but we can have viburnums. Which means I'd choose lilac. The grass is always greener, right?

Actually, viburnum is a great shrub. I don't know why I'm not growing one right now.
OldRoses said…
I'm siding with the minority and saying "lilac". For some reason, I have no memories of viburnum (although I'm sure there were more than a few in my childhood)but, oh, the lilacs! The colors, the scents. The first house I ever owned had a huge one in the back yard too. The first shrub I planted at my present house was a lilac. Gotta have my lilacs!
Alyssa said…
I would like them equally except for the fact that lilacs (at least ours) always get powdery mildew and look crappy for most of the season. The viburnum fall color is also much nicer.
eleanor said…
Carol, your Grandmother Ruth had a huge lilac bush right next to the snowball bush. The two were so big they made a natural cave underneath the branches, which I used to like to get into. Marjorie said the people who live in her house now have torn down all the bushes, trees, & plants. The only reason I can think for having a naked yard is someone is allergic to plants or bees or likes a barren landscape.
minhus said…
It sounds like you're in love with the viburnum, Carol, but I'd definitely choose the lilac. I'm not really a fan of viburnums, no childhood memories associated with them and I don't love the look. After smelling my neighbors lilacs every spring though while growing up, I swore to myself that someday I'd have my own yard and my own lilacs. I finally planted two dwarf miss kim lilacs last spring (found on sale!). I'm hoping they do better next year, because right now they look a little scrawny.
Colleen said…
If I had to choose, I'd choose the lilac. The beautiful scent, those pretty flowers, and the nostalgia they evoke make them a clear winner for me.

Happily, I don't have to choose. I have several of both!
Phillip said…
An easy choice for me - viburnum! I love these plants and have several varieties in my garden. Another key factor for my decision though is that lilacs do not perform well here in the South.
Cottage Magpie said…
I so didn't have to think about this! Viburnum, hands down. They're just as pretty when they bloom (in fact, I would say prettier), they have lovely fall foliage. and they don't sucker. Or at least, not as much as the !#*$&Q lilac. So yeah, I like the snowballs!
~Angela :-)
I'd choose ........... both of them as my garden is big enough. Both are great shrubs so why do without either one of them. You don't either, I notice. ;-)
Viburnums, hands down, plus the birds love the berries, but who can live without the wonderful scent of lilacs?
Kathy said…
If I could only have one, I would pick the lilac. I love the smell. I remember both of them in Grandma's back yard, but it seems like I remember big ants on the snowball flowers. Did they have great big ants on them? Lucky for me, I have both in my yard now.
Kathy, the older sister
Nickie said…
I CAN'T choose.........

I'm a lilacaholic but I also love vibernums. Both have scentemental value to me.
Carol said…
All, thanks for joining in the 'debate'. At first it looked like viburnums were the clear winner, but there appear to be a lot of later votes for Lilacs. And several of you chose to have both.

Yoland Elizabet is right... I didn't exactly "choose", either. I have four different lilacs and five or six different viburnums in my yard.

But if my garden was really small and I only had room for one big shrub, I'd go with the viburnum... and then plant a smaller lilac like the Meyer Lilac... or maybe plant a smaller viburnum like the Korean Spice Viburnum and plant a bigger lilac!

It IS heard to choose!
Carol at May Dreams Gardens
Chookie said…
No real choice here: lilacs don't grow in Sydney as it us too humid. But I'm afraid I've never been attracted to viburnums either. I think I'll take a buddleia!
I'm changing the options - I'd choose both the Miss Kim Lilac and a Korean Spice Viburnum - I want it all, color & scent!

Your snowball bush and lilac in bloom are FABULOUS. I was so miffed when I saw it I had to just close the browser. Mine don't look nearly so good.

Must work on that...And try not to have shrub envy.

--Robin (Bumblebee)
lisa said…
I think there's room for both, although for versatility, the viburnum really stands out! As for lilacs, they have come up with some nice dwarf cultivars, like Prince Charming from the "Fairytale" series, or Fairy Dust, and several other dwarf selections.
bill plumer said…
For me there is no choice since there is no room for both. In my woods garden it is just too shady for Lilacs. But which viburnum? Aye,there's the rub. For dense shade there is V. acerifolum with its gorgeous burgundy fall color. And so many other natives to choose from. I am trying to grow all the natives. Of the non-natives, V. Sieboldii has to be one of the best.
Anonymous said…
My viburnum has the most beautiful fragrance! You can smell it from the porch and it is about 40 feet away. I love the lilac though and have planted one that has not yet bloomed and am getting ready to plant another one. I say BOTH!