Call to Gary is a reminder that experts are key resources

By Erin Schanen

I don’t talk with Gary often, but I leave any conversation with him knowing more than I did when I called him.

Gary is Gary Ladman, the owner of Classic Virburnums, a small nursery in Nebraska that is singlehandedly keeping interesting and important viburnum varieties alive.

The Classic  Viburnums website offers an extensive list of viburnum cultivars and a few small photos, but no ordering option. For that you’ll have to call Gary. You could email him, but then you’d be missing out on an opportunity to tap into Gary’s encyclopedic knowledge of the species.

I recently called Gary to find out if I could plant a new Viburnum in the place where one has been dying a slow death from what I assumed was Botryosphaeria canker, a fungus that causes branches to rapidly wilt and then die.

Gary offered both bad and good news about my Viburnum plicatum tomentosum ‘Mariesii.’ a very long-winded name for a large species of doublefile Viburnum with a horizontal habit and flowers that line up on top of branches. The bad news was that if it is Botryosphaeria, I can’t replace it with another Viburnum. But Gary suspected I may have misdiagnosed the problem and might actually be dealing with Viburnum borers, which would allow me to plant a replacement and treat the problem preventively.

The University of Wisconsin Extension could have helped me with this diagnosis had I pursued it earlier and during summer when I could have offered photos and possibly even a tissue sample, but I’d already declared the shrub a loss because, after about three years of hacking away at dead bits, it was misshapen beyond any chance of salvaging.

While I was chatting with Gary, he offered a couple suggestions for cultivars that would make good replacements for ‘Mariesii’ and inquired about the Viburnums I’d ordered from him a few years ago.

When I called then looking for a small Viburnum plicatum, I ended up ordering two, despite the fact I only had room for one. They are both doing great, but I learned during our conversation that I probably wouldn’t have the pleasure of growing ’Magic Puff’ were it not for Gary, who got cuttings of it from the nursery that sold it before it was eliminated from their production.

Gary and small specialist nursery owners around the globe are the key to knowing, appreciating and preserving some excellent species that we should want to grow in our gardens. But most of all, as the preeminent experts in their chosen species, they are incredible resources for gardeners. And I’ve found that they love to share their passion.

I’m happy that another conversation with Gary is in my future. After further examination I think his intuition was probably right, and that I was dealing with borers, not a 14-letter fungus, which means I’m in the market for new and different Viburnum.

Fortunately I know just the man to go to.


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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