In 1794, Thomas Jefferson included "gelder rose" in his "objects for the garden this year."1 On April 16, 1807, Jefferson further documented the planting of this shrub on the northeast and southeast shrub circles of Monticello Mountain.2 He also lists the "gelder rose" in his 1804 plans for a garden or pleasure grounds.3 Other common names include Whitsun-boss, Elder-rose, Guelder-rose, Love-roses, and Pincushion-tree.
This sterile (fruitless) garden form was known in Europe by 1554 and has been a garden favorite ever since.4 The flowers, described in 1770 as "balls of snow, lodged in a pleasing manner all over its head,"5 have inspired other common names such as Whitsun-boss, Love-roses, and Pincushion-tree. Bernard McMahon included "Viburnum opulus americanum Guelder Rose-leaved Viburnum," in his 1806 The American Gardener's Calendar.6
This shrub is a hardy, deciduous, late spring-flowering one with large, showy, spherical clusters of white or green-tinted white, sterile blossoms that sometimes turn pink and leaves that become purple-tinted in autumn.
Typical Blooming Dates: April–May
Growth Type: Woody Shrub
Blossom color(s): Green turning to White
Hardiness Zones: 3–10
Location at Monticello: West Lawn Oval Bed
Visit Monticello’s Online Shop to check for seeds or plants of Snowball Bush Viburnum.
Primary Source References
1791 May 8. (Jefferson to Maria Jefferson). "May 4. the gelder rose, Dogwood, Red bud, and Azalea were in blossom."7
1807 March 10. (Thomas Main to Jefferson). "2 Snowballs @ Do. [25 cents] .50."8
1812. (Planting Memorandum for Poplar Forest). "plant on each bank, right & left, on S. side of the house, a row of lilacs, Althaeas, Gelder roses ...."9
- Dutton, Joan Parry. Plants of Colonial Williamsburg. Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1979.
- Leighton, Ann. American Gardens in the Eighteenth Century. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986.
- Look for more of Jefferson's references in his garden book. Manuscript and transcription available online at Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society.
- Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants.
1. Betts, Garden Book, 208.
3. See the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society.
4. Alice M. Coats, Garden Shrubs and Their Histories (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), 204.
5. William Hanbury, A Complete Body of Planting and Gardening (London: Printed for the author and sold by Edward and Charles Dilly, 1770-71), 198.
6. Bernard McMahon, The American Gardener's Calendar: 1806 (Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1997), 596; Denise Wiles Adams, Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants, 1640-1940 (Portland, OR: Timber Press, Inc., 2004), 132.
7. PTJ, 20:380. Transcription available at Founders Online.
8. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
9. PTJ:RS, 3:352-55. Transcription available at Founders Online.