Mr. Hooper's Tree

A Tree Grows in Utica

Bob Hill Hidden Hill News & Updates

In the much more fastidious plant world the big white, fluffy flowers displayed here are found on your viburnum macrocephalum – or, a little less elegantly the Chinese snowball bush. If that isn’t specific enough, you can always go with Big Head Viburnum.

Latin Lesson Warning

Macro – Big

Cephalum – Head

But we Hidden Hill Folks have always called this beauty Mr. Hooper’s Tree – a bit of an exaggeration, but close enough in our neighborhood.

Mr. Hooper’s Tree is one of many plants on our eight acres named for neighbors and friends, among them a lilac given us in honor of my Dad, a shrub given us by the late great WHAS Garden Guru Fred Wiche, and a crab apple tree along our driveway that came from Helen and Elmer Mattson, family relatives, with Helen being one of the best back yard gardeners since Thomas Jefferson.

Hidden Hill Chinese Snowball Bush 1

Every home landscape worth its name has a plant named for someone – or something – special; it keeps them around in your lives as you walk past, especially in spring.

Mr. Hooper was one of the first neighbors to greet us when we moved up to the top of our hill more than 40 years ago. He knew the history of our house, the two ladies who had lived in it for almost 30 years before we moved in.

He became our watchman; always checking out people who came down our drive when we were not home. He would sit in front of his house at the end of our drive almost every day, always ready to talk, generous with tools when we were in need.

Pack Rat that he was, he had several thousand of them stuffed into a small shed, along with assorted other relics, antiques, tables, desks, chairs and junk going back to the 1937 Flood.

There was an old piano in there, too, and he would on occasion serenade the neighborhood; the sound pouring out the shed door. He would occasionally come visit us on his ancient riding lawnmower, top speed about four miles an hour, making a very slow loop in our driveway, and then disappearing back toward his house. When the mood hit, he would visit on his riding lawnmower wearing a woman’s straw hat with a flower on it – just for fun.

Hidden Hill Chinese Snowball Bush 2

As these pictures indicate, Mr. Hooper is back now – the tallest of these viburnum shrub-trees growing in what was his back yard, the others scattered across our yard, all in his honor.

The Chinese snowball bush has a little history, itself. In 1842 a plant explorer named Robert Fortune was sent by the Horticulture Society of London to China to collect plants. He stayed more than two years, occasionally disguised as a Chinese merchant, and sent back to England hundreds of plants no one had ever seen before. Included in that was the Chinese snowball bush – which sharp-eyed Hoosiers would later describe as Mr. Hooper’s Tree.

Fortune, incidentally, was also the first to export tea to British India, and we all know how that turned out.

As luck would have it, we also have Mr. Hooper’s Tree for sale at Hidden Hill. It’s remarkably easy to grow, and is just fun to have around to stump guests – who often guess, with reason, hydrangea. All it needs average soil and water, full sun to part shade, and does prefer a sheltered site.

Watch out for a guy on a riding lawnmower.