Flowering Trees

paperbark maple

 

Every spring, I swing by my Mom’s house last house.  She died in 2002-so yes, this yearly visit is a pilgrimage of sorts. I had occasion to visit a regular client in the same neighborhood about what we would do this year, so I drove through the neighborhood. The landscape looks entirely different than when she owned it, save for an old record breaking size paperbark maple on the left side of this photograph.  She grew this tree from a twig start from Musser Forest (do I have the name right?)-I am guessing better than 25 years ago.  Paper bark maples are highly esteemd for their shaggy, cinnamon colored bark.  Why am I talking about it?  The girl that grew this maple taught me how to garden-and to love trees.

dawn redwood  This dawn redwood down the street from my Mom’s old house is an astonishing tree.  It is thriving in an urban neighborhood, just a few feet from a driveway.  The driveway of a gardening person, I might add-the yard always looks well cared for.  In my twenties, I loved visiting this tree before or after I visited my Mom.  Sometimes we would walk down the street to look at it together.  Forty years later it is still well worth the visit.  The woody trunk and branches are beautifully sculptural.

weeping cherry

As for ornamental, or smaller growing flowering trees-what do you make of them?  Some years, I cannot get enough of them. That cloud of spring pink is intoxicating.  The cherries, apples and crabapples have thousands of small blooms that flutter in the slighest breeze.  They can also be swept away in an afternoon, if the wind is strong enough.  They bring ballerinas and tutus to mind.  The flowers are just plain pretty, and that is sufficient reason to grow them.  Maybe more importantly, those blooms are seductive.  They may encourage a not so gardening minded individual to actually purchase and plant a tree.  Who knows where that could lead.  A few years later, perhaps they might be planting katsuras, or weeping Japanese white pines.  I love them the most for this reason.

bradford pearsA neighborhood street lined with Bradford pears  is a good spring look. This is a large growing ornamental tree whose fruit is small, and better suited for birds than people.  Bradford pears are highly susceptible to wind and storm damage.  Plant a good cultivar, such as Cleveland Select, and give it room.  They are not so broad, but they may grow as tall as 60 feet.

I have no idea what this pink flowering tree is, but it is certainly exuberant, blooming in front of a red shingle house. I like the nerve of this.  It takes the edge of of all of that sugary sweetness.  Some years, flowering trees strike me as silly. Somehow a petunia handles being pink much better than a tree.  All that frou frou and fluff, on a tree, for heaven’s sake.  But the fairy tale part of the tree is very short lived.  The bloom span might be two weeks, in the longest and best spring ever.

yellow magnolia

Every last bud on my 8 Butterflies magnolias frosted off a few nights ago.  I imagine this tree in my Mom’s neighborhood suffered likewise.  Magnolias are much more dramatic in bloom than cherries or crabs.  The individual flowers are much larger.  In the years when the flowers frost, there is a whole season ahead in which to enjoy a tree that has beautiful bark, leaves and attractive structure.

This dark foliaged crabapple lives in the traffic island across the street from my shop-I can see it out my office window.  Every year it virtually defoliates by late summer-usually from drought and fungus. Once in a white we will clean up around the base, and prune.  But every year in the spring it is a happening.  This showgirl has a heart of steel.

This is a fairly large tree-I have no idea what it is.  It’s the wrong shape for a Bradford, and it looks too symmetrical to be an apple.  But it is breathtaking in bloom, whatever it is.

weeping cherry

Weeping trees leave me cold.  But I rather like how this tree is trimmed on the bottom.  And it certainly is willing to bloom.  Such a stark landscape for such a tree with such a romantic air.

pink flowering trees

My favorite part of small growing flowering trees?  They lend themselves to being planted in groves, blocks, or swirls. They are quite comfortable being the star of a show.  The flowering branches are great in a vase.  All this pink?  Just a little fleeting frosting.

 

Dreamboat Dogwood

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Five years ago I planted a Cornus Kousa “Venus” for a client.  I was not familiar with the variety, but even as a small tree, it flowered with enormous cream-white flowers. I planted it on a lark, the flowers were so compelling.   I saw that tree last spring for the first time since I had planted it;   in only 4 years time, the tree had grown considerably larger, and was completely covered with hundreds of enormous white blooms. It has to be the most beautiful dogwood I have ever seen.  This spring I found 41 of them in 25 gallon pots.  I wanted to be able to have small trees that people could plant themselves; this dogwood is making it really easy for people to take a tree home.
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Bred by Dr. Elwin Orton Jr. of Rutgers University,  it is an interspecific hybrid of Cornus Kousa, and Cornus Kousa x Nuttalli.  It matures at 20 feet tall, and 20-30 feet wide.  Resistant to anthracnose, and other illnesses that can plague dogwoods, it is also quite hardy.  All this aside, it is a striking small flowering tree in bloom, and in leaf. I would plant it with a fair amount of sun.  I think this tree belongs in that select group of garden plants that are gorgeous all around.
dogwood3
My gorgeous group includes hydrangea “limelight”, the Griffith Bucks rose, “Carefree Beauty”,  the lactiflora peony “Mrs. FDR”,  the maple “Princeton Gold”, the boxwood “Green Velvet”; I should stop here, as my gorgeous list is probably more than you ever wanted to hear about.  Every gardener I know has their own gorgeous list. You might consider adding this dogwood to your list,  should you have room for one more stunningly beautiful plant.

The Language of Design

boldforms1Everyone makes decisions about a life’s work.  Whether they think it through, or not,  decisions get made.  As a landscape designer,  I realized part of my life’s work was to plant magnolias-all manner of magnolias, every where it made good design sense to plant them. I am a  designer who in part came to design via a love for plants.  Plants are part of the vocabulary that helps give voice to a point of view. Every designer needs heart, soul, and nerve-but they also need language.

But back to magnolias. There is a history to my love for them. My design mentor Al Goldner had a big love for plants, but also a penchant for dragging along, and provoking his young staff, with beautiful  plants.  He took me to the garden of Phil Savage 35 years ago, give or take. I have not one shred of memory of the visit. But thanks to a thoughtful niece, I visited there last spring, after his death.mag

mag2Phil Savage,  lived on almost 8 acres-most of which reflects a lifetime growing and hybridizing magnolias.  He also grafted magnolia cuttings onto ash tree root stock-these trees are 70 feet tall on his property, as we speak.  He hybridized “Yellow Butterflies”;  when the spring weather is perfect, it is a dream come true in bloom.  Later, it is sturdily and robustly green.  His property had magnolias of a size, with flowers in colors, I have never seen-yellow, peach, orangy pink.   It was like a visit to another planet.  But no, just a visit to a man who knew and lived his life’s work.

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I have a magnolia in my yard, which I inherited.  It looks like no magnolia I know. It is the first thing to make a move,  in the spring.  I have a  supposedly “hardy” hybrid of Magnolia Grandiflora tucked into a corner, hoping nature won’t notice.  In pure envy of the British, I am growing an arbor of Magnolia “Galaxy” over my driveway.  My neighborhood dating from the 1930′s is peopled with Magnolia Soulangiana trees of immense size-mostly poorly placed.  Plants have a will to live, thank God.   The day they drop their petals, one could weep.

The point of this-you don’t need to know the words magnolia soulangiana.  But you may need that tree somewhere in your landscape that is asking for bold form, flowers and leaves-so put its image in your  design dictionary.  If I have my way, my life’s work will make for a whole  blizzard of giant petals, dropping softly, every year, on one particular spring day.

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