What better time than a snowy morning in late January to contemplate additions to the garden. The most critical decisions to make in the design of the garden are the ones that take up the most space, trees. While shade trees often occupy large expanses, flowering trees are much easier to work into the landscape.
In my personal acre plus garden I am under strict instructions from the Property Manager not to add any more trees. The property manager used to govern only the interior space while I was designated head gardener, but she has promoted herself to include overview of the outdoors. So, I fear that I’ll be limited to enjoying the trees I already have, which is probably plenty enough.
I guess I’m a sucker for collecting plants. There are many great ones, and I have plenty of space, or so I thought until the Property Manager told me otherwise. I’m certain that I’ll forget a few without taking a walk through the garden, but these are the flowering trees in it, in no particular order. Many of the trees here will be available at Meadows Farms garden centers, or through our landscape department. You can find contact information at MeadowsFarms.com
I have a bunch of trees, so this is going to be a long one. Some other day I’ll address the Japanese maples and other small trees in my garden. I use common names of plants rather than botanical names unless there’s some confusion that requires more specific identification.
I have both evergreen (grandiflora or Southern) magnolias and deciduous. The three summer blooming evergreens, Alta, Bracken’s Brown Beauty, and Greenback (MgTg) will probably overrun the place some day since they grow to shade tree size, but I’ll worry about that another day. The first of the deciduous magnolias to bloom in the garden is the white early spring flowering Royal Star, which is more of a large shrub than tree. Following closely behind is Dr. Merrill, much more upright and faster growing than the Star. The deciduous magnolias flower before they leaf and the earliest bloomers are sometimes affected by freezes, but not often enough that these wonderful trees aren’t a worthy plant in the garden. I don’t have a Saucer (soulangeana) magnolia, but they follow these earliest varieties and tend to suffer more cold damage in my observations.
Following the Saucer, just after the most likely times for frost damage, are the red-purple Jane and yellow Elizabeth. Jane is more shrub-like than upright, but much larger than the Star, taking a space 15-20 feet wide and tall. In addition to a nice show of flowers in the spring, Jane will bloom sporadically through the summer. Elizabeth is a fast growing upright, and the yellow flowers are unusual for trees. The latest flowering of my deciduous magnolias is the Bigleaf (macrophylla), which isn’t notable for its large white flower and has no ornamental value in anybodies garden except mine. I have a thing for huge leaves, and the Bigleaf is true to name with dull green leaves more than a foot across. It’s not appropriate for most gardens because it’s probably ugly to most folks, and it grows to shade tree size (mine is well over 30 feet, and growing). I found it as a lone tree in a tree grower’s field near McMinnville, Tennessee, and had to get it for my garden.
The deciduous magnolias are quite trouble free, without any significant insect or cultural requirements. Most are not the classic lollipop, single trunk tree shape that most people expect, and for them the magnolias are likely more desirable for the rear yard.
Most of the flowering cherries are not appropriate for very small yards. Working in the landscape industry I’ve seen far too many times where a beautiful mature specimen of Yoshino cherry overwhelms a house with its size, and renders the driveway inaccessible to the UPS guy. The weeping pink cherry is often planted inside the little triangle of the driveway and front walk, clearly without any consideration that it will reach a 30 foot height and width. With the exception of the weeping Snow Fountain, cherries need to be given the width you’d expect to give a full size shade tree.
I have the early flowering, light pink Okame, that forms a compact rounded shape, and is one of the smallest of the upright growing cherries. Okame blooms early enough that blooms are often damaged by freezes. Its leaves and fall color are typical for cherries in that they aren’t of any particular interest. Until a violent thunderstorm snapped it off at the base of the trunk this past summer I had a Schubert cherry, which is often called Canadian Red Chokecherry. It is a small shade tree sized with rather uninteresting white spiked flowers, but unusual nonetheless with green new growth that matures to red. I haven’t the patience nor the space to replant another, for it was encroaching on a large pink weeping cherry.
The typical weeping cherry available in garden centers is grafted so that they have a straight trunk of four or five feet topped by the weeping part. The straight part is usually another cherry variety. Not to get too technical, but the grafter takes a small cutting from a branch of a weeping tree and inserts it in a small slit in the host tree. Once the weeping part has “fused” with the host, the part of the host above the graft is removed. Sometimes you will see sucker growth from below the graft on a weeping tree that will go straight up. If not removed this will overwhelm the grafted portion, and the tree will effectively return to the growth habit of the host. My weeping cherry was grown on its own root, so this will never be a problem, but the graft tends to stunt the growth of the tree somewhat, so mine is a monster (more than 30 feet height and width).
As with most plants, there are more varieties of dogwoods than most people are aware of, from trees to groundcovers. I have three types of dogwood trees; Cornus florida, the native American dogwood, Cornus kousa, the Chinese dogwood, and hybrids developed by Rutgers University that are a cross between the two.
I can’t imagine a superior flowering tree to the native dogwood, Cornus florida. It blooms white or shades of pink (although some darker pinks are called red) in early to mid April in the mid-Atlantic, before it gets leaves so that the flowers are quite prominent. The foliage is typically a lush green, although there are a number with variegated leaves with yellow or white blotches. They exhibit bunches of red berries in the fall that often persist until after the deep red fall colored leaves have dropped. No doubt a superb garden tree, except that the native suffers from a number of problems that can disfigure or even kill a mature tree.
Florida dogwoods are a bit difficult to transplant, but then can be troubled by bark problems (canker), forms of black leaf spot that can be merely annoying or potentially fatal, and powdery mildew. Insect issues are minimal. In response to these problems disease resistant plants have been selected, and then propogated by cuttings or by grafting to maintain the genetic integrity of the resistant plant, so that there are improved varieties that are less susceptible. I have Cornus florida varieties; Cherokee Princess, a resistant white bloomer, Rubra, a pink, Cherokee Sunset, which has green and yellow variegated leaves with dark pink (red) flowers, and a weeping white.
The Rutgers hybrids bloom following the florida varieties, which puts their flowering around the first of May in northern Virginia. These hybrids are very resistant to the typical dogwood maladies, and I have experienced excellent transplant results with them. By mid-summer in the nursery, when the foliage of other dogwoods is tired and worn, the Rutgers varieties look fresh. I have two Rutgers dogwoods in my garden, Stellar Pink and Aurora. Both are excellent growers, and although I had early reservations about the abundance of flowers, I’m now convinced that that they are outstnding garden trees. Fall color is good, but they do not berry.
From a business perspective I question the name Stellar Pink, because the flowers are rarely pink enough for a customer to be convinced that they are truely pink. In almost ten years I’ve experienced only one year with a very cool, rainy spring when the color could be considered any more than white with a blush of pink. I have seen deep pink blooms persisting in early June in Oregon with its cool, wet spring seasons and low humidity when it’s not raining, but the color isn’t dependable in the warmer parts of the east coast. Still, this is an outstanding flowering tree.
As the Rutgers dogwoods blooms fade the Kousa varieties come on, usually around the end of May to early June around here. Kousas are very resistant and very trouble free. They tend to more shrub-like than the other dogwoods, and bloom after gaining their leaves, but the foliage is often nearly obscured by the large flowers. I have the straight Kousa variety in my garden, as well as Satomi, a pink flowered type that suffers somewhat the same fate as the Stellar Pink, Wolf Eyes, a bushy tree with white flowers and green and white variegated leaves, and Samaritan, a similar variegated kousa that is supposed to grow more upright. All a good care free trees that I recommend highly.
There are a number of Redbud varieties including the beautiful native that blooms immediately prior to dogwoods at the forest margins. I have three redbud varieties, all noted as much for their foliage color as for their pink flowers. The most popular is Forest Pansy, with dark red new leaves that fade somewhat as the summer progresses. Hearts of Gold is a fairly new introduction with yellow leaves. My favorite is the Silver Cloud, whose leaves begin as a mix of white, green, and pink. Although the foliage color settles in and fades a bit, the tree looks like it’s in bloom throughout the summer from a distance.
I’m sure that it’s clear to everyone by now that the Property manager is correct that we have too many trees in the garden already, but the last in my collections of flowering trees is crape myrtle. There are more one-ofs still to come.
Crape myrtles were relatively rare in the mid-Atlantic area until the past decade. With the development of hardier varieties through the National Arboretum and by Dr. Whitcomb the range of crape myrtles has greatly expanded, and it is now the most popular flowering tree sold in area garden centers, supplanting the dogwood and later the flowering pears. A prolonged period of bloom, often nearly two months in my garden in mid to late summer, and attractive exfoliating bark on multi trunk small trees prove its worth as a garden tree. By complete accident I have three reds, Centennial Spirit, Arapaho, and Dynamite, a pink, Sioux, that is my favorite with long lasting blooms and rich, dark green foliage, and the old standard of the south, the white flowering Natchez.
Stewartia is a wonderful tree, with large white camellia-like late spring blooms, but it is painfully slow to grow. They are often a favorite of those in the trade, but they aren’t prevalent in garden centers or in landscapes because their slow growth gives them a perception as a terrible value to the consumer.
Amelanchier is a native that is quite popular in the trade, but not so much with consumers. They tend to be multi trunk and somewhat shrub-like, but the flowers are not conspicuous enough and the fruit is eaten by birds long before it gains enough ornamental value. The fall color is not at all spectacular.
Another multi trunk small tree or shrub is the Fringetree, Chionanthus. The ribbon-like white flowers are very showy in early spring, but are, unfortunately, short lived.
A similar tree in my garden, that is, nice enough but not spectacular, is the Carolina Silverbell, Halesia. I fear that mine is planted with too much shade to appreciate it fully.
Two golden trees, the Golden Rain, Koelreuteria, and the Golden Chain, Laburnum (although my laburnum is a weeping variety) provide late spring and summer color. Golden Chain tolerates, but doesn’t thrive in our heat and humdity, but is pleasant enough. The Golden Rain is outstanding in bloom, but I wouldn’t recommend it to your ex-wife’s mother. If you have one you have at least another couple thousand seedings about. The ground under the tree looks like a golden rain groundcover, and the birds must carry other seeds through the garden enough that its my biggest nuisance. Seedlings come up in every cultivated planting bed, and I can only assume they’re not a noxious weed because they don’t germinate through grassy areas or in the woodland.
A tree that I apprecaite quite a bit is the Ivory Silk tree lilac. This lilac has atypical white flower clusters that often cover the tree in mid-spring. It has the symetrical shape of the flowering pears, but grows slower and doesn’t suffer from the breakage problems that many incorrectly pruned pears do.
Lastly, and thank goodness the list is coming to an end, two less common trees in the garden are the Franklinia and Seven Son Tree, Heptacodium. The Franklinia has an interesting story that I don’t have the energy to repeat (but logically enough involves Ben Franklin), and is fairly rare, which I attribute to a somewhat irregular growth habit, and that it seems to be quite difficult to transplant. Otherwise, what would explain the lack of popularity of a tree that is loaded with white camellia-like flowers in late summer, that yield to crimson fall colored leaves, with the last blooms often holding on to contrast with the fall foliage. The only issue that I’ve ever had with this tree is that Japanese beetles love the flowers. They don’t appear to eat anything, but they settle in and don’t leave the flower until it’s time to burrow in to lay eggs, or whatever it is that the little buggers do.
The Seven Son tree, and I haven’t a clue how the name was derived, is a fine small multi trunk tree or large shrub. The large leaves are somewhat dull, and there’s no fall color to speak of, but the mid to late summer small white flowers followed by purple fruit that looks like another flower are quite remarkable. Both Frankinia and Heptacodium are valuable trees that deserve more attention.