Only a few days ago I whined that the golden chain tree (Laburnum) does not perform well in my Virginia garden despite a favored position to protect it from the late afternoon sun. The sparse foliage and meager blooms in a photograph substantiated my claim that this European native is poorly adapted to the heat and humidity of the eastern United States. Though it barely manages to survive I keep this weeping form of golden chain around for its novelty.
Imagine my consternation when visitors to the garden on Saturday excitedly proclaimed its beauty, and, in truth, I was stunned by the transformation since I had last seen the tree a few days earlier. The leaves and pendulous blooms had doubled in size, and the spindly, unremarkable tree had become lush and beautiful. I warned that this state was certain to be short term, and with hotter, more humid weather in the near future the golden chain would return to its sad, bedraggled condition, so my guests would be ill advised to rush to the garden center to purchase one. But, now I am not so confident.
Still, experience tells me that the golden chain is not well suited to heat and humidity, and its robust health today is a result of cool temperatures through much of late April and thus far in May.
My wife has resumed her daily routine checking for culprits that overhang the stone paths and patios, dispatching with her pruners the offending leaves and branches without question. She is happy to point out the design flaws that make her work necessary, and though the garden is splendid today, I must acknowledge that I am too often guilty of planting first, thinking later.
Today I planted two ‘Venus’ dogwoods, a hybrid developed by Rutgers University with the Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa) and Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttalli). I have a large ‘Stellar Pink’ (above) and a white blooming ‘Aurora’, both Rutgers introductions, but crosses between our native dogwood (Cornus florida) and the Chinese dogwood. Venus has extraordinarily large white blooms to six inches across in early May, and I have been planning for it in the garden since I recognized that an old Forest Pansy redbud has declined with encroaching shade from mature maples and poplars at the edge of the garden.
One Venus was planted a short distance from the redbud, but with filtered sun, so that once the Forest Pansy meets its end the dogwood will be a more prominent focal point. The other dogwood was planted near the spot where a large cypress that was damaged by heavy snow this winter was removed, and is in full sun. Both trees were smaller than I had planned, young trees only six feet in height, but Venus is reputed to be quick growing, so it should not be many years before they grow to match their more mature neighbors.
‘Galilean’ dogwood is blooming heavily this year, and I recall that a year ago I had given up on seeing it bloom. It is a Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa ‘Galilean’, above) selected for its rapid growth, and I presumed after five years with no more than widely scattered flowers that its genetics had sacrificed blooms for growth. But here it is, nearly covered in large white blooms, and of course I haven’t a clue what would account for the change.
There are two variegated leaf Chinese dogwoods in the garden, ‘Samaritan’ and ‘Wolf Eyes’ (above), and though the coloration of their foliage is a similar green with white edges, the trees are quite different. Samaritan has an upright habit, fortunate since I have planted it planning to eventually walk under its branches, and has been reluctant to bloom in my garden. Each year there are a branch or two with leaves that are pure white with no green, but no flowers, and now that I have proclaimed that it will never bloom I suspect that next year it will be covered.
Wolf Eyes is an odd sort of tree, with variegated leaves that curl inward awkwardly, and a broad, spreading form. Mine blooms reliably, but there is little contrast between the green and white leaves and white blooms, so the flowers are not showy. Both Samaritan and Wolf Eyes are valued more for their foliage than flowers, but the flowers are a bonus, and I will appreciate them next year on Samaritan.