In mid April pink and white blooms peek out from the forest that borders the highway. Though my morning drive to the office is in darkness, the evening commute is more cheerful with these ornaments as I head back into the country. I’m disappointed when the blooms fade to lush green foliage in May.
The pink flowers are from the splendid native redbud (Cercis canadensis, above) that grows readily at the wood’s edge, stretching arching branches to the sunlight. Redbuds are well suited to the home garden, with a number of variations with red, yellow, or variegated foliage, and others with pendulous branching. Certainly one is suitable for every garden, and there are a few handfuls in my garden planted in part shade and full sun. The first redbud planted in the garden, a red leafed ‘Forest Pansy’ (below), has suffered considerably in recent years as heavy shade from overhanging maples in the forest has encroached. Now, it has only one long , arching trunk that forks into two branches. It has lost all aesthetic value, but I haven’t the heart to cut it out.
Despite slight difficulties in transplanting (and intolerance of heavy shade) there’s no reason that redbud should not be considered a sturdy tree. It’s not bothered to a great extent by diseases or pests, though in recent years several trees in my garden have suffered from wind and snow damage. I don’t consider this especially noteworthy since lots of other trees have been damaged, but the two variegated ‘Silver Cloud’ redbuds (below) have suffered a number of broken limbs, and the top third of another ‘Forest Pansy’ is gone. Before you are dissuaded from planting a redbud I could threaten to disclose the long list of other trees that have suffered, but that might convince you not to bother planting trees at all.
And, this is an excellent time to get away from the negative and back to the beauty of the redbud, for there are few trees finer for spring flowers or their exquisite heart shaped foliage, whatever the color. Even with the plain green, native redbud, the foliage has exceptional substance so that it appears lush and vigorous through the heat of summer. The most recent redbud I’ve planted is the yellow leafed ‘Hearts of Gold’ (below). Yellow foliage often looks chlorotic and diseased (I think) but I’ve planted ‘Hearts of Gold’ with just a bit of shade from the late afternoon sun so that it doesn’t fade, and a new introduction, ‘Rising Sun’, promises not to fade at all (or at least very little).
Getting back to the drive along the highway, the white flowers scattered at the forest’s edge are a mix of native dogwoods (Cornus florida, below) and serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), and seedlings of flowering pears (Pyrus calleryana). The pears are prevalent in sunnier openings, and along fence rows where birds have deposited their seeds. A field not far from my garden is covered by many hundreds of pear seedlings surrounding a farm pond. In bloom this is a magnificent sight, if the gardener is willing to disregard knowledge that these invasive trees will set fruits that will spread many hundreds of additional trees.
The flowering pears were once treasured by homeowners, but the tendency of fifteen year old trees to split apart in summer storms has tempered enthusiasm for ‘Bradford’ and other pears that once dominated suburban landscapes. Unfortunately, disease prone, but magnificent dogwoods have also diminished in popularity, and serviceberry (below) has never gained popular acceptance in home gardens. Both are superb small trees, and when I return in a few days we’ll figure out how we can squeeze one or two into your garden (they’re already in mine).