Category Archives: Flowering trees

How to have a Sense of Place in your garden

Recently I got to enjoy this beautiful October weather walking among the redwoods, mixed oak woodland and open fields watching hawks soar overhead and listening to migrating warblers in the trees.  I was not here in Santa Cruz county, however, but Pt. Reyes National Seashore-a similar but different environment. What struck me was how the gardens of the local residents reflect where they live.  There was a sense of place to the landscaping. 

Our gardens reflect where we live, too.  What can we learn from our surroundings that will help us in our own gardens?

Look to the horizon.  Check views from every possible angel. Borrow scenery if it’s attractive or screen eyesores and distract the eye from them.

Highlight existing features. Develop designs that retain and enhance elements on site like interesting rock formations, meadows, existing trees and native woodland plants.

Consider all aspects of your outdoor space. What are your favorite flower and plant foliage colors?  What patio materials do you like -flagstone, wood, gravel, pavers? What is your favorite season- spring flowering trees and bulbs or fall foliage and berries?  How many hours do you spend enjoying the garden-  sitting, reading, working, relaxing or entertaining?

Whatever landscape design elements you use in your garden, remember they can be broken into smaller parts to make them more manageable- paving this year, planting trees next year, then shrubs, perennials, garden art. Installing a garden is about the journey.  There is never a finishing point.

Important in any design is your choice of trees. More than any other living feature in your landscape, trees contribute to your sense of place. Imaging how different this area would look without the redwoods, spreading oak trees or tall ponderosa pines.

A tree that looks good and thrives in many types of gardens while requiring little summer water once established is the Strawberry tree or arbutus. A relative of the madrone, this evergreen tree is interesting year round. In the fall and winter, clusters of small white or pink, urn-shaped flowers hang from rich, reddish-brown branches with shedding bark. Fruit resembling strawberries ripen in the fall and attract birds. The handsome glossy green leaves emerge from red stems and contrast nicely with the bark, flowers and berriies. Growing to about 25 ft tall they accept full sun or part shade. What’s not to love about a tree with ornamental bark, dainty flowers, decorative edible fruit and handsome foliage?

Another tree to dress your garden for fall is Prairifire flowering crabapple. Birds love the berries and the 1/2 inch fruit remains on the tree for a long time after leaves drop providing food well into winter.  Many of the popular crabapple varieties of the past were highly prone to fungal diseases but this one is among the new disease- resistant varieties now available. Prairifire bloom later than most crabapples with long lasting bright red flowers. Even the red leaves lend color to the garden when they emerge in the spring. If your looking for a small 20 foot ornamental tree with spring flowers and fall berries, this is a good choice for your garden.

Let your landscape express a sense of place to your garden.

Fast Growing Trees for Shade

Midsummer heat can be brutal. Without shade from trees, the sun can turn a garden from an oasis into a spot not fit for man or beast.  If you need to plant a tree that grows really fast and will provide shade quickly consider one of the following. They’ll sprout 2-4 feet in a single year with good care.

Tropical looking trees not only provide shade but have a look of coolness about them. Their large leaves ripple in the slightest breeze and beg you to enjoy an icy beverage below their canopy. Catalpa’s are among the few hardy deciduous trees that can complete in flower and leaf with subtropical species. Purple Catalpa has all the bells and whistles. Their huge heart-shaped leaves are 10-12 inches long. Young leaves emerge deep blackish-purple, then turn purple-toned green in summer. Large upright clusters of trumpet-shaped 2" wide pure white flowers are lightly speckled with yellow and purple and bloom in late spring and summer. This tree grows 30-40 feet in sun or light shade and needs moderate water.

What do you get when you cross a catalpa with a chilopsis tree from the desert? You get a  Chitalpa – a rapid growing 20-30 ft. tree that combines toughness with beauty. From late spring through fall, clusters of frilly, trumpet-shaped pink or white flowers appear. Chitalpa’s like full sun and need only little to moderate water.

If you want a good lawn tree that casts light shade, I have two suggestions:  Silk Tree and Golden Honey locust. Albizia – aka Silk tree- aka Mimosa grows fast to 40 ft. tall with a wide canopy. Often it is kept pruned to 15 or 20 ft so it’s pretty powder pink flowers that appear in summer can be enjoyed up close. Birds are also attracted to the flower clusters. Silk trees are especially beautiful when viewed fro an upper deck or window.

Golden Honey locust has beautiful fern-like golden-yellow new foliage which is showy against the deep green of the more mature leaves. Foliage casts filtered shade allowing growth of lawn or other plants beneath its canopy. Fast growing to 35-70 ft. This variety has few or o seed pods and is thornless.

California pepper trees are beautiful in the right spot with gnarled trunks and light, graceful branchlets. Give them room to spread away from paving and other plants. This is a great tree to shade a play area or gravel patio. Fast growth to 25-40 ft. This tree requires little to moderate water.
 
Other fast growing trees are Raywood ash, Evergreen ash, Purple Robe locust and Chinese evergreen elm.

Remember, most trees grow fast when young, then slow down as they mature. Encourage this growth spurt with deep watering and regular fertilizing.

Pacific Dogwood & Plants with Seasonal Interest

Driving east to Yosemite recently, I was reminded of how diverse botanically and geologically is the state of California.  Leaving the redwood forest here, I passed tawny grasslands and oak studded foothills to a mixed evergreen forest up in the Sierras. Many of the same plants grow here- buckeye, solomon seal and western azalea. I was hoping the native Pacific dogwood would still be blooming and was not disappointed. Huge white flowers, resembling butterflies, covered these small trees. I last saw them a couple of years ago when they wore bright red fall foliage. This got me thinking. What other plant are interesting in more than one season?

    

 

                            Here is a table of trees and shrubs to add to your garden

name flowers? fruit berries? Fall color? interesting bark?
Dogwood yes yes yes yes
Golden Raintree yes yes yes yes
Maple no no yes yes
Crape Myrtle no no yes yes
Redbud yes no yes yes
Fringe tree yes no yes yes
Katsura yes no yes yes
Crabapple yes yes no no
Persimmon no yes yes yes
Nandina yes yes yes no
Japanese barberry no yes yes no
Smoke bush no yes no yes
Blueberry yes yes yes no

Other plants that make a bold statement in the garden are big-leaved perennials. If one of your garden beds or borders need something to quickly enliven the scene, look to giant leaves to give contrast. Often a planting will have too many similar flower or leaf sizes and end up looking fussy, overly detailed and chaotic. That’s when large architectural plants come to the rescue.

Ligularia dentata form 3 ft. clumps in partial shade. From midsummer to early fall, 3-5 ft. stems bear 4" wide orange-yellow daisy-like flowers. Their leaves are the most striking feature. Othello has deep purplish green, kidney-shaped leaves almost a foot across while Desdemona has leaves with purple undersides and green upper surfaces. Ligularia clumps can remain undisturbed for years and stay lush and full from springtime through frost.

For borders in the sun, cannas add drama. They stand bright and tall with huge leaves on 4-6 ft. stems. Some like Pretoria and Tropicana have striped leaves and others have bronze leaves like Wyoming and Sunburst Pink. Flowers range from orange, red, pink, yellow, cream and bicolor. Canna leaves are useful in flower arrangements but the flowers themselves do not keep well. In the garden border, canna foliage, backlit by sunshine, positively glows.

Red bananas are grown for the impact of their beautiful leaves which range in color from deep claret brown to re-purple to green. Plant them in full to part sun in an area protected from the wind to avoid shredded leaves. Ornamental bananas grow fast to 15-20 ft and make a bold tropical accent in any garden.

 

It’s Spring – What do I do?

Yes, we need more rain but the recent sunny weather has been good for both people and plants. I remember many years ago when we had "The Miracle March" as a local meteorologist called it. It rained for 30 days straight. This was great for the watershed but drowned new emerging roots, starving them of oxygen and causing lots of fungal problems.  Let’s hope Mother Nature spreads out the remaining precipitation keeping everyone happy.

Spring begins today. This year, especially, think of gardening as therapy.  Every moment you put in your garden is paid back with fresh vegetables and fragrant flowers.  Think about it- stir up the soil, plant some seeds and you have flowers and vegetables in a few months.  The satisfaction you get from cultivating living things is priceless.

Get started on this free therapy by tending to your garden this week:

Plant low water use plants in place of those that have been struggling. Use your precious time, space and sun to grow the plants you most want to look at, pic or eat.  As a reminder, never work with soil that is very wet and keep off your lawn the, too, as this can compact the soil.

Cut back deciduous shrubs and vines except those that flower now in the spring. Don’t prune rhododendrons, camellias, or azaleas until the last flowers have started to open and green growth has started.
Prune frost  damaged shrubs if you can tell how far down the die back goes otherwise wait until growth starts in the spring.  For your shrubs, test bark for viability by scraping with a sharp knife.

If you are interested in being less of a slave to your lawn, consider reducing the size. If you’ve decided that you don’t need a traditional grass lawn anymore at all, replace it with a sustainable alternative.

Check for early aphids and blast them off with a hose or use no-tozic sprays like horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. Check for snails and slug damage and apply organic iron phosphate bait. Earwigs and sowbugs can be controlled by organic spinosad. Reduce their numbers by eliminating hiding places.  Clean out leaf litter and garden debris and use organic iron phosphate bait.  Copper pennies in your containers can also deter them.

Get weeds out of the garden early and you’ll save yourself a lot of digging later. Weeds rob your plants of precious moisture and nutrients.

Plant cool season vegetable like peas, chard, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, onions and other greens.  You can also sow seeds of beets and carrots. The soil is still too cold for tomatoes and other warm season vegetables. 

Grow the sweetest strawberries this year by planting them in a bed that receives at least 6 hours of direct sun at midday.  Don’t water too much.  This can dilute their flavor.  You want the soil to be moist but not wet. Don’t apply excess nitrogen fertilizer which causes overly lush growth at the expense of berry production. Also keep beds free of weeds and space each strawberry plant about a foot apart.

Plant a spring flowering tree such as a flowering cherry, dogwood, crabapple or plum or a native western redbud to welcome the new season and make your spirits soar.
 

Fruit & Flowering trees from Bare Root

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how to get a bare root plant off to a good start in your garden.  Over the years I’ve planted Floribunda crabapple, Autumnalis flowering cherry, Eastern redbud, Purple Pony and Blireiana flowering plums and Jacquemonti birch all from bare root.  They’re soooo easy to plant this way.  If I had more roomand sun these are some of my favorite trees that I’d add to my own garden this year. 

If you want a tree that’s both highly ornamental and produces great tasting fruit as well, try Saturn flowering and fruiting peach.  The fruit is large, yellow, freestone and delicious.  As if mouth-watering flavor isn’t enough the tree produces masses of large, double, pink flowers making a spectacular show in the spring that rivals the most ornamental cherry tree.

I love flowering crabapples not only for their spring blossoms but for the small fruits that attract birds in the fall and winter and Prairifire is one of the best.   Red buds open to bright pinkish red single flowers that cover the 20 foot tall tree.  Purple foliage follows which turns bronze green by summer.  Fruit is deep red, only 1/4" in size, and hangs well into winter on the tree.  This crabapple has excellent disease resistance to scab, cedar-apple rust, mildew and fireblight which sometimes plagues some crabapples.  It would make an outstanding ornamental tree in your garden.

I eat a lot of almonds.  One handfull is only 160 calories and is an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium and a good source of fiber and phosphorus as well as protein, potassium, calcium and iron.   I’d plant a compact Garden Prince almond if I had just a little more sun.  They grow to 10-12 feet and can be pruned easily to 8 feet.  Soft-shelled, good quality sweet kernels ripen in late September to early October on self-fertile trees that set large clusters at a young age.  Dense, attractive foliage follows showy pink blossoms. 

Looking for a tree to provide shade for the patio table?  How about a drought tolerant Golden honeylocust? Fast growing to 40 feet tall with a 35 foot spread this beautiful tree’s leaves emerge a bright, golden yellow at the tips contrasting with the deep green inner foliage making it look like a flowering tree bursting with bloom.  Seedless and thornless, this tree has spreading arching branches and casts filtered shade, allowing growth of lawn or other plants beneath the tree’s canopy.  It’s tolerant of acid or alkaline soils, drought, cold, heat, and wind.

Another good shade tree to consider is the Golden Rain tree.  Enormous panicles of golden yellow flowers drape from the branches in the summer when you spend more time outdoors.  Fat, papery fruit capsules resembling little Japanese lanterns last well into autumn. Growing about 30 feet tall,  open branching casts light shade underneath,  perfect for a hammock on the lawn but this tree would also be a good patio or street tree.  Very adaptable to different soils as long as drainage is good.

This last suggestion is just plain fun.  If you have the room and enjoy putting together flower arrangements, why not plant a ?  Long silvery catkins covered with pink caps are very showy in the winter when the plant is dormant.  The mature height is 15 feet tall with a 10-15 foot spread but can be kept to shrub size by cutting to the ground every few years.

Remember that while these trees and also the pussy willow need six hours or more of sun during the growing season they are dormant in winter and don’t mind being in shade for that part of the year.  So if you live where winter sun is scarce you can still grow edibles and ornamentals successfully.