Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tree Possibilities

I've been pondering what tree or trees to plant in my front bed, where I took the two trees out, which I wrote about in my previous blog post.

I don't know enough about trees. I'm not even sure if I really have enough room for two, even though I took two out. The bed is about 10 feet wide, and the area where I took the two trees out measures about 45 feet long. I suppose it would depend on whether they were big trees, or understory trees. And, even if I CAN fit two in the bed, do I want to? Or would I rather have one really cool specimen tree, underplanted with perennials and smaller shrubs? Whatever tree I choose, it has to have lots of interest -- not just flowers, but leaves and bark and multi-season interest and a nice form. The soil there is very sandy and not moisture-retentive -- good in the rainy season, because it doesn't get water-logged. But in our dry summers, do I want to water? I know I'll need to water for the first couple of years, till everything is well-established. But I need to really think about whether my choice will continue to need water during the summer to look its best. And one final consideration: Can I find good-size specimens of these at local nurseries? I don't want to plant starts that will take 10 years to get some size on them, I want to plant good size trees to begin with. Anyway, I started researching trees using the website Plant Lust (which is where a lot of the info in this post came from).

Here are my possibilities:

1. Golden Catalpa/Catalpa x bignonioides Aurea, also called Indian bean tree. I've seen beautiful examples of this tree in a couple of spots. One was at Dragonfly Farms nursery in Kingston, seen last year during the Garden Bloggers Fling. I don't remember seeing it when I was there recently, so Heidi may have removed it. I did see a couple of fair-sized ones for sale there. I saw a second golden Catalpa at the garden of Judy Montoure and Dorian Sanchez, both last year and this year at the Garden Conservancy's Open Days tour.

There is a lovely example of golden Catalpa on the right

There used to be a beautiful specimen of golden Catalpa at Dragonfly Farms nursery, but I'm not sure if it's there any longer.
As you can see in these photos, this deciduous tree has gorgeous big golden leaves. It flowers in late summer with big panicles of bell-shaped flowers, that turn into long, slender bean-shaped pods. Here's a little more info about it.

Growing conditions

Soil Needs: rich
Water Needs: regular, drought tolerant
Sun Exposure: Full sun 
Size: 25-30 feet tall, 25-30 feet spread
Zones: 5a - 10b

2. Arbutus 'Marina' This is a broad-leafed evergreen tree, with interesting bark that peels away to reveal the shiny red new bark underneath. It has hanging clusters of pinkish-white flowers that produce red edible fruit, similar to Arbutus unedo, aka strawberry tree. I haven't seen a specimen of this tree in person, but I often see our native Arbutus menziesii/Madrona when I take walks or drive, and I get the impression this may be similar in looks, but easier to grow. The native Madrona is notoriously finicky, but it's a beautiful, though somewhat gnarly tree with exfoliating bark. I haven't seen Arbutus 'Marina' for sale at any nursery nearby, but I'm told they have some large ones for sale at Valley Nursery in Poulsbo. A longish drive to pick up a 6+ foot tall tree in a little car could be problematic. I'm going to keep looking closer to home, because this tree has a lot to commend it -- bark, size and evergreen-ness. But... I'm not sold on its hardiness. I've heard there are some thriving in Seattle, but it's a bit warmer there. Technically, they say we are Zone 8a now, but I'm dubious of that.

Growing Conditions

Soil Needs: well-drained
Water Needs: regular, drought tolerant
Sun Exposure: Full sun
Size: 25' - 50' tall, 20' - 40' wide
Zones: 8b-10b

3. Eastern Redbud/Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' This understory deciduous tree is a cultivar of an Eastern native with large, reddish heart-shaped leaves. It produces purple flowers in spring before it leafs out. I saw a lovely specimen of this tree at  Joyce Hawkins' garden on the recent Garden Conservancy tour, and I've seen it for sale at Windmill Gardens in nearby Sumner. They also have it in their online inventory at Big Trees, Inc. in Snohomish, and they not only deliver it, but will also install it. 

Growing Conditions

Soil Needs: well-drained, rich
Water Needs: regular
Sun Exposure: sun, part sun, part shade
Size: 15' tall, 15' wide
Zones: 5a-9b

Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' growing in the garden of Joyce Hawkins

4. Bigleaf Magnolia/Magnolia macrophylla I don't know much about this tree other than that Loree of danger garden grows it and loves it! (I'm always lusting after what I see on other blogs!) Read about it here and in this post you can see pictures of its flowers. It has lots of features to commend it. It has big leaves! And enormous, fragrant flowers! There might be too much sun in that bed for it, which runs along the southwestern boundary of our garden. Another problem might be that we get a lot of wind up here on the ridge south of Seattle, which could shred those big leaves.

Growing Conditions

Soil Needs: acid, well-drained, rich
Water Needs: even moisture, regular
Sun Exposure: part sun, light/bright shade, part shade
Size: 50' tall, 30' wide
Zones: 4a-8b

5. Stewartia pseudocamellia This is another deciduous tree with flaky bark. I've seen it in a couple of places, but I don't think I have any photos. It produces white camellia-like flowers in the spring, and bright fall color. Finding one for sale could be a problem. It also might not like our wet winters, but with the well-drained soil in that bed, that might not be a problem.

Growing Conditions

Soil Needs: acid, well-drained, rich
Water Needs: even moisture, regular, dry in winter
Sun Exposure: sun, part sun, dappled shade, part shade, shade
Size: 20' - 40' tall, 15' - 25' wide
Zones: 5a-8b

6. Paperbark maple/Acer griseum  I've seen this deciduous tree a few times lately, at both Heronswood, and at the garden of Steve and Michelle Campbell, during the Garden Conservancy tour. It's another wonderful exfoliating tree. Its paper-like bark peels away to reveal coppery bark underneath, and the leaves turn red in fall. I've seen it for sale at Windmill Gardens, and I bet I can find it at others. I know they have it on their inventory list at Big Trees, Inc.

Growing Conditions

Soil Needs: adaptable, well-drained
Water Needs: even moisture, regular, drought tolerant
Sun Exposure: sun, part sun, part shade
Size: 20' - 30' tall, 15' - 25' wide
Zones: 5a-9b

In the garden of Steve and Michelle Campbell

Isn't it pretty?

What to do?


  1. I will FB you the links to my blog posts that include a Forest Pansy and a Macrophyllum Magnolia...both very nice. I love love love Forest Pansy. They can handle more sun than the straight species. The more sun the darker the foliage. My second place vote would be the Paperbark Maple, all season beauty. All good choices, think finding the best specimen of any of the above would be part of the decision.

  2. You picked some fine trees---just remember the clean-up involved with seed pods though. My hubby had some of those and it was a big mess involved.
    Good luck with your choices!

  3. I have a Forest Pansy, and it is very nice... the blossoms are pretty in the spring too. However, be careful of too much sun - mine gets a little scorced in our hot summers. However, I'm in the desert, so maybe you won't have that problem. I'd definitely still recommend it!

  4. My vote is for the red bud or paper bark maple. Privacy makes for happier neighbors. I'd put in two to create a bit of a screen and underplant with perennials.

  5. I also vote for the Paperbark Maple or the Redbud. I see both around town and they are so lovely. The Maple is amazing if you can site it so it catches the morning or evening sun on that looks like the whole tree is glowing! I've seen a few people around town planting Amelanchier (Serviceberry) over the past year...and seeing those in person, I can say they are lovely little trees as well. We planted a pair of Persian Ironwoods a few years ago, and I can say they are nice too...nice branching structure, beautiful fall color, and as they mature, flaking bark :-)

  6. Thank god someone was looking out for me when I naively planted our big-leafed Magnolia, I had no idea it couldn't take full sun. Now I'll be praying the neighbors never cut down their big maple and strange collection of conifers which give it a little shade in the heat of the day.

    I've been enjoying the Paperbark Maples that were planted around the neighborhood this spring, even the small trees look great (some trees can look awkward when they're little, I think). I also think you should take a look at the Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulupifera)'s a gorgeous tree! (so glad you found plant lust helpful!)

  7. Oh and I just thought of another one...Harlequin Glorybower ( it smells wonderful and the fall berries are fabulous. No fall color though.

  8. I like paperbark maples a lot. My Magnolia Macrophylla does o.k. in full sun but it does get some supplemental water. Golden catalpa is a gorgeous tree but the roots can be pretty close to the surface & make it harder to underplant. Clerodendrum trichotomum is gorgeous and there's a variegated form 'Carnival' that I especially like as the leaves are so beautiful and contrast with the flowers even better than the straight species. Loree's right, though no great fall show leaf-wise but the leaves just sort of go away so raking isn't a huge chore. I've also not had as much problem with suckers trying to form a thicket with 'Carnival.' Forest Pansy redbud is also gorgeous! So many choices. Have you considered a katsura? Lovely leaves, groovy fall color and the fragrance of thefallen leaves has been likened to cotton candy, caramel, brown sugar, cinnamon, and strawberries. The fragrance varies with different trees and noses so fall is a good time to check them out at nurseries.

  9. What a lovely dilemma, and it is good that you are taking your time with the decision. I am drawn to the Catalpa, but it is such a personal decision...lots of good advice in the comments, though. When we went through this process we settled on a katsura, and have been very happy with it. R especially like that the leaves are small and hardly need raking.

  10. I just posted a bit about my Arbutus. The one drawback to an evergreen is its tendency to drop leaves PERPETUALLY. If you're a neat-nick this will drive you crazy. Also, arbutus are slow growers so if you do opt for it, you'll want to find the biggest one you can.

    I have a Golden Catalpa and although it looks pretty, it's good to keep in mind that when the huge leaves drop in the fall, they could smash and/or smother the underplantings. Also, the seedpods will drop and create a mess too. Not necessarily a bad thing but just something to keep in mind.

    Loree mentioned the Clerodendrum above. It is a stellar small tree with a lot of visual interest. I've heard that they can sucker but mine never has. Another small tree in my garden is Heptacodium or Seven-Son Flower. Along with the Clerodendrum, the Seven-Son is blooming now. The flowers are white, fragrant and a bee magnet.

    I have 'Forest Pansy' and it is also a jewel but mine is in partial shade. Japanese maples are great trees and drought tolerant once established.

    One of my favorite trees that I don't have is a Raywood Ash. It has bamboo-like leaves that are easy to rake in fall and a nice whitish trunk. The leaves turn purple in fall and are gorgeous.

    One more tip from my nursery days: If you wait and buy a bare root tree in February, you can save a ton of money. It's best to have your planting hole prepared in advance because we can't trust the weather and you'll want to get it in the ground as soon as you bring it home. Because you can save money buying a tree this way, you can get a bigger one that will mature quicker.

    Good luck. Trees rock. :)


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