American Yellowwood: The Garden’s Crowning, Golden, October Glory

October 26th, 2018 § Comments Off on American Yellowwood: The Garden’s Crowning, Golden, October Glory § permalink

Cladrastis kentukea: Our Glorious, American Yellowwood Tree

I’ve always been baffled by the rarity of American Yellowwood trees in New England gardens. With a glorious canopy of fragrant, cascading white blossoms in May/June, a rounded, full crown of disease-free leaves throughout the summer season and clear, golden fall foliage in late autumn, this tree is a garden designer’s dream. Hardy in USDA zone 4-8, with a mid-size stature of 30-50′, and full, rounded 40-50+’ crown, Cladrastis kentukea has become one of my favorite landscape trees.

Given full sun and average moisture, Cladrastis kentukea thrives in New England’s cool climate. There is one reputed flaw: American Yellowwood branches are fragile and can be vulnerable to ice damage; but that certainly hasn’t stopped designers and home gardeners from planting Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) or Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum). My own Cladrastis kentukea tree has settled in to its adopted Vermont home, gracing the garden for approximately 10 years now. Protected from prevailing winds by a dense landscape filled with other plantings, my Yellowwood tree has weathered a number of early and late season ice storms, as well as heavy, annual snowfall, with no trace of damage. She did take a number of years to bloom, but now rewards my wait with a lush, fragrant canopy in early June, followed by dangling, decorative seed pods in autumn.

A Garden Designer’s Dream Tree: Native North American Beauty with Fragrant Spring Blossoms and Late Autumn Foliage in Clear, Brilliant Yellow

Because of Yellowwood’s deep-rooting habit, she plays nicely in mixed borders with other plants. Her shifting, seasonal hues are a special joy to work with from spring through late fall. I like to pair this beauty with soft blue or gold bulbs in spring, followed by perennials and woody plants with blue-violet flowers and golden-orange to scarlet autumn foliage. These colors sing out together against a bluebird sky and glow like lanterns in late October fog. An unusual, beautiful addition to the landscape, Cladrastis kentukea is a tree worth seeking out or requesting at garden centers; especially those specializing in native, ornamental plants.

Glorious, Fragrant White Blossoms with Golden Centers Cascade from the Branches in June 

Article and Images copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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Native Beauty of the Forest Understory: Our Graceful, Flowering Dogwood …

May 31st, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) Photograph ⓒ Tim Geiss

In my work as a garden designer, I am constantly singing the praises of native plants to my clients; encouraging them to soften the edges of their landscape by blurring the boundary between the wild and tame. As an unofficial PR agent for our beautiful  native trees and shrubs, I have to say that Cornus florida (our North American native, Flowering Dogwood), is one of the super-stars in my book. All I need do is show photos of this graceful beauty in blossom, and she’s in…

Horizontal Branching Pattern Gives this Native Tree a Graceful Presence in the Forest Understory or Garden Edge. Tim Geiss

Beautifully Formed, Delicate White Bracts. Tim Geiss

Dogwood Tim Geiss

Part of Cornus florida’s timeless appeal can be attributed to her poetic, horizontal branching pattern. When positioned in her preferred location —a semi-shaded spot with evenly moist, woodsy, acidic, well drained soil— Flowering Dogwood’s natural structure and springtime bloom is truly stunning. And in addition to her fine April/May show —which also provides sustenance to pollinators of all kinds— Flowing Dogwood shines again in autumn, when she produces colorful red fruits (attractive to many birds) and scarlet foliage. Once mature, the graceful, tiered branches of Flowering Dogwood catch snow and ice in winter, adding beauty to the barren landscape.

Native to the understory of moist, deciduous, North American forests from southern New England all the way down to Florida, and west to Ontario, Canada and the Texas/Mexico border (USDA zones 4/5-9), Cornus florida is a perfect landscape-sized tree; reaching an average height of 25-35′, with a 20′ spread. This isn’t the right species for hot, dry places in full-sun or windy, barren sites. When positioned in such a location Cornus florida will struggle and suffer; never achieving her full glory. When under stress, Flowering Dogwood is more susceptible to diseases; including borers, cankers, powdery mildew, anthracnose. In more exposed spots —or marginally hardy zones– I prefer to plant C. florida x C. kousa hybrids; including cultivars ‘Constellation’ and ‘Ruth Ellen’.  The more durable —and equally lovely, though non-native— Cornus kousa (Kousa Dogwood is native to Asia and hardy in USDA zones 4b-8) is an excellent choice for four-season landscape interest as well. Our other native, flowering dogwood, Cornus alternifolia, is also quite hardy (USDA zones 3-7), but with a distinctly different look.

Given the proper site —as pictured here at the shady edge of a clearing— Cornus florida is a stunning landscape tree. Photo ⓒ Tim Geiss

Special Thanks to Tim Geiss for All of the Beautiful Cornus Florida Photographs in This Post

Original Zone and Cultural Detail Resource: Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants

Article ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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