It was a seminal year, a year of many small but promising beginnings, a time of friendship and hopes and promises for the future.
We have had some wonderful weather recently and, as we eat breakfast, the morning sun lights up our view to the garden beautifully. It is good to sit and gaze and enjoy the garden regularly rather than it being simply a place of pastime and work – and there is a lot of work in gardening!
During the week my eye was especially caught by a ten metre high specimen of Robinia pseudoacacia, the Black Locust, a native of the eastern United States, which is in full flower at the moment. The 20cm long racemes of white flowers are very attractive and resemble those of wisteria in shape and habit. This tree is most popularly seen in its cultivar Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’ which is a golden-leafed variant of the species but mine is the species itself and was grown from seed received from a friend in 2000 and planted in the garden in 2001.
It reminded me that at that time I had grown a number of trees from seed. It coincided with the addition of an acre to the garden and there was a need to source plants to fill this new area. Many were purchased but a good number were raised from seed, a far cheaper method to obtain plants for the garden and a way to find plants not generally available. Before Facebook held such powerful sway there were other websites and forums where gardeners met, chatted about gardens and plants, and exchanged seeds. Gardenweb was one such and I made many wonderful contacts there and received seeds of interesting trees which I grew on for the garden. This Robinia was one of them and looking at it the other morning put me to thinking of others which I grew from that time and I took a stroll around the garden to refresh my memory.
Euodia daniellii (Tetradium daniellii) is a relatively uncommon tree. There is a large tree in Mount Congreve Gardens and a very impressive specimen in Mount Usher Gardens, in a little lawn of its own to the left just as you reach the millwheel on the approach to the herbaceous borders. Its common name is the Bee Bee Tree, self-explanatory. The foliage is very similar to that of our native ash; it has small white flowers in early summer and red fruit in autumn. Mine is a multi-stemmed plant which suits its position in my garden but it can make a substantial tree as impressive as the common beech.
This same bed has two small specimens, Cladrastis kentukea and Pterostyrax corymbosa, which have been slow-growing here but both have begun to flower despite their small size. The Cladrastis has a restricted range in the southeastern United States and has white wisteria-like flowers while the Pterostyrax hails from eastern Asia, China and Japan, with the common name of epaulette tree for the fringed manner in which the flowers hang. Both have yet to reach their potential but I trust my patience will be rewarded in due course.
Styrax japonicus, Japanese Snowbell, is related to Pterostyrax and makes a very tidy and floriferous small tree with pendulous white flowers. I have it planted on a raised area so that the flowers can be viewed from below – it saves my old back from bending to see them!
At the bottom of the garden I planted Crataegus crus-galli, The Cockspur Thorn, in a group of three because I was reading one of Vita Sackville West’s books at the time and she recommended a group of three for best effect and to better enjoy the autumn colour. They produce an excellent display of flowers each year and the crop of large red haws is impressive. There have been many occasions over the years when I have loudly and profanely cursed these same trees for I have often, while weeding under them, stood up and been pierced viciously by the very large thorns which grow to about 5cm. With the passing of the years I have raised the skirts and have fewer accidents nowadays though still the occasional one. Despite this, I still like the tree very much.
Crataegus prunifolius, when not in flower or fruit, can puzzle many a visitor to identify it as its hawthorn nature is not immediately obvious. Its annual display of flower is excellent while the fruit set is outstanding and a highlight of the autumn garden.
Paulownia tomentosa, The Foxglove Tree, is most commonly grown as a coppiced tree so as to produce lush and especially large foliage but I have allowed it grow in its natural habit on raised ground so that it overhangs a patio area and provides shade in summer. Although it flowers well the buds are often lost to strong winds and the flowers are difficult to see against the sky so it is well that we appreciate the foliage so much.
The horse chestnut, Aesculus hippocastanum, has provided conkers for generations of children to play with or to take their first steps in seed growing as they are large, easy to handle, and will germinate reliably. Though I already have a mature horse chestnut tree on the boundary ditch I have grown another from seed and also Aesculus x carnea and Aesculus turbinata. To date they are of modest size at four to five metres in height but they may one day dominate their respective areas of the garden and wouldn’t it be wonderful to live to witness that!
All of these, and others, were grown from seed sown around the year 2000. Other trees were purchased and planted at that time and it is interesting that those from seed are performing as well, if not better than their purchased neighbours. These comparison photographs of Acer negundo may illustrate the point. There are three grown from seed at the back of the garden shed which now provide shelter to the vegetable patch and are nearly 10metres high. At the other side of the garden there is a golden-leafed cultivar of Acer negundo, ‘Kelly’s Gold’ which was planted at the same time and is only of similar size though it was a few years old when I purchased and planted it. It illustrates that growing from seed is not a slow method of growing trees but rather one which allows for a greater selection at far cheaper prices and the satisfaction of having grown it yourself.