One of the best ways to put a focal point — something spectacular that draws the eye — in your garden or landscape is with a flowering tree.
We’re familiar with flowering trees in our part of Northern California. Acacias start pouring out their yellow flowers by the bucketloads as early as February in some places. Horse chestnuts in full bloom in late April set up their white floral pyramids on the branch tips, looking like something from a child’s storybook. And the common catalpa makes a big show with its 2-inch white trumpets in early summer.
Besides being common, though, this trio is messy. Kids love the shiny buckeye seeds of the horse chestnut, and the long, bean-like seed pods of the catalpa, but for many gardeners, they just mean work. There are better choices.
Here are five flowering trees that perform the duties of a focal point with style. Each states a theme around which other plants in the garden can riff. They are not particularly common, but are uncommonly beautiful. And all thrive in our special climate.
Let’s start with a magnificent hybrid magnolia called Elizabeth. Its fragrant tulip-shaped flowers are 4 to 6 inches across, and their color is the loveliest soft pastel, almost ghostly, yellow, especially in cool, coastal, mild winter climates. In warmer climates, the flower color is a deeper, and less beautiful, yellow. One of the best features of this tall, upright tree is that it takes only a few years to start blooming from a grafted specimen. It’s hardy to 20 degrees.
At maturity it can reach 35 feet tall with a 20-foot spread. Grafted young trees should be trained as a single trunk, as suckers arising from the rootstock will not bear the same flowers as the scion wood above the graft.
As a focal point, Elizabeth needs some elbow room in which to show off, rather than being placed in a densely planted part of the yard.
The Floss Silk Tree (Chorisia speciosa) is a South American native that likes our Mediterranean climate. It’s often rated among the most beautiful trees in the world.
As a tropical tree, it’s evergreen in frost-free areas, but will drop its leaves briefly if temperatures dip below 27 F. It has two remarkable features: its bark is studded with heavy spikes, and its 4-inch flowers resemble orchids. If the spikes seem off-putting, look for the variety called “Majestic Beauty.” It has no spikes, and its flowers are a rich pink.
The older the tree, the better the flower display. It likes full sun and a deep monthly watering in the dry season. Hold back the water somewhat as early fall approaches. This causes a heavier display during its fall bloom season. The tree will reach 40 feet tall.
Take It Outside California!
Guided kayak and bicycle tours will be offered at Sears Point Ranch on May 6, as part of Take It Outside California!, a statewide annual celebration focused on outdoor activity sponsored by the California Council of Land Trusts. Events are slated between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. at Sears Point. The tours are free, but registration is required. For more information on Take It Outside California! activities at Sears Point, including registration, or to learn about other guided activities through the Sonoma Land Trust, visit the website here.