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.
Homes you can tour in the coming weeks
Spring is the season to go peeping in other people’s homes and gardens with their permission. Here are the top home and garden tours in the area.
Garden Conservancy Open Garden Days: You can visit one garden or many during Open Garden Days, help throughut the country in the spring and fall. Cost is $7 per garden. On April 29 four gardens in Mendocino County will be open for visits, including Frog Song Farm in Point Arena, Wildwood, with kitchen gardens in Philo, Kate Frey’s sustainable garden in Hopland and Mullins Mendocino Stonezone in Gualala with handcrafted stoneworks by artisans from around the world. A second open gardens day in Mendocino County is slated for June 17. On June 3 gardens in the Ross Valley of Marin County will throw open their gates. Highlights include an English garden, a tranquil garden beside a 1920s cottage beneath oaks and redwoods and the gardens surrounding a 1910 summer cottage on a tree-lined street. For information visit gardenconservancy.org/open-days.
Eco-Friendly Garden Tour: A self-guided tour of landscapes that go easy on water and long on natural beauty. Pick and choose among 24 gardens in Sonoma and north Marin counties open to visitors on May 13 from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. Free. Sponsored by a consortium of water agencies working together to promote water conservation. Includes plant sales, workshops, talks and information on sustainable landscaping. To register and arrange for a ticket with a link to garden addresses visit savingwaterpartnership.org.
Soroptimists of Mendocino-Sonoma Coast Architectural Tour and Wine Tasting: A chance to get inside great homes in The Sea Ranch and along the North Coast. The tour includes newly remodeled and historically significant homes. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 13, followed by a wine tasting and silent auction at the Gualala Arts Center. $60 if ordered in advance, $65 day of the tour. $35 for students. Tickets available by calling 800-838-3006, or brownpapertickets.com.
Sonoma County Medical Association Alliance Foundation Garden Tour: This annual event, celebrating its silver anniversary, is May 19 and 20 and includes a self-guided tour of eight gardens in Santa Rosa. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $45 in purchased in April or $50 in May. Highlights include a French Norman cottage garden tended by a master gardener, a hilltop retreat and urban oasis carved into a neighborhood of tract homes. Food truck lunches, plant sales, live music and more. Benefits local charities. Scmaa.org.
Food for Thought Spring Home & Garden Tour: Highlights of this annual tour benefiting the HIV/AIDS food bank are an estate in Santa Rosa’s Montecito Heights with a Japanese garden and antique rose garden and a renovated 1905 home and garden featuring many succulents in and around a rock garden. Cost for the tour is $50 and includes a booklet with descriptions of the tour homes as well as a map. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 28. $15 for a pre-ordered box lunch that can be picked up on the day of the event at Food for Thought in Forestville. For information visit FFTfoodbank.org or call 707-887-1647.
Mendocino Art Center’s Coast Garden Tour: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 24. Behind the scenes look at coastal gardens, including a garden shop and plant sale and gourmet vegan lunch at Ravens Restaurant. 707-937-5818 or 800-653-3328. MendocinoArtCenter.org.