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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.

Red Horse Chestnut (Aesculus x carnea) is a better-behaved and even more beautiful version of one of its parents, the regular horse chestnut. It’s more compact and so better suited to gardens and yards. It will reach 30 feet tall and as wide, with a pleasing round shape.

The leaves are large and throw dense shade, so you can underplant the tree with your favorite shade loving, low-growing perennials. In spring, its branches are decorated with hundreds of 8-inch plumes of soft pink to red flowers, making quite a sight.

It’s a relative of the California buckeye, but unlike the buckeye, which drops its leaves by July, this choice specimen likes a few deep waterings over the dry summer before it loses its leaves.

The Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) is native to the Pacific Northwest, including the more northerly parts of northern California. When its showy white flowers open in spring, it looks much like the Eastern Dogwood (C. florida), and like its eastern cousin, prefers a partially shady spot as an understory tree. The flowers fade to a light pink and are then replaced by clusters of red-orange berries. It dislikes summer watering.

Think of where our native huckleberries grow: in woodsy, shady areas. That’s the place for this dogwood.

Japanese Stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia) looks great in all four seasons, even though it’s deciduous. That’s because it has gorgeous exfoliating bark, like a sycamore, only even prettier.

As the bark flakes off the trunk, or branches that start exfoliating after they reach about 3 inches in diameter, patches of green, gray, brown, rust, terra cotta and cream mottle the wood, so it’s especially interesting in winter.

In June and July, the tree is dotted with 2½-inch-wide, five-lobed, white, camellia-like, cup-shaped flowers, each clutching a puff of golden orange anthers. And in the fall, the leaves dramatically turn from orange-red to purplish bronze.

All this makes it a perfect choice for a focal point, and if you want to up the ante on beauty, plant three of them together to make a small grove.

They need slightly acid soil and summer water and will reach 30-35 feet when mature.

Jeff Cox is a Kenwood-based garden and food writer.

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