There are few things as attractive as a flowering tree. Delicate flowers emerging from great big branches, like fluttering dabs of colour can make a hard man melt. We plant flowering trees because they deliver magic to our garden. And those of us who never even think of planting anything, or even notice most plants, will notice a flowering tree. There is something special about the sight of such a substantial flowering plant.
And so we plant them, often as a triumph of optimism over reality This is because often you have to wait a bit before here will be flowers. Sometimes you have to wait quite some time. For instance, I constantly come across those who planted tulip trees (Liriodendron chinensis) and wonder why they have not flowered. The problem with this gorgeous tree, is that while its flowers, large, creamy greeny tulip-like blooms, are first rate, they can take, on average about twenty years before they appear on the tree.
So, take a scenario where you move into your first garden and first home, maybe in your early thirties. You are inspired to plant a tulip tree. You can expect that the tree should bloom when you are in your early fifties. And given that few of us hit the horticultural heights of sophistication that appreciation and knowledge of tulip trees betray, until we have been gardening for at least ten years, the planter might have to wait until they are in their sixties before they can start flower-spotting.
That is quite a wait. It is too long a wait for many of us and so those who discover the delights of the tulip tree in their forties, or heaven forbid, fifties, will only really plant one if they are generous enough to think fond thoughts of future generations. Most of us are too busy trying to entertain ourselves, let along future generations. But we should bless and thank those who do look forward.
There is one further problem with the liriodendron: The flowers generally grow high on the tree, up where the sun catches them. Given that the tree could be probably about twenty to thirty foot tall after its two decades of growth, the flowers are hard to see. They are also generally partially enclosed in a saucer of foliage. This makes them even tougher to spot from the ground. Visiting a garden fortunate enough to be blessed with a tulip tree in mid summer generally involves a dance around the bottom of the tree, trying to see if there are any flowers, with a chorus of “oh yeah…no.. wait… here’s one… no that’s just leaves… no… up here…” It’s good fun to be fair. But the tulip tree is not the failsafe fast route to enjoying a great flowering tree. There are easier ways. One final bit of advice on the tulip tree. Plant it where the top of the tree will be visible from the upper windows of the house. This means that when they do appear, you will be able to enjoy them.
We have just had a great splash of magnolia flowers. In a great number of gardens around the city and country, we have enjoyed the spectacle of those, also tulip-like flowers of Magnolia soulangeana Each upturned flower, like a long wine glass is a lovely sight but gathered together on the bare branches of the tree, they are a sight to get you all giddy for he growing season. The colour is often white, sometimes shot through with pink and sometimes fully shell pink. They are obliging trees, easy to mind if you give them a good sunny plot and half-way decent soil.
The garden centres are full of Magnolia ‘stellata’ these days. It is another obliging small tree that flowers white in spring. As a result of the glut, we should see lots of these around the county, growing big and adding their stellar good looks to our gardens. I think I like them even more than the beefier magnolias as the star flowers are so delicate looking.
The cherries are getting ready to burst out in all their guises. I spend so much time giving out about the big blousy pink double cherries. I should be more charitable. So I will say nothing now about how they annoy me so much. I will skip on quickly to the easier-to-love-delights of the flowering crabs with their little white scatter of flowers that of course precede the brilliant fruits that will make the later half of the year interesting.
Lastly, Halesia monticola or the snowdrop tree is a beauty of a tree in spring when its white bell-like flowers arrive, again before the leaves. Eventually this makes a large tree at about thirty feet or ten metres tall and wide. It likes sun and a bit of moisture but it is frost hardy. I have a young tree that’s been living in a pot for four years, and if it survived the two terrible winters it will survive anything. It earned it place in the ground and this year I rewarded it with one. Let it grow on now.