Beautiful Madness

I borrowed the title from our good friend Jim Dodson’s book for this post about Ulmus parviflora ‘Golden Rey’. One of the most admired trees in our garden is our specimen of Gold-leaf lacebark elm. The bark, as you can see below is absolutely fabulous both in winter and summer.

Ulmus parviflora ‘Golden Rey’

The problem is that lacebark elm is a notorious seed producer, and in our garden, it seems like every one germinates. Our love/hate relationship with this species has so far resulted in the removal of four different mature cultivars from our garden so far.

Here’s where genetic engineering (GE) could actually help. Notice, we are using the term GE, as compared to the incorrectly used GMO. All, plants, unless they come directly from the wild, are genetically modified organisms (GMO). Humans would cease to exist as we know them without GMO’s, so, please try to use the correct terminology. What people are crusading against in food crops is actually genetic engineering (GE). Hoping down now from my soapbox.

It’s actually quite easy to sterilize a plant, using one of the genetic engineering tools known as CRISPR. Just think of this GE surgery as a horticultural vascectomy…a couple of snips and you’re done making babies. It will be interesting to see if public sentiment for non-edible crops allows genetic engineers to solve such problems with making some amazing plants like the widely planted lacebark elm more palatable to gardeners who are concerned about its potentially invasive tendencies.

Winter flowering Strawberry Tree

There aren’t a large number of trees that flower in winter in temperate climates, but one we can’t imagine gardening without is Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’. This amazing Mediterranean native has thrived for us since the late 1980s.

Arbutus is a member of the  Ericaceae family, which is why the flower so closely resemble those of its cousin, Pieris.

The clusters of red fruit that ripen in late winter after months of flowering resembles miniature strawberries, hence the common name of strawberry tree. The shaggy cinnamon bark is also another striking ornamental feature. Our 30 year old specimen has reached 12′ tall x 12′ wide. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.

Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’
Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’
Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’ bark

Honey, I shrunk the River Birch

I remember falling in love with the dwarf river birch, Betula nigra ‘Little King’, back around 1990 when it was first planted at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, NC. This amazing compact selection originated in the late 1970s at King Nursery in Oswego, Illinois, and starting in 1991, was adopted and formally marketed through the Chicagoland Grows plant introduction program.

After 20 years, the original plant in Illinois was only 10′ tall, but the 30 year old specimen at the JC Raulston Arboretum has now reached 30′ tall x 30′ wide So, while it is much slower growing, it’s not exactly a true dwarf. Most estimates conclude that Betula ‘Little King’ will grow about 1/3 to 1/4 the speed and size of the typical species, making it a much better choice around most smaller homes. That said, we love the compact, dense habit and have recently planted this specimen around our home on the JLBG property. Hardiness is Zone 4-9.