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Originally published Friday, April 4, 2014 at 11:06 AM

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Trees worth hunting down for your garden

What really matters is how the tree performs, what it adds to your garden. What shape does the tree take over time, are the flowers fragrant, do the leaves color up in autumn?


Special to The Seattle Times

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EVEN WITH all the Latin trinomials bandied about, the word “new” remains the most perplexing word in horticulture. Does it mean “just discovered”? Or “recently bred”? We hope it means “newly available for purchase,” but with a tree’s slow growth it can take seven years from breeding to actually being able to buy the thing.

What really matters is how the tree performs, what it adds to your garden. What shape does the tree take over time, are the flowers fragrant, do the leaves color up in autumn?

The newish trees here are all worthy of consideration, and maybe they’re unique. Who knows when sufficient numbers will be for sale? Enjoy tracking down a specimen worthy of your garden, even if it takes a few years. When it comes to trees, we’re all plant hunters.

Larix decidua ‘Pendula’ is that rare thing, a deciduous conifer. It’s a distinctive tree, with masses of little cones hanging on the bare winter branches. This weeping European larch grows quickly, but stays narrow and compact, with long, slender branches dangling all the way to the ground. Its needles are lime-green and turn yellow in autumn before they fall.

What’s spring without a new dogwood? Cornus x ‘Celestial Shadow’ isn’t brand new, but newly available in nurseries. With brilliant yellow and green leaves that turn pink, then solid red in autumn, this is a flashy tree. And you can count on its Korean dogwood parentage for offspring that are reliably healthy and disease-resistant.

Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma Gaki’ is a small Japanese maple with showy leaves. It grows only about 10 feet high and wide, with an upright, spreading habit. The shape of the characteristic five-lobed maple leaf is accentuated in spring with crimson variegation outlining each leaf tip; ‘Tsuma Gaki’ means “painted nails.”

A new, shrubby magnolia grows only 12 to 18 feet tall, with leaves that turn shades of yellow and bronze in autumn. But you’ll want to grow M. stellata ‘Centennial Blush’ for its fully double, baby-pink, fragrant flowers that bloom prolifically in earliest spring.

Parrotia are small trees, witch-hazel relatives, grown for their easy ways and symphony of fall color. P. persica ‘Vanessa,’ named 2014 “Tree of the Year” by the Society of Municipal Arborists, is finally becoming available in nurseries here. Popular in Europe, it was introduced into British Columbia some years ago. ‘Vanessa’ is narrower and more columnar than the widely spreading species, but turns the same shades of bronze, crimson, orange and gold in autumn.

Love dark foliage? Here’s the tree for you: Catalpa x erubescens ‘Purpurea.’ It has huge, deeply veined leaves that are nearly black. Surprisingly, the leaves turn yellow in autumn. The tree grows 45 feet high and nearly as wide, so you need plenty of space to grow this dramatic shadow of a tree.

Spring-blooming, purple-leafed, drought-tolerant, disease-resistant — what’s not to like about the new little crabapple Malus x adstringens ‘Durleo’? Known as the gladiator crab, it has rosy pink flowers that attract birds and butterflies.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.



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