I’ve become a fan of big flowering trees. I’m not talking rhododendrons and camellias – which I’ve always enjoyed – I mean big trees. My entusiasm for them started back in spring when a dogwood, which had been slowing growing through a semi-forest of natives at the bottom of garden, suddenly decided to hit puberty and bloom. It was so spectacular; perfect pale cream flowers that turned a faint pink as they matured. In the evening light they appeared to float in space, and when I picked a few to bring inside, I was astonished at how long they lasted in a vase. I swear it was at least two weeks. And for all this beauty, I was asked to do absolutely nothing. Not a skerrick of fertilizer, not a layer of mulch di I have to apply. The dogwood was perfectly happy to go about its own business.
Then, before I knew what was happening, late summer was on my doorstep and behind the rather unsightly compost bin (my compost pile functions perfectly well but it’s far from an art work) I suddenly caught sight of a tall creamy-coloured cloud. The Euchryphia, which I can barely remember planting and have certainly had nothing to do with since I popped it in the ground five or so years ago, was in full bloom. At five metres high (and still growing – these stately trees reach 12m) the flowers were backed by glossy green leaves which will remain all winter as the tree is an evergreen. In the late afternoon, the scent from the blooms wafted through the garden and the flowers were completely covered in bumblebees.
I’ll be very sad when the Euchryphia has finished flowering but there is some compensation in having, right next door to it, a Garrya elliptica which blooms over winter, producing graceful, long, green catkins that become covered in dusky yellow pollen over time. The tree grows to five metres and I like its grey foliage as much as its flowers. It’s very good for picking and makes a stunning no-fuss winter arrangement for the table when little else is available to fill a vase.
When the Garrya elliptica catkins are spent, I can begin looking forward to my Michelia which blooms in early spring. A cousin of the Magnolia I’ve often heard it referred to as ‘the best ever flowering tree’. As with the Euchryphia, the scent is delicious and there are plenty of blooms because it grows to 5m. When summer arrives, I welcome the blooms on my faithful natives: heavy-scented cabbage trees flowers, bight, frothy rata and the delicate pale pink beauty of the kamahi.
Flowering trees demand so little and give so much. They are absolute ‘bang for your buck’ ornamentals, and for gardeners like me whose time is, by necessity, taken up with growing food, I can’t think of any better plants to have in my back yard. Wherever you live in New Zealand, there are big, beautiful flowering trees to suit your location. Don’t wait a moment longer before you plant as many as you have space for.