Thousand-watt bulbs in the front yard

Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2005

David Lendrum

Landscaping in Alaska

We have never had such a show as this spring with the flowering trees lighting up the landscape. The streets are filled with flowers, and each corner we turn exposes another beautiful flower-covered tree; pinks, bright reds, pure white and occasional pairs and ensembles make this the most floral spring I have ever experienced in my time in Juneau. We have a whole month of them to look foreword to.

Flowering trees are among the greatest landscape delights; they can light up the forest edges, frame vistas and seasonally move the viewer's attention around the landscape. Juneau's climate, and those of the other Southeast communities, allows some of the very prettiest flowering trees to do well. The long cool summer means that blossom shows that would be fleeting early spring splashes in warmer zones will be prolonged well into June. The old-time favorites of downtown gardens include the sparkling combinations of red hawthorns and purple lilacs flowering next to bright pink crabapples. These pleasing arrangements are complimented by shrubbery chosen to precede and follow the bloom time of these trees, and each wave of flowering trees can be set among such supporters so that they shift the center of attention about the yard.

Some of the flowering trees have other ornamental qualities: lovely bark like the "Accolade" cherries at the foot of the stairs between Fireweed Place and the SOB; attractive fruit as in the newer crabapples; or even pleasing winter forms like the charming vine maple. These can be used as highlights in the most-seen areas of the landscape.

All leafy trees flower. They must to be able to set seed and reproduce. Some of these flowers are inconspicuous, like green ash or beech and linden. We recognize these trees as having flowers, but not as "flowering trees," a term we reserve for those whose bloom show is outstanding, colorful and attractive. Many of these trees are specialty derivations of the trees developed as domesticated fruit producers: apples, cherries, and flowering currants. Some are relatives of these varieties, like hawthorn (ancestor of both apples and pears) or serviceberries, a member of the apple family. Some are flowering plants that have been cultivated and developed as ornamentals all on their own. Lilac is the best-known of these, and reigns as queen of our local scene.

The blooming period starts with the amelanchiers, known as serviceberries, Juneberries, or saskatoons. These light-textured little trees can be grown as a shrub, a fruit tree or a larger flowering specimen. They flower before they have leaves in April or early May, wave their flowers about as the young foliage appears, and develop a tasty berry crop as the summer progresses.

Right after these are the flowering currants. Often grown as a shrub, these small understory trees from the Pacific Northwest can quickly become 15 feet tall. The most common ones are bright red, but a pure white form called "Icesicle" is also available.

We rarely think of the maples as flowering trees, but any tree that bears seed must have had a flower, and the bloom on the big Norway maples all over town was so spectacular this year that we saw maples where we never noticed them before. The sweet- smelling golden yellow flowers completely covered the bodies of the trees, and the tiny, just-opening leaves were so cute surrounded by this gloriously transient show, especially on the purple-leaved forms. Vine maples have a two-colored flower like a fuchsia, red and gold, and the Japanese maples carry a bright pink one too.

Next are the true cherries, fruiting forms like "Montmorency" or "Lambert," and Japanese flowering forms like the one in front of Sealaska, at the medical building by Twin Lakes or in Mrs. Nordling's rear garden at Villa Gastineau. These are spectacular flowering trees, and can put most other specimens to shame; many more of these will be used in the future as their beauty becomes recognized.

The local cherry variety, known as "Telephone Hill Cherry," is a great one, developed at the Sitka Experiment Station during territorial days. It is available only as a seedling, root sprout or layer from local stock. It is not commercially produced, but bears abundant white fragrant blossoms, and the great fruit that follows is really appreciated.

Flowering trees can change a regular scene to a transcendently beautiful one, and the fact that it's just for a few weeks every spring makes it even more exciting.

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