Tag Archives: Prunus Pearly Shadows

Trees – some for removal, some that should never have been removed and one that is not going to be removed

Abies procera – sadly, reluctantly for the chop. I took this photo from our bedroom window – imagine the impact of this tree crashing into the house.

Trees have been much on my mind this week. Tomorrow an arborist team is due in to take down the Abies procera close to our back door, limb by limb. I shall take photographs and report on progress next week. It is a large and handsome tree but the risk of it falling so close to the house is now just too high. It could potentially take out most of the house.

The good burghers of Mount Albert in Auckland have whipped themselves into a frenzy this week over the planned removal of 345 exotic trees from the recreational area that they know as Mount Albert but more correctly referred to as Ōwairaka. I had a look at the list of trees marked for removal and while there are a few that may be of merit, most are banksias, eucalypts, cherries (likely seedlings of P. campanulata), willows and olives. All have their place, but they are probably not worth getting too upset about. The plan is to replant with natives to extend the native trees already growing on the site.

Talk of removing exotics to replant with native species is enough to wind up some sectors of the populace with talk of ‘PC gone mad’. And indeed, I felt a little defensive myself. I am, after all, a Jury and our defining tree is the exotic magnolia. But then I read this piece on The Spinoff and I decided that I did not need to have an opinion on this matter. Those iconic landscape markers referred to as ‘mountains’ in Auckland – defunct volcanic cones that are definitely small hills now as opposed to proper mountains – are privately owned by iwi of Tāmaki Makaurau and they generously allow continued public access to this land. They are not public reserves. These maunga have spiritual and sacred significance for Maori and if they want to clothe their land in purely native trees and re-create the pre-European landscape for these landmarks, that is their right and that should be respected.

I can not help but suspect that some of the loudest voices may come from people who would happily fell a tree on their own land because it casts shade, breaks up concrete or drops acorns that are, allegedly, dangerous. That last link leads to a story of another application in Auckland to remove a protected oak tree that was clearly growing for many, many decades before the current house was built so the owners must have known the protected tree was there when they purchased the place. They want to remove it and are offering to replace it with… (drum roll, please) a feijoa which is more a shrub than a tree. Personally, I would have thought that fallen feijoas would be more hazardous than fallen acorns.

All I can say is that Urenui has changed a little since we lived there. The hair house used to be a craft shop and the Ngati Mutunga offices were the local convenience store.

Our eldest child came home for a visit this week, bringing our only grandchild with her. He is only three so we had several days out and about, combining adult and small person interests. A fish and chip lunch at a nearby seaside settlement named Urenui was on the agenda. This was for purely sentimental reasons. We used to live in Urenui and it is where our children spent their early and middle childhood years so it is a place full of memories.

The grandson’s enthusiasm for swimming waned somewhat in the face of light rain and a chill wind but we looked across to the riverside reserve that bounded our old property. It is eroding. Of course it is. Much of New Zealand’s coastline is eroding and even 25 years ago when we left, the erosion potential was fully understood.

It was for precisely that reason that Mark planted pohutukawa trees at generous spacings along the river reserve. He did it properly – first getting permission from the Council and then involving local residents in the planting in order to establish some sense of community ownership of the trees. And he selected cultivars with different flower colours – albeit all shades of orange and red – to give variety and interest. The wide spacings were so that they would not block residents’ water views. Mark’s plan was that the trees would act both as markers for the eroding bank and also provide some stabilising against that very issue. Pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) are particularly well adapted to growing right on the coast with massive root systems which can stabilise crumbling banks.

Mark’s pohutukawa forming a buttress against the erosion caused by tidal rise and fall

It must be at least 15 years ago that Council decided, in their wisdom, to remove some of the trees and relocate them to Waitara. The official story was they were *saving* the trees from falling into the river but we knew that was a nonsense. It is far more likely that a local or two complained that they were starting to block their views because the removals were randomly spaced.

I distinctly remember that a tree was removed from this spot and oh, look. It has eroded so badly now that it needed a rock retaining structure installed to protect the road

One or two trees were removed from this stretch

and more erosion further along the bank.

Ironically, as we ate our fish and chips across the river, we could see the surviving trees that Mark planted and it is clear how well they are retaining the banks around them. Where the rock retaining wall has now been put in on the corner is the exact spot where one of the trees was removed. I remember this well because Mark and I went out to have a look at the time and the tree removal had already damaged the bank and it was visibly crumbling. If they had left the tree in place, it might well have saved the need to install a rock retaining wall instead.

Prunus Pearly Shadows a week ago

and the petal carpet beneath two days ago.

Finally, I give you the delight of falling pink snow – the petals of Prunus Pearly Shadows this week. The flowering has been a little later this year but the charm does not fade with familiarity. It is on the edge of our visitor carpark. Even though no fewer than three cars have reversed into this tree over the years, we have no plans to remove it. It is extremely visible and in a large space so we put the unfortunate incidents down to driver inattention.

The potential folly of the phalanx planting

The seductively quick result of grid planting

The seductively quick result of grid planting

As I drive into town, I pass a grid planting of trees in a garden. I understand these formal grid plantings are called a phalanx these days, which is probably an indication of their growing popularity in modern design. A chic interpretation of the commercial plantation, perhaps?

If you have a big garden with a large flat area, there is a seductive appeal to grid planting the same tree. It has an immediate impact and as such is a weapon in the landscaper’s armoury. A 4 x 4 grid is a small one, but it is still 16 matched trees all flowering at the same time (assuming you have chosen a flowering one). A 6 x 5 grid is 30 trees which is potentially impressive. It is using soft landscaping (plants) to achieve the impression of hard landscape structure. It should look like a deliberate statement of style.

That is about all I can think of in favour of the phalanx.

If you are going to try one, get out the tape measure. Don’t even think of doing the spacings by eye. You need accurate measurements all the way so the trunks line up. You also need closely matched trees. One or two with poor root systems may struggle for years and spoil the uniformity. While minor variations in height will even out over a year or two, variations in shape or vigour may never do so.

I don’t like them because I think it is a very short term trick for effect and if you are going to go to the trouble of planting trees, I think they should include good quality specimens planted in situations where they have at least some chance of reaching maturity. I see too little consideration going into the selection of the cultivar. If you are going to plant somewhere up to 36 or even more identical trees, it matters a great deal which one you choose. Alas, the selection is more likely to be governed by price and availability than anything else. Too often these grids are done in short term cheapies.

Next there is the problem of working with living plants and not all may oblige equally. If one or two trees die in the phalanx, it destroys the uniformity on which the formality depends. The same is true of formal avenues, of course and it is one of my enduring memories of an otherwise splendid Italian villa garden – random and obvious gaps in a line of mature lindens.

Pearly Shadows - but allow 15m spacings long term

Pearly Shadows – but allow 15m spacings long term

Spacing is an issue. I looked at our Prunus Pearly Shadows which would make a handsome phalanx specimen with its upright Y-shaped growth. A phalanx relies on each tree standing in its own space. As soon as they mesh together, you have something more akin to a forest. While not a particularly large tree, the extent of the canopy on a free standing, mature Pearly Shadows is in fact 15 metres. I paced it out. Yet planting out at final spacings would simply look mingy and dwarfed in the early years. Sure you can plant closer and plan to go through in due course removing every second tree to give the remaining ones a chance but that is not without risk and considerable expense. You would have to fell very carefully so the falling branches and trunks do not cause damage. If you don’t take out the stump, roots and all, you run the real risk of opening up the remaining trees to armillaria – honey fungus, which will take hold in the rotting stump and move on to healthy neighbouring root systems, usually killing the host.

Then there is the problem of maintaining the grass below. If you like the formality of the phalanx, then odds on you won’t want rank, long grass beneath. But mowing around all the trunks is fiddly and you certainly couldn’t manage the formal striped effect. Using a weed eater is risky in the wrong hands because of the likelihood of damaging the bark on the trunk and maybe ringbarking the tree. Spraying will leave ugly, rank brown grass.

When I thought about phalanxes, I came to the conclusion that they are a lot harder to do well than initially appears to be the case and are decidedly impractical in the mid to long term. If you go for a more random planting, it won’t spoil the effect if some specimens fail to thrive. In the short term, you could achieve a copse, in the long term a woodland. You could manage some level of uniformity by keeping to one plant genus – say, all maples or all magnolias, without keeping to the same plant variety. But then I would say that. I am happy to sacrifice the instant appeal of a formal planting in order to achieve a higher level of plant interest. I would much prefer to look at a collection of different maples, rather than serried rows of the same one.

Each to their own, but I would only plant a phalanx if I was tarting up a property to sell.

The humble origins of the ornamental phalanx may lie in commercial plantations

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Tikorangi Notes: Friday October 28, 2011

Latest posts:
1) Scadoxus puniceus – another bulb delight from southern Africa in Plant Collector this week.
2) Where to start with garden design – Abbie’s column from the Waikato Times.
3) Grow it Yourself – green beans

The season is late this year - Prunus Pearly Shadows is still opening

The season is late this year - Prunus Pearly Shadows is still opening

Tikorangi Notes: Friday 28 October, 2011

The kind neighbours, erecting a temporary gazebo (with the doubly kind neighbour to the left who happens to own said item)

The kind neighbours, erecting a temporary gazebo (with the doubly kind neighbour to the left who happens to own said item)

Our garden festival starts today with a hiss and a roar – a full coachload of Probus members (from Levin, if my memory serves me right), a guided tour of the garden for any, all and sundry and a small Australian tour (that is few in number, not small of stature) all happening at about the same time in the morning. It has been a busy week sprucing up but we are feeling reasonably well prepared with an hour or two in the morning to finish the final touches. The season is later than usual which means that the bluebells are still in flower. We never worry too much about variations in seasons because there is always something blooming. Prunus Pearly Shadows in our entrance area is looking very fetching whereas it is normally passing over by now.

In a moment of great clarity, we have decided to give up on retailing plants after mid November so if you have been planning to purchase anything, you will have to get in quickly. From next year, we plan to retail for two weeks of the year only – from Labour Weekend until the end of our garden festival. And we will not be continuing with much in the way of woody trees and shrubs. However, we will be looking to offer more of the rare and interesting curiosities so there should be material that is interesting on offer for those two weeks this time next year. In the meantime, we are keen to clear out plants so there are bargains to be had – check the Plant Sales section. Most magnolias are currently half the listed price. When they are gone, they are gone. We don’t have crops coming through. We will hold prepaid orders until you can the plants collected, if required.

Flowering this week – Prunus Pearly Shadows

The flowers on Pearly Shadows are at least two weeks early this season

The flowers on Pearly Shadows are at least two weeks early this season

The disconcerting aspect about the pale pink froth of Prunus Pearly Shadows this week is that it normally happens around Labour Weekend which is still two weeks away. The flowering is early all round the garden this spring. So the drifting pink petals like snow flakes on a breeze may all be over by the time our garden festival starts at the end of the month. At least the new growth is an attractive and distinctive bronze though hardly as pretty as the flowers.

Pearly Shadows is a Japanese cherry with very full, fluffy double flowers. While Felix Jury named it, he did not breed it. The tree is too good just to be a chance seedling so it is a fair bet that it may have a proper Japanese name in Japan but nobody has ever been able to tell us what it is.

Pearly Shadows has a very useful shape as a tree, being like a capital Y which gets the upper branches out of the way. Some other Japanese cherries tend to grow more in the shape of capital T with low, spreading branches. A Y shape makes a better tree to line a driveway than a T shape.

Japanese cherries are pretty as a picture and make a quick growing impact tree but they are rarely long-lived in local Taranaki conditions. We are too damp and they can develop root problems and up and die unexpectedly. They also have a tendency to develop witches broom which can be seen as very dense foliar growth with no flowers. The witches broom will take over the tree if you don’t stay on top of it and cut it out in summer. By that stage, the entire tree is in full leaf and unless you have marked the offending sections, you will probably have forgotten which bits to take out.

A useful Y shape for a driveway tree

A useful Y shape for a driveway tree