Put more gold in your foliage

Put more gold in your foliage

Put more gold in your foliage

It is not uncommon to hear people say that once they become aware of something, examples of that, or similar things, start popping up all over. Last month I wrote about discovering gold in the fruit of a loquat tree in Madison Park. Suddenly, I was seeing gold everywhere — in fruit, flower and foliage. I felt like the leprechaun at rainbow’s end.

The big surprise came when I passed a tower of brilliant yellow and did a double take.

Shape, foliage, growth habit. Hum. It looks like Dawn Redwood. But it’s gold? No one was looking, so I snipped a branch. Once home I went on the trusty internet.

To my amazement, I learned that a selection of this tree, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, has been made and propagated and is available on the market. M.g. “Ogon” is often sold as Gold Rush Dawn Redwood. The long and wonderful journey to knowledge never ends.

Smaller than its parent, this tree reaches a height of about 50 feet (the parent species can get to 100). It does well in our often overcast climate and has garnered a reputation for being “a vertical accent plant,” bringing light to the garden with its luminous foliage. Perfect for our soil and climate, it will thrive, once established in any spot that has good drainage but remains evenly moist. To get the richest yellow color, give it a place in full sun. If you have a featured location, it’s a marvelous garden focal point. Were I starting out anew, I’d consider it for the parking strip, a tree to stand between sidewalk and curb above a carpet of low-growing ground cover. 

Known for its resistance to disease, it will grace any garden with its bright needles and statuesque form from spring through autumn. The color deepens in fall before the needles drop and, as is the case with other deciduous conifers, it allows low-winter light to filter into the garden in its winter nudity.

The gold, however, is not to be found in the foliage of this tree alone. Grow one, or at least learn to identify one, and it will gild your reputation as a plants person and botanical historian. Start by learning and practicing the scientific name of this tree until it rolls off your tongue with unstudied confidence: Met-a-see-quoi-ya glyp-toe-stro-boy-dees. Watch your image as an intellectual soar.

Then comes the history.

Found in fossils in Szechwan, China, Dawn Redwood was first discussed by horticulturists in 1941, but thought to be extinct. Then, in 1948, living plants were discovered. Because it is easily propagated by seeds and cuttings, specialists and nursery owners were quick to get this tree into mainstream gardening, ergo, it’s easy to acquire today.

Finally, use this tree for its ability to fuse horticulture, visual beauty, history and literature. Be shameless in your will to make and share the best of the moment. Come early November, stage a dinner party in celebration of this tree’s annual defoliation. Drinks in hand, usher your guests into the garden. Talk about the antiquity of this noble tree, its ease of cultivation, its lineage and rediscovery. Describe the spring and summer color in the event that they’d not seen it for themselves and talk about the beauty to come as the plant assumes its naked winter form. Channel the grandiloquence of a Han Dynasty scholar. You toast this golden tree; hopefully a needle or two will fall to the ground as you speak. Then you recite, from memory, a poem by Robert Frost:

Nothing Gold Can Stay 

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.