June 27, 2013

Walk By and Gasp

Stewartia is a showy, unusual tree that I have somehow managed to plant in areas where they don't get noticed. In fact I have two, and neither one stands out as it should.

Stewartia pseudocamellia is the more popular variety, if you can say that about a plant hardly anyone knows about and rarely plants. But if you see a stewartia it is usually this Japanese variety, known for incredibly mottled bark and big white flowers in late June.
from Fine Gardening
Mine is young, and just beginning to show the strange patterns on its skinny trunk.

But even at a young age it flowers like crazy. The blooms are so big and heavy they fall to the ground after opening, but I like how the shattered blooms look at the feet of the tree, and there are so many more buds and flowers still opening that the show goes on.


The big white camellia-like flowers with their yellow centers look like fried eggs to me, and the cinnamon and cream colored bark looks like a swirly coffee drink --- this tree looks like breakfast at a fancy cafe.

In autumn is turns fire engine red, looking like this one year, but turning a deeper scarlet in most years.

Really, it is a spectacular tree that should be used in a place where it would get noticed.

I planted mine next to the front door, but it turns out that it just doesn't get seen there. It is perhaps too far over to the side, and the big redtwig dogwoods flanking the front porch are almost as tall, and hide it.

I have to walk around to the side of the house to see my stewartia at all, and the house siding and hose connection are not the best backdrops for such a pretty tree.

Of course with some size it will start to dominate the shrubs and take on some presence. It's a slow grower, although when I planted it seven years ago it looked like this, so there has been progress!

I also have a Stewartia monadelpha, a different variety that has smaller leaves, fewer, smaller flowers and also manages to hide in my garden despite being a lovely tree. The bark is a nice orangey color but not mottled.

It is planted at the edge of a seating area, but blends quietly into its surroundings and is unnoticed, even though I walk by it and sit under it frequently.


The flowers are demure. You have to look for them.

Like its cousin, it turns burning red in autumn. That skinny column of red is the young stewartia monadelpha the year after it was planted.

With everything going for both these stewartias in all seasons, people should walk into my garden and gasp. I should walk by and do the same.

But I have to remember to look, I have to make a point of going out to see them.

They are perhaps still too small. Maybe both needed more prominent placement, rather than up against the house or mixed in a border along the walk.

Perhaps with age they will have more dramatic presence and draw your eye, rather than just being interesting enough isolated in a photograph.

But until that happens, when you come to visit you will have to remind me to show you the two stewartias that grow in my garden. You won't notice them otherwise.
 

24 comments:

  1. I for sure gasped! That is one outstanding tree from top to bottom! And progress indeed!!! It is amazing how large it has gotten in seven years. And its blooms are out of a fairy tale as is its lovely bark! I can't wait to see how it grows by your front door in time!

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    1. Nicole, it does have everything going for it -- a stunning tree in the right place. And the thing that pleases me most is the progress form seven years ago. Take pictures of your new trees when first planted!

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  2. If only they were hardy in zone 3, I'd love to plant one! They could be real showstoppers!

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    1. Shirley, they are unfortunately not cold zone plants, and I am pushing it somewhat in zone 5 / 6, one of the reasons I ended up putting it near the side of the house, for protection.

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  3. Stewartias are marvelous trees. I tried a few times years ago when our climate was colder and gave up on them... I suspect pseudocamelia might do ok here now. Great post! L

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    1. Larry, try this pretty tree again! I am zone 5 (or 6 now) and I have seen these growing well in southern Vermont at North Hill Gardens in Readsboro.

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  4. I have never even heard of Stewartias, Laurrie, but when I looked them up I saw that there are two of them in Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens, which I have visited many times, so they must not be in prominent places, either. However, the dread words "lime-free soil is essential" told me that I can only admire this plant in other people's gardens. I do love trees with mottled bark. London Planes and some Eucalypts always stop me in my tracks, but are too big for my yard, so I make do with Crepe Myrtles, which are not as spectacular, but quite nice.

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    1. Lyn, go back to the garden and see if you can find their specimens. I am currently visiting a beautiful public garden in Philadelphia, and they have many stewartias, all in bloom now, but they are tucked into woodlands, hiding behind walls and none are in places where anyone would notice. These must be shy trees : )

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  5. I love trees with interesting bark like this one. Some day I hope to have a Stewartia in my garden. I'll have to make sure it gets prominent placement so it doesn't get overlooked.

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    1. Alison, the bark on very mature stewartia trees is unearthly. Very unusual. I hope a stewartia finds itself in your garden!

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  6. Yummmm the breakfast tree is delightful. I would love to come visit sometime. To stroll your garden would cause me to gasp time and again. You have so many interesting plants.

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    1. Lisa, Eggs and coffee --- how could you find a better tree to plant? Thanks for promising to gasp when you come to see my garden : )

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  7. I am not familiar with either tree. The bark is quite something. I agree that the flowers are a bit demure, but there is nothing shy about that fall color.
    The Peggy Martin rose in your last post is glorious. I have always admired that rose on Tammy's blog as well.
    I toured a garden yesterday and I found myself thinking Laurrie would love this garden. The plants and trees were all so carefully chosen. When I finally sort through the zillion pictures I took, I will have to let you know about the post.

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    1. Jennifer, that is so sweet -- I'd love to see your pictures of the garden you thought I'd enjoy! It's funny, I had the same thought when I saw peonies in bloom recently and was reminded of how your feature them on your blog. I thought 'that's a Jennifer-worthy peony!'

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  8. I find it hard to believe these trees don't get noticed, with that fall color. It's spectacular. I especially love it in front of the blue spruce (or fir, or whatever - I am very bad at conifers!).

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    1. Sarah, I think when they get a little bigger they will be noticeable in fall and noticeable in flower too. That's my hope!

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  9. Ahhh, the conflict between the collector who wants to grow great variety and the artist who wants everything to get great display. Ain't it a grand problem. What a fine tree to demonstrate that, with bark and flower that both want to be seen.

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    1. Lee, it is all about deciding what we want the garden to be -- a place for specimens or a palette of many blended plants to create an overall look. I haven't figured it out yet.

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  10. Looks lovely in your garden! Does the pseudocamellia attract any pollinators?

    I looked into planting one, but understand that Stewartia does not like heat and humidity (which we typically have in abundance in our TN summers).

    In my research, I came across two other interesting Stewartia species - S. malachodendron (a.k.a. Silky Camellia) and S. ovata (a.k.a. Mountain Stewartia). But neither of those are supposed like heat or drought either :(

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    1. Aaron, both stewartias are covered in bees when the flowers open. It's a brief flowering season, they don't last long but pollinators go crazy. I'll have to look at those other two types and see how they compare to the two that I grow. Thanks for identifying them.

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  11. Laurrie, I laughed when you compared these spectacular tree pretty flowers 'the fried eggs'. The tree is really unusual ans showy, you're lucky to grow it in your garden.
    Have a nice weekend!

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    1. Nadezda, thanks. There is just something big and fried-egg looking about the flowers. I think it is the color, the yellow really is yolk colored and the white is very white and round.

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  12. The bark is wonderful. As it becomes more so with age and growth your Stewartia will become more attention grabbing so to entice you to turn the corner, or turn your head, to look. Isn't one of the goals of planting interesting plants/trees and combinations to get one out in the gardens to observe and enjoy?

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    1. Joene, you are so right. We need to plant things that hint at interest, and that lure you out into the garden to see what it is.

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