The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Monday, February 6, 2012

I Found My Thrill on Bussey Hill

I had a drawing class last Sunday near the Arnold Arboretum and decided to spend an hour or two roaming the grounds looking for interesting trees and shrubs. February is the perfect month to search for examples of plants with exceptional winter interest and there is no better spot at the Arnold Arboretum than the Explorers Garden on Bussey Hill. The Explorers Garden is on a protected slope and has specimens of unusual trees from around the world.

After taking their propagation course, I was able to collect seeds from plants at the arboretum to grow in my own garden. I propagated two Stewartia pseudocamellia trees in 1996 from seeds collected from a tree here on Bussey Hill. Sixteen years later, I have two 12 foot tall trees in my Lower Garden form Arnold Arboretum parents. I had mistakenly assumed these trees would be twins but soon discovered that I knew only one parent for certain. In fact, I may have created a cross of two different species of stewatias.

Stewartia monadelpha has a chocolate-colored exfoliating bark

A close up of the bark of Stewartia monadelpha

Stewartia sinensis, the Chinese Stewartia, has a more subtle bark

A closer look at Stewartia sinensis

I collected seed from this specimen of Stewartia pseudocamellia which was propagated from seed collected in Korea by E. H. Wilson in 1917

The muscular trunks of Stewartia pseudocamellia remind me of a boa constrictor

This ancient Acer griseum tree was brought, as a seedling, by Wilson from China to Boston in 1907. This specimen is thought to be the source of the first generation of paperbark maples planted in North America.

Acer griseum Accession number: 12488

The cinnamon-colored bark of the oldest Acer griseum specimen in the United States

Ulmus parvifolia or the Chinese Elm is a graceful tree that grows 40-50 feet in height in cultivation and makes it an ideal shade, specimen or street tree.

The showy exfoliating bark of Ulmus parvifolia displays random, mottled patterns of grey, green, orange, and brown

Pinus densiflora 'Umbraculifera' near the Conifer Path at the Arnold Arboretum

Pinus densiflora 'Umbraculifera' is a slow-growing dwarf cultivar that is often grown as multi-trunked small tree with handsome orange-red bark

I noticed the tan bark of Corylus fargesii, a new tree to me, from quite a distance away as I was walking on Valley Road at the Arnold Arboretum. I was certain that it was Acer triflorum but was mistaken.

The peeling copper-colored bark of Corylus fargesii, the Farges filbert, rivals any tree on Bussey Hill and looks very similar to the River Birch, Betula nigra. It can grow over 100 feet tall in its native China. I think it would make a magnificent specimen tree.


  1. Thanks, Michael. Great post, one of particular interest to me. I have friends living in Jamaica Plain, a short walk from the Arboretum. Will have to visit soon.

  2. James,
    Glad you liked it. I had you and your new garden in mind when I wrote this post. It is a great place to see mature specimens of interesting trees that are hardy in Boston. When I was choosing trees for my garden, I visited the Arnold Arboretum in every season trying select trees with multi-seasonal interest. We have no leaves on the trees for about half the year so I have become a big fan of the trees with interesting shapes, branch structure and bark.

  3. Michael,
    Thank you for the close-up look at the specimen trees especially during this time of year when the structure and form can really be seen and the color & texture of the bark is so significant.
    You are a very patient gardener.....imagine, starting a tree from seed.

  4. James and Beth,
    These trees were something to behold. If you ever get the chance to visit the Arnold Arboretum definitely go. One of my mentors, Joanna Reed, had huge trees in her garden that she planted as seedlings. I was impressed that she was planting new trees in her garden into her 80's. She died about 10 years ago but she continues to inspire me.

  5. One of the only benefits to winter is being able to see the structure of trees, especially nice if the rising or setting sun can be seen through them.

  6. I totally agree, Les. Thanks. It has been warm here so I have already started some pruning that usually happens in April. It is like working on a life size bonsai.

  7. The exfoliating bark on those species in your region, is every bit as nice as what I see in the southwest's madrones and manzanitas.

  8. What a treat! The story about the first Acer griseum in this country is fascinating.

  9. David,
    I feel as if I know many of the good options for trees in New England but know nearly nothing your trees, for instance. I am going to Puerto Rico later this month and will have to find out the name of the tree that I always admire that has a bark very similar to Acer griseum. Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, Helen, that is a great story. I love the idea that the stewartias in my garden are direct descendants of the first stewartia that E. H. Wilson brought here from Korea in 1917. It is kind of amazing,



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