Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Seven years ago, we bought our current home in mid-winter. That first year, I was looking forward to warmer weather so that we could enjoy the backyard deck built by the previous owners. The deck has a view of the little wooded ravine behind the house and is a fairly private and quiet place to bask and sip morning coffee in the sunshine.

When summer did arrive that first year, it was a blistering one. The deck was not at all as appealing as I had hoped it would be. Shade! It needed some shade in the summer. I bought an umbrella for the deck but was also determined to plant a small deciduous tree to help in future years. A deciduous tree would provide shade in the height of summer but its bare branches in early spring and late fall   would allow the sun in when we'd want that.

My criteria included: (1) seasonal interest in the form of spring flowers and/or fall color; (2) preferably a native New York tree to provide food for birds or butterflies; and (3) a tree that would not grow too tall or ungainly for the location.

What I finally chose came from an annual spring plant sale by the Saratoga County Soil & Water Conservation District. Their brochure included this offering:

WHITE FLOWERING DOGWOOD: Cornus florida/2 yrs/18-24” Beautiful native 20 to 30 ft. tree with large white blossoms in May and red fruit in September; wildlife food for many birds; grows on well drained soils; has some drought and shade tolerance but is not cold hardy on northern or exposed sites of the county.

The price was right and the tree fit every criteria I was looking for.  I think I actually had to buy ten seedlings but at some ridiculously low price. I planted the largest seedling by the deck (although it was, in fact, a pretty small tree then) and stuck in the others near and in the woods to fend for themselves.

Time passed; the little tree grew but produced no blossoms to speak of. It did get tall enough to begin to add some much-needed shade to the deck, so I wasn't completely disenchanted.

Then, this winter I began to notice a plethora of buds starting to swell along the dogwood's branches. But on April 12, we had freezing rain and I worried that the buds would be ruined.

One good thing about using native plants in a garden is that they have adapted to the vagaries of  regional weather. The blossoms  were not ruined and by early May, the now not-so-little tree was covered with greeny white blooms.

As the weathered warmed, the flowers grew whiter and have lingered on the tree even as the leaves come on.

In this gray, cool spring we have had, the now-white blooms absolutely glow, especially in the early evenings.
Pretty little dogwood tree. I feel like a proud mama.
After all, I don't see why I am always asking for private, individual, selfish miracles when every year there are miracles like white dogwood.
                     - Anne Morrow Lindbergh