Dreamboat Dogwood


Five years ago I planted a Cornus Kousa “Venus” for a client.  I was not familiar with the variety, but even as a small tree, it flowered with enormous cream-white flowers. I planted it on a lark, the flowers were so compelling.   I saw that tree last spring for the first time since I had planted it;   in only 4 years time, the tree had grown considerably larger, and was completely covered with hundreds of enormous white blooms. It has to be the most beautiful dogwood I have ever seen.  This spring I found 41 of them in 25 gallon pots.  I wanted to be able to have small trees that people could plant themselves; this dogwood is making it really easy for people to take a tree home.
Bred by Dr. Elwin Orton Jr. of Rutgers University,  it is an interspecific hybrid of Cornus Kousa, and Cornus Kousa x Nuttalli.  It matures at 20 feet tall, and 20-30 feet wide.  Resistant to anthracnose, and other illnesses that can plague dogwoods, it is also quite hardy.  All this aside, it is a striking small flowering tree in bloom, and in leaf. I would plant it with a fair amount of sun.  I think this tree belongs in that select group of garden plants that are gorgeous all around.
My gorgeous group includes hydrangea “limelight”, the Griffith Bucks rose, “Carefree Beauty”,  the lactiflora peony “Mrs. FDR”,  the maple “Princeton Gold”, the boxwood “Green Velvet”; I should stop here, as my gorgeous list is probably more than you ever wanted to hear about.  Every gardener I know has their own gorgeous list. You might consider adding this dogwood to your list,  should you have room for one more stunningly beautiful plant.

The Language of Design

boldforms1Everyone makes decisions about a life’s work.  Whether they think it through, or not,  decisions get made.  As a landscape designer,  I realized part of my life’s work was to plant magnolias-all manner of magnolias, every where it made good design sense to plant them. I am a  designer who in part came to design via a love for plants.  Plants are part of the vocabulary that helps give voice to a point of view. Every designer needs heart, soul, and nerve-but they also need language.

But back to magnolias. There is a history to my love for them. My design mentor Al Goldner had a big love for plants, but also a penchant for dragging along, and provoking his young staff, with beautiful  plants.  He took me to the garden of Phil Savage 35 years ago, give or take. I have not one shred of memory of the visit. But thanks to a thoughtful niece, I visited there last spring, after his death.mag

mag2Phil Savage,  lived on almost 8 acres-most of which reflects a lifetime growing and hybridizing magnolias.  He also grafted magnolia cuttings onto ash tree root stock-these trees are 70 feet tall on his property, as we speak.  He hybridized “Yellow Butterflies”;  when the spring weather is perfect, it is a dream come true in bloom.  Later, it is sturdily and robustly green.  His property had magnolias of a size, with flowers in colors, I have never seen-yellow, peach, orangy pink.   It was like a visit to another planet.  But no, just a visit to a man who knew and lived his life’s work.


I have a magnolia in my yard, which I inherited.  It looks like no magnolia I know. It is the first thing to make a move,  in the spring.  I have a  supposedly “hardy” hybrid of Magnolia Grandiflora tucked into a corner, hoping nature won’t notice.  In pure envy of the British, I am growing an arbor of Magnolia “Galaxy” over my driveway.  My neighborhood dating from the 1930’s is peopled with Magnolia Soulangiana trees of immense size-mostly poorly placed.  Plants have a will to live, thank God.   The day they drop their petals, one could weep.

The point of this-you don’t need to know the words magnolia soulangiana.  But you may need that tree somewhere in your landscape that is asking for bold form, flowers and leaves-so put its image in your  design dictionary.  If I have my way, my life’s work will make for a whole  blizzard of giant petals, dropping softly, every year, on one particular spring day.