By Mike Ecker, Director of Living Collections

It’s a balmy, sunny spring morning. All that separates me from a wealth of sumptuous trees and shrubs is a flimsy ribbon that’s not to come down until the opening of The Dawes Arboretum’s Spring Plant Sale.  Ah, it’s time!

My eyes dart from side to side, not able to alight on where to commence.  I fall victim to the prospect of a wonderful shrub, brilliant red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantissima’), an aptly descriptive designation for a plant having bright, glossy red fruit and bright, glossy green leaves that turn bright, glossy red in fall.  This spreading, suckering, multi-stemmed deciduous shrub grows 6’ tall and has scads of white flowers in May.  I wish others would consider planting this native species instead of the invasive winged euonymus, a.k.a. burning-bush (Euonymus alatus).

Ooh… look at all the eastern redbuds, Cercis canadensis!  This tough, small native tree with heart-shaped leaves and bright magenta-pink flowers lights up Ohio wood edges and fields in early spring.  Novel selections being offered this year are: ‘Ace of Hearts’ sporting a densely rounded crown that requires little if any pruning; Black Pearl™ with very dark purple foliage; and Carolina Sweetheart™,  a variegated selection with leaves having pink, red, white, purple, and green (of course) all represented. ‘Kay’s Early Hope’, a named variety of an Asian redbud species (Cercis chinensis) was introduced by J. C. Raulston Arboretum. Its flowers are clustered densely along upright stems, and are alleged to bloom for a rather long period–March to the end of April!

My eyes don’t deceive me.  That is Cornus florida Cherokee Brave™ flowering dogwood, a selection of a well-beloved native tree having flower clusters subtended by a ring of showy red bracts whose centers fade to white.  In early autumn, the glossy red fruits are ornamentally attractive and also readily devoured by birds.

Another excellent choice is Cornus kousa ‘Girard’s Dwarf’ an unusual selection of an Asian dogwood that is slow-growing and compact in habit.  Red, raspberry-like fruits 1-2″ across follow an abundant white floral display.  Fall color can be dark purple to orange-red.  An easy plant to place in the garden.

Also available in this year’s Plant Sale is Mandarin Jewel™ Chinese kousa dogwood, a small, low-branched, deciduous tree to 20′ tall and wide. Originating from Brotzman’s Nursery, Madison, Ohio, it was selected for its profuse white-bracted flowers in late May through early June, and for the pulpy fruits that begin yellow but turn pumpkin-orange when ripe. They are edible (just not delicious) and have a consistency I find similar to that of eating an overripe banana covered in sand.  Oh, come on!  I’m sure you have too.

Why, here is Indigofera pseudotinctoria, a small, deciduous, flowering groundcover with downy leaves, seldom achieving over 2’ tall.  The small pinkish pea-like flowers are in dense clusters in June.  Lovely when used as a low-spreader in front of other, taller growing plants.

One of my favorite genera is Magnolia, which I always find desirable. The deciduous selection Magnolia ‘Genie’ is a knock-out!  A compact, small tree capable of growing 12’ tall and 6’ wide, its 6” scented flowers in mid-spring are dark maroon-purple.  Magnolia Honey Tulip™ is an early spring bloomer sporting golden cup-shaped flowers.  A slightly bigger magnolia, it can achieve 16’ tall and half as wide.

Be still my heart!  Before me is Rhododendron ‘Faisa’.  This is a lepidote (scaly leaved) rhododendron with strong reddish purple buds opening into a blend of light purple and purplish pink flowers. Scaly leaved rhododendrons can grow in slightly more exposed locations than other types, and I am lucky my landscape has good drainage.  Ericaceae (heath family) members such as rhododendron and azalea must have acidic soil and good drainage for success.

Ok, my arms are full.  I wonder if I can wrestle a wagon away from another shopper? There are still many more plants for which I’ll need to make a decision, and I only have a small truck.

Here’s hoping you are as successful at The Dawes Arboretum’s Spring Plant Sale!