Sunday, June 20, 2010

From my office window at home I get a nice view of my neighbour’s golden totara, which is one of those trees that are interesting year round.  In the spring the new foliage makes the whole tree go bright green, but as summer arrives it turns rich yellow before arriving at the deep golden colour it keeps for the winter.  If left untrimmed at makes an attractive irregular growth habit, but of you have a passion for clipping it can also be kept well under control and trimmed to whatever height you want – within reason.   I have seen it used for hedging and the effect is spectacular.
The golden totara, officially Podocarpus totara ‘Aurea’, is a male form and as such will grow slower than most seed grown trees, and will grow in most soils, but like many totaras, does not like to have wet feet.
I think this lovely golden totara may be one of our most underrated trees as it provides some colour, without being a glaring as most of the golden forms of other conifers, such as Macracarpas.
There are not that many golden trees than can comfortably be planted into a modern-sized garden.  When I first started in the gardening trade we used to sell hundreds of golden elms, Ulmus procera ‘Lutescens’ also known as Louis van Houtte, but as this quickly tunrs into a giant,it is too big for small gardens, despite its attractions.   In spring, the new leaves are bright golden- lime but as summer moves on they age to soft golden yellow, deepening to rich yellow in autumn.
It is one of the hardiest golden leafed trees, well able to cope with windy exposed sites. A friend grew some along the top of a rise on his farm, exposed to winds from all quarters, and, although the trees were certainly not as luxuriant as they would have been in a more sheltered spot, they also grew perfectly well for him.
Probably the most popular golden tree for home gardens now is the wonderfully bright Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Robinia’.  This is not really a naturally small tree and needs the occasional pruning to keep it under control, but there is no doubt it is a wonderful tree.  The Robinias are native to the United States and Mexico, R. pseudoacacia being the only species commonly grown.  The type species is a very fast growing tree which has a suckering habit, making it used for erosion control at one time – the stock would not eat it and the timber is very durable, even when untreated.  Having said that, it is hardly a tree for the home garden, as it easily reaches 15 metres in ten years, and does not stop then!
‘Frisia’ was, as the name suggests, discovered in a Dutch nursery, and during the 1980s became one of the most widely planted trees in New Zealand.  It forms a tidy head of bright golden foliage atop a sturdy trunk, and is manageable with a little care.
Pruning is made slightly more difficult because of two traits of most Robinias – prickly stems and hard but brittle wood.  Because the wood is also so hard, a saw is usually better than pruning shears, other than with small branches, and even then, because the stems are also brittle, they sometimes snap before the saw is halfway through, so be careful.
‘Frisia’ can be pruned almost any time of the year, even during the periods of high growth, but be warned that if you cut it back too heavily it will respond with very rapidly growing new shoots which will need careful pruning within a month or two.


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