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Green Acre #52: Green with Envy Over Yellowwood

Yellow and white peonies in full blousy bloom at the National Arboretum. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

AMERICAN YELLOWWOOD. I’m expecting to be tripping over this tree constantly now. You know how it goes? You’ve never heard of something fabulous and suddenly it’s everywhere, often to the point of never wanting to see another one again.

The prequel. My Prince and I went to the National Arboretum on Sunday and engaged in one of our usual exhausting tête-à-têtes, here in abbreviated form:

“What’s that?” he said, pointing at a white azalea, of which there are approximately 432,000 in bloom in the arboretum, never mind the city.

“An azalea.”

“And that?”

“Another azalea.”

“One’s white and one’s pink?”


“What’s that?”

“An azalea.”

“It’s purple.”

“Yes. This is the azalea garden.”

I’m not getting around too easily, so these comments are being exchanged from the sagging seats of our almost entirely yellow 1987 Mustang convertible, which looks most respectable with the top down. It’s even sportier at high speeds, when the bits of original red paint flash by like sprightly exclamation points, or blood spray. Close observation is not our car’s friend.

The yellowwood tree calls for a splendid picnic in the Arboretum’s rose garden. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

We’re driving because there’s a hip replacement in my near future, a remarkably abrupt disability. There I was, hopping around Havana in late January; now I’m hobbling around with a cane—though I use it, in part, to maximize the drama of my condition. It is also useful for pointing, general gesturing and swiping at the shins of youth, who no longer notice me. Are you at that point yet? No? You will be.

The Prince does not like the cane. It makes him feel old. Him. Old.

We’re also driving because there’s nowhere convenient to park. It’s stupid visiting this place on a Sunday, if you have an option. Eventually we found a spot, reasonably close to the visitor’s center, where yellow and white peonies like blousy daisies nod their heads in a sunny border and the roses, always a destination this time of year, are not too far away. While they’re not yet at their peak—give it another week—those in bloom are heavenly; their scent mingles most delightfully with big pots of citrus: orange and lime and clamondin—a hybrid that falls somewhere between a mandarin orange and a kumquat. All are heavy with both fruit and flower.

While I was sniffing at one such, I looked up and froze. Hovering above me was what looked like a massive white wisteria tree, completely covered with panicles exuding a delightfully soft fragrance— if it were any stronger, one (meaning me) would pass out.

“Yellowwood,” was engraved on the little sign at its base. Have you ever heard of it? As I said earlier, I haven’t, though they’re apparently common as dirt further south.

It’s the kind of tree that demands a picnic beneath its panicles. But not your peanut butter-and-jelly-and-a can-of-Pringles-tossed-in-a-plastic-bag-from-Safeway kind of picnic. Oh no, this is your Dean & Deluca kind of picnic, requiring a woven basket of the sort you strap on the back of your roadster. For $128, plus wine, of course, they have such a one, stuffed with prosciutto, Italian salami, Purple Haze chevre and coconut cashews, among other delicacies.

This feast should, of course, be laid out on a proper blanket, perhaps a white antique cotton popcorn bedspread, with fringes around the edges. I have one which I’m willing to part with for $399.99.

If you have a spot for such a tree, I’d suggest you plant it. I do not, but I know who does. I immediately alerted Baby who has a properly scaled dirt patch to the right of her deck in Raleigh, land of the fried Ho Hos. And she replied, “I’ve seen these! I emailed you last year when I discovered one in Asheville! Oh man, want want want.”

Okay, so, I wasn’t paying proper attention.

Casey Trees, a D.C.-based nonprofit, with the mission to “restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of the nation’s capital” says, rather gracelessly, that the yellowwood “is recognized as having one of the best flowering displays of flowering trees with its white or pink drooping flowers. Although rare in the wild, the yellowwood is hardy and can easily be an urban ornamental tree as it tolerates a wide range of acidic and slightly alkaline soils.” It can grow 60-80 feet tall, which is apparently medium-sized somewhere else. Consider yourself warned.

They are pricey. The 6-foot to 8-foot trees I’ve come across, in my admittedly brief research, are more than $300. However, planting a yellowwood in DC qualifies for a rebate of up to $100 from Casey Trees, one of the few bargains to be had in this city. A host of other trees also qualify—we got a rebate on a red leaf maple a few years ago.

By the way, the arboretum keeps a calendar of monthly highlights on its website. Besides the yellowwood, the trees and plants that are in bloom right now are said to include rhododendrons, azaleas, flowering dogwoods, crabapples, late-flowering cherries, Japanese-quince, Asian magnolia, woodland wildflowers, tree peonies, lilacs, dove-tree, species roses and spring-blooming camellias.

I suspect that, with this early heat, the lilacs are about over—but if they’re not, the arboretum’s collection is truly one of the greatest shows on earth.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh
Gardener Cavanaugh won’t let a silly hip issue get in the way of her enjoying spring planting.  To read more of her columns, click here.

2 thoughts on “Green Acre #52: Green with Envy Over Yellowwood

  1. Carol says:

    Enticing prose, my friend. The wacky hip only enhances your natural talent. Talk about strings…the pointing cane! Our lilacs are done, due to the daily rain, but were spectacular. Now I want a Yellowood, and you know that we have the space.

  2. Jean B Gordon says:

    I didn’t know that???? I’m in love with Yellowood……wish I could see the arboretum right now…..I remember visiting when lilacs were in bloom……AAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
    Thanks for sharing such a lovely visit…sorry about your hip but glad you were able to hippy hop around enough to enjoy it all. Keep writing!!!

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