This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V26", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Has the Catalpa controversy ended or simply quieted down for a season? I am prompted to ask this question from observing the charming effect produced by them, when planted as an ornamental tree, by their large, ample leaves, and the large clusters of deliciously fragrant white flowers. We have here in Richmond a large number of Catal-pas planted along the sides of the streets for shade trees, which are now (July 1st) in full bloom; in addition to their beautiful flowers they fairly load the air with their delightful perfume, especially in the moist morning air. But, unfortunately, they are all of the tender variety, - Catalpa bignonioides, - and are a little late in coming into foliage and flower in spring, and as they all come into bloom at about the same time, but retain their great beauty only a very short space of time, they are not as desirable for general use as though a portion of Catalpa speciosa had been included in the general planting. Perhaps I should say their liability to winter-kill and backwardness in spring is often urged against their general use as a lawn or ornamental street tree; for you know that after a long, cold winter, we are all impatient to see the bare limbs and branches of our ornamental trees and shrubs again clothed with renewed foliage, as well as flowers.
While we are upon the subject of ornamental trees for street planting, may I ask you, or some of the numerous horticultural readers of the Monthly, through its columns: Which is the best single variety to plant for use in street planting, or what half-dozen kinds of trees are the best to plant in our latitude, to relieve the monotony of sameness along a fine residence street? In nearly all species or varieties of trees some reasonable objection may be, and indeed often is, urged against each separate one, so that many are often at a loss what to choose. For example, the sugar and red maple vegetate early in spring, but do not form a dense and compact head. The black and Norway maple forms a most beautiful head, but then it grows so slow that we are apt to get discouraged waiting for it to reach any considerable size. The Catalpa grows fast, forms a nice compact head, but is so late to vegetate that the sight of the leafless twigs so late in spring is a constant source of regret. Again, most of our standard fruit trees form fine symmetrical heads, - vegetate and flower early in spring.
But when the fruit is large enough to show itself, the destruction of the limbs and branches of the trees by boys, in their efforts to get the fruit, would make the tree one of the most unsightly of objects during the balance of the summer; and so it is if we pass the whole list of available ornamental trees under review, some strong and serious objection will be offered by many, to each one.
But to return to the subject of the Catalpa again, a subject full of interest to the tree planter, either for the lawn, street, or field for a future source of timber supply. True,the nurseryman and hybridist have not yet produced a very extended list of varieties to select from, but the natural species make it possible to obtain a form suited to almost any location in the temperate zone. A few years ago Dr. Warder gave me two varieties of Catalpa, which in American Nurserymen's Catalogue are offered for sale under the name of C. Bungeii and C. Ksempferi. The variety known as C. Bungeii has not proved to be with me a very hardy shrub (for on my grounds it has proved to be only a shrub) as it is killed back to the main stem every severe winter; but promptly throws out a dense mass of new growth in spring, quickly forming a symmetrical globular head, but as yet never showing any signs of flowers. Catalpa Kaempferi is perfectly hardy here, but until this spring its season of flowering was about two weeks later than C. bignoni-oides. This year however C. Kaempferi flowered first, and the new, undeveloped buds indicate a protracted season of flowering. It does not seem to show any signs of making a tree, but rather a large much branched shrub.
My Catalpa syringi-folia is yet too small to bloom, so I cannot note anything of interest about it, but find it to be a very rapid grower. Its foliage, however, is so similar to our old speciosa, that for a small lawn it will scarcely pay to make any special effort to procure it. Buist's variety, Catalpa bignonioides aurea, makes a beautiful ornamental lawn tree in spring and early summer with its rich golden foliage, with the new leaves flushed with purple, but with the dry and parching air of this Western country the leaves assume its normal condition, and is scarcely distinguishable from its parent, C. bignonioides. It has proved perfectly hardy here, which will make it a valuable acquisition to our list of ornamental trees and well worth cultivating. Mr. E. Y. Teas, of Dunreith, has a fine variety, with purple foliage, that I do not find yet offered by nurserymen, that is very fine, and will prove quite useful in landscape gardening. Like the Golden Catalpa it is a seedling of the native species, and said to be perfectly hardy. My specimen of J. C. Teas (of Missouri) hybrid has flow, ered for the first time this spring, but I do not see much difference in its flowers from those of C. bignonioides.
They were a few days later in opening, a little smaller, perhaps, and not so densely set in the cluster. My tree has made a much more rapid and erect growth than any other variety, and, as a timber tree is a valuable acquisition.
But what particularly interests me now in connection with this subject (aside from its timber value) is its possibilities as an ornamental tree, and this was the more forcibly illustrated in comparing a large number of perfect flowers from all the species in bloom, and also a large number of perfect specimens from a number of separate trees. As we hold up before us a complete bunch of Catalpa flowers in their full beauty and freshness, we shall see nearly all the flowers have more or less violet-purple markings in the throats, usually accompanied with small yellow spots or points. I say usually, for their presence is the rule, but the exceptions are noteworthy. Many single flowers in each bunch are pure white, while others have an entire purple throat, with fine tracings and rays of purple, often extending to the outer edge of the corolla. Now for the possibilities. We anticipate, and in our imaginations see in the near future the result of some careful and patient hybridizer in a pure white flowered Catalpa and an equally as valuable variety with violet-purple flowers, the result of fertilizing the purple flowered examples with pollen from another specimen of purple flowers, or by selecting a pure white flower and fertilizing it with pollen from another pure white flower.
Of course great care and patience must be exercised in the effort, and failure and disappointment must be expected as the rule for all similar work, but perseverance will eventually crown the effort with success, and then the fortunate originator will have something to be proud of. Richmond, Ind.