Tree Lust

Submitted a year ago
Created by
Henry Homeyer

I love the Catalpa Tree

Are you a plant geek? If so, you understand me when I say that I lust after an unusual tree. Or, I should say, unusual in this part of the world. In my village of Cornish Flat, right on Route 120, there is a magnificent Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa), one of just a few in the Upper Valley. It is common in Pennsylvania. 

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What is special about the catalpa tree? The flowers. They are 2 inches or so long and wide in a bell shape, white, and decorated inside with little stripes of purple. They have frilly edges and are quite fragrant. They are borne in panicles (groups of flowers); each panicle has a dozen or more blossoms. The tree in Cornish just finished blooming, though a few blossoms are lingering on.

This flower has a lovely fragrance, too!

According to my favorite tree book, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants by Michael Dirr, the Catalpa is a zone 4 tree, so it should survive here nicely. Dirr says, “ ... very tolerant of different soil conditions but prefers deep, moist, fertile soil; withstands wet or dry and alkaline conditions; sun or partial shade; withstands extremely hot, dry conditions.” Sounds like an easy tree to grow.

I called the owner, May Decatur, to get a little background on the tree. When she and her late husband, Pete, bought the house in 1949 it was already a full-sized tree. About 10 years ago it was ruined by a micro-burst: it split and fell down. Cornish forester Leo Maslan came and cut most of it away, but left enough so that sprouts might grow from the trunk. It did re-sprout and now it is a lovely specimen about 35 feet tall with a spread of 20 feet. Instead of just one trunk, it has several.

This Catalpa blew down 10 years ago, but has recovered nicely

I called E. C. Brown Nursery in Thetford, Vermont, which has a terrific selection of woody plants. I was told that yes, they have Catalpas for sale – the regular one, one with yellow leaves, and one with reddish leaves. Gee whiz, now all I need is a place to plant it!

I mentioned in my last post that I am having a class at my garden in Cornish Flat, NH this Saturday, July 8. With the Prouty on this weekend, it seems everyone is busy. So I have reduced the price for my class in half – now it is $30 for a 2 hour class beginning at 9:30. We will tour the gardens and I will introduce many nice landscape plants, tell about their needs. I will also offer tricks to maximize vegetable production. Call me at 603-543-1307 or e-mail me at if you want to sign up. I’m at 16 Creamery Rd, Cornish Flat, NH 03746.

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