Daily Flower Candy: Catalpa bignonioides “Aurea” AGM

Reading time 5 minutes


I am deep into writing two or three lengthy posts, each of which is defying me when it comes to crafting a satisfactory ending. Rather than torture myself, experience tells me to write about something else, perhaps a light-hearted subject, before returning to the serious stuff. So, as an interlude, let me present you with one of nature’s most fanciful, fabulous trees, the golden Indian bean tree, Catalpa bignonioides “Aurea” AGM.

Before anyone over excites themselves this unusual tree, precious though it is, does not produce beans made of gold. If it did I have a feeling you may have heard of it before. En masse Catalpa bignonioides “Aurea” would certainly enrich our troubled world, not to mention giving us good reason to wear sun glasses more often. From late spring the trees produce huge, heart-shaped leaves of the most radiant, effervescent acid yellow. They remain just as vibrant through the summer and autumn. What’s more, the youngest leaves emerge neatly in threes, infused with the colour of ox blood before fading to gold.


Catalpa bignonioides "Aurea", Great Dixter, June 2016


The golden Indian bean tree is a short, wide, low growing tree, rarely taller than 20ft at maturity. This makes it a perfect choice for small gardens or the back of a tropical border. If pollarded, the tree can be kept even more compact, producing leaves that are bigger and more dazzling. The foliage doesn’t emerge until late May or early June which is perfect for areas where spring bulbs are grown. The pictures in this post were taken in the Exotic Garden at Great Dixter earlier this week. The beds had just been planted out to create one of the garden’s most exciting and talked about features, with the catalpa surrounded by bronze leaved cannas. This tree has clearly been pollarded, which has produced some wonderfully exuberant new growth. Despite the torrential rain and glowering sky, look at how the whole plant glows and tell me it’s not remarkable.


Catalpa bignonioides "Aurea", Great Dixter, June 2016


Having vowed not to plant any trees in our new garden, I am now sorely tempted, not just by the golden Indian bean tree, but by Tetrapanax papyrifer “Rex” (not technically a tree, but a suckering shrub) and Paulownia tomentosa, the foxglove tree. All three are blessed with extravagant leaves and can be kept under control with careful pruning, so will be ideal for a small space.

Whether or not this has helped free my mind to think of endings for my backlog of posts I don’t know, but my retinas are certainly refreshed! I’d love to hear what you think of this unusual tree. Perhaps you’ve grown one and can share your experiences?

Catalpa bignonioides “Aurea” is available from Chew Valley Trees, Burncoose Nurseries and Crocus.co.uk. Genuinely slow-growing, it is best to buy a decent specimen unless you have all the time in the world.


Catalpa bignonioides "Aurea", Great Dixter, June 2016




Categories: Daily Flower Candy, Foliage, Musings, Photography, Plants, Trees and Shrubs, Uncategorized

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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21 comments On "Daily Flower Candy: Catalpa bignonioides “Aurea” AGM"

  1. We bought and planted one of these in our front garden just last October and he is looking stunning now. I can’t wait until it flowers!

  2. Yes, it is an extraordinary sight. I like the ‘normal’ catalpa too! I have found it difficult to incorporate very startling colours like this and I will be interested to know and see how you combine this colour with greens, or perhaps you are going psychedelic?

    1. I do like a lot of green, and technically this is at one end of green spectrum. I would not put it next to silver or red foliage as that’s not really my cup of tea.

      I think I first learned about catalpas when I was at Reading University, where they had several on campus. Then I came to John Lewis and they had two planted outside the front of head office. Sadly they became very old and started to die back, so there’s now two alders and a rain garden in their place. I will miss those long dry bean pods flailing about in the wind at the end of the year.

      1. I bought it from Suffolk Plant Heritage Plant Sale and it is going to be part of my new project, a secret garden, which I will be unveiling next month- it’ s not quite finished.

  3. “Serious subjects”? That’s ominous. I love a nice shouty acid yellow in the lanscape–it is hopeful. One of the things I missed when living in the desert was that flush of shouldn’t-be-found-in-nature yellowy- green you get every spring off of deciduous oaks. Pawlonias are lovely too (and quick growers, I think, like mimosas but less inclined to eat the house.)

    1. Not that serious Tina, just longer posts where I feel I need to do the subject justice and not rush to the finish line! I have always loved the new leaves of beech (copper and regular) for their jangling colours, although not when combined together in a hedge. That’s going too far!

  4. For years every time I visited my mother in law I was subjected to Bean Tree envy!! She has a beautiful specimen which lights up the back of her sheltered rather shady garden. I decided a few years ago to put an end to this jealousy and treat myself to a tree of my very own to love and care for! Things haven’t quite gone as planned though as my growing conditions are the complete opposite to hers. I live at the edge of a wind swept field in Kent that gets baked by full sun all day and just to make things even more of a challenge our soil is like dust… Quite literally… it’s made up mostly of sand! After 4 years I still haven’t given up on my little Bean Tree ‘twig’, sometimes things take quite a while to establish under challenging conditions and I have no doubt he will grow into a fine strapping lad one day… He’s just going through that awkward gangly teenage phase at the moment!
    His neighbor over the other side of the bed Tetrapanax papyrifer or ‘T-Rex’ as I call him is quite a thug and quickly planted his colossal feet under the table…. What a handsome fellow he is, although he’s a little too keen on spreading the T-Rex love and babies pop up everywhere!! Easy enough to hoe off and a small price to pay for his presence in the garden. X

    1. Hi Julie. Interesting the difference between the two plants and how they cope with your conditions. Your description of T-Rex made me smile on this wet morning as I go to work on a steaming London Underground. In the short term, until I get something built, mine is going to have to be contained a big pot. Hope your gangly catalpa soon turns into a handsome young man!

  5. I love this tree – I have one in a pot, being too chicken to put it in the garden. Saw a beautiful unpruned specimen at Denmans a few weeks ago, creating gorgeous dappled shade, which has inspired me to go for it and get it in the ground

  6. shelter it from the thanet winds, i read on someones website that theirs blew over and they dont like the wind.
    mines been in a pot for 2 years in semi-shade and seems happy,.
    If you have the book called ‘The gardener’s garden’ there’s a nice use of it in the american gardens section where its pollarded and used at the back of a narrow mixed border amongst many other plants.

  7. We have two of these beautiful trees but they have never flowered why is this

    1. I am not sure Lorraine. I assume they are reasonably mature trees? The only thing I can think of is excessive shade, or perhaps they are starting into growth so late in the season they don’t have time to bloom before the winter? Both scenarios seem unlikely.

      For me the foliage is the main event, so perhaps just be content with that until your trees feel the need to reproduce? Dan

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