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.
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.
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.