Some trees are so eager to get growing in spring that their earliest shoots almost always get crumpled and blackened by the last biting frost of winter. The beautiful Katsura trees (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) are a case in point.
Others, especially the Indian Bean Tree (Catalpa bignonioides), take on an altogether more cautious approach. Its bare branches feign death until the temperature truly rises, carefully and cautiously not breaking dormancy until early summer, long after everything else has leafed up. It is worth the wait however, as fresh leaves throughout the season are always flushed deepest purple before expanding into huge green, dinner-plate sized lobes.
Slow off the mark it may be, but it is forgiven by the end of summer. This small tree is a memorable sight right now, still in full flower right down to the ground. Smothered in white blossom, closer inspection reveals large, loose clusters of tubular flowers, their throats spotted pink with yellow stripes- almost orchid like in beauty and complexity.
Given warmth for a few more weeks however, and the best could be yet to come. As other trees colour up for autumn or even begin to lose their leaves, the Catalpa’s flowering is followed by a display of dangling trusses of foot long, pencil thick pods. The amazing but inedible beans hang on all winter and give rise to that name- ‘Indian Bean Tree’.
Unless and until a sharp frost stops their development, these trees just keep getting better and better. So lets all hope for a late, long ‘Indian Summer’ this year....