A group of master gardeners gathered last week at Fort Yargo State Park to plot out a planned installation around a new flagpole in one of the areas.
The trouble with master gardeners is that everyone's favorite plant is anything that has green leaves, and all this enthusiasm makes consensus difficult.
Fortunately, our choices were limited. We agreed to choose only native plants, and they needed to be deer-resistant, drought-tolerant, sun-loving and showy. We had lots of garden books and individual histories with choices that had thrived in our gardens, taken over the back 40, fallen prey to insects and disease or just plain died.
One small tree that got the nod from everybody was grancy gray-beard, Chionanthus virginicus. Nurserymen who used to live up North may call this favorite of ours "Fringetree." And some people with no respect have been heard to refer to it as "the cole-slaw tree" because of its bloom. By any name, you'll like it a lot.
This tree bursts into bloom in late spring - all over. There's no waiting for the blooms on top to show. Each 8-inch-long outer stem holds the dozens of little white, threadlike flowers out from its center and gives the plant a wonderful airy, frothy look.
Grancy gray-beard reportedly grows much larger in the wild than the 12- to 20-foot plant you can expect to see in your yard. It makes an excellent specimen tree in full sun. Because of its open habit, it doesn't produce shade deep enough to discourage other sun-loving plants that you may want to plant beneath it. An angel's trumpet comes up at the foot of mine every year and lazes about there very happily.
Fringetree is difficult to propagate. The females do produce an egg-shaped, dark blue fruit, but you don't even want to think about all you have to do to get the seeds to germinate.
Getting cuttings to root seems even harder. Buy a bagged and burlapped one from the nursery and set it out now. Transplant carefully; it "resents disturbance," as the catalogs say. (So do I, now that I think about it.)
Like most native plants, pruning is seldom required and insects and disease are not usually a problem. It likes acid soil that is evenly moist, but adapts well to less than perfect siting.
Don't panic in spring if your tree isn't leafing out like all the others in your landscape. It is a little slow about it and will flower when the leaves are still very small. This gives the mass of shredded blooms a chance to be center stage.
Dr. Michael A. Dirr in his "Manual of Woody Landscape Plants" says, "... even dogwood does not carry itself with such refinement,
dignity and class when in flower." How's that for an endorsement?
Winder resident Dora Fleming is a Georgia master gardener. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.