Saturday, May 30, 2009
Like golden rain
Laburnum X 'Vossii' at Doorus, Co Clare - a stunning display this year
Beautiful long strings of flowers catch the sun
Our Laburnum tree has been absolutely stunning this year – thoroughly living up to its name of Golden Rain Tree, it’s been just dripping with huge long strings of brilliant yellow flowers.
It’s not a native of Britain and Ireland, but it has been around for going on 500 years.
There are two species of Laburnum – the Common Laburnum (Laburnum anagyroides) and the Scotch Laburnum (L. alpinum). Both are native to the mountain of southern Europe from France through to the Balkans, but their potential as ornamental trees for gardens was recognised early on. The Common Laburnum was introduced in 1560 and just 30 years later came the Scotch Laburnum – so-called because it stood up rather better to the harsher conditions north of the border.
But the most showy and commonly grown Laburnum, and the one which we have in our garden, is a hybrid between the two. Laburnum X watereri ‘Vossii’ or Voss’s Laburnum. Like all the most successful hybrids, it combines the best of both parents, with the longer strings of flowers of the Scotch Laburnum and the more densely packed flowers of the Common Laburnum.
The hybrid seems to date from 1864, and I presume from the name that it originated in one of England’s most famous nurseries, John Waterer & Sons of Bagshot in Surrey.
When I first became involved with horticulture back in the 1960s it was one of the first nurseries I visited. They were still growing their speciality, rhododendrons, in a very traditional, and labour-intensive way. Most were grown in the soil and hand-dug with a root ball and bagged for sale. Techniques that had probably hardly changed over the 140 years the nursery had been in business.
Nowadays, of course, much plant production in containers is highly mechanised. It might seem more like factory production than horticulture, but it does mean that a far wider range of plants are now much more affordable than they were back then.
I’ve not been able to find any records of Waterer’s having an interest in Laburnums – or who Voss was, but a Rhododendron raised at the nursery called ‘Betty Ann Voss’ is perhaps a clue. Maybe the Laburnum is also named after her – or perhaps she’s the wife of Mr Voss who worked at the nursery as a plant breeder.
Whatever the origin, ‘Vosii’ is the Laburnum to look for if you plan to plant one in your garden. As well as its better flowers, it also sets very few seeds – a great advantage as the seeds are highly poisonous.
As this is a member of the pea family the seeds are in pods which children can think are rather like pea pods. Eating large numbers can cause severe illness and even death. But don’t let that put you off. You’ll get few if any seeds from ‘Vosii’.