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Chinese fringe tree fits in a white garden

Welcome again to my world of trees, plants, environment and stewardship for the flora of the earth.

Today's glorious find is the white flowering Chionanthus retusus, the Chinese fringe tree which is native to China, Japan and Korea.

In the genus name, "chino" means snow, and "anthus" means snow-white flowers.

The tree is classified into the Ooleaceae, or the olive family, and is a wonderful tree for gardens throughout Southern California

The blossoms begin in May and June, and the flowers hold on for a good month. It is a special tree because it does not get too large, which makes it great for a small yard. It grows to 15 to 20 feet in height with an average spread of about 15 feet. Another one of its virtues is that it does not need a great deal of pruning, other than structural shaping in its juvenile stage. It also enjoys good soil drainage.

The tree is moderate in its growth rate and has no great pests or diseases, in my experience. They are also fairly drought tolerant once established.

The foliage has glossy green serrated leaves and stands out in the landscape as an accent tree. I use them in groupings in my garden designs, and sometimes as a focal point in the landscape.

The bark is a smooth light gray and has a nice structural character to its branching. In late summer, it is dressed with blue-black drupes, or fruits.

The fringe tree is deciduous, and in the fall will display a taste of bright yellow autumn foliage. In my opinion, this makes the tree a real winner.

It is considered good for birds due to its dense green canopy for hiding, and gives a food supply from its fruits. This makes it a good habitat tree for your garden.

There is another species growing on the East Coast, Chionanthus virginicus, which is a white flowering shrub. It's a tree gardeners are going to have to hunt for, but it's worth the find once it's located. Some nurseries can order them.

A few years ago I did a "white-garden" here in Fallbrook, and the Chinese fringe tree was the theme tree. I blended white Cercis, or Whitebud, white flowering Leptospermum, white Camellia "Finlandia," white Santa Barbara Daisy, white Alaska Azaleas, white "Iceberg Roses," white flowering Philadelphus, white Tulbaghia fragrans and it is smashing throughout the year.

The white garden was an exercise in plant combinations and blending of textures, form, balance and rhythm. Plus, white is easy for the eye to read through all seasons of the year.

Trees bring so much into our gardens as anchors, and the fringe tree has such an abundance of great horticultural values to behold.

As residential lots become smaller and gardens tighter in size, homeowners need more manageable small trees, and Chionanthus is a good choice.

A tree is an investment for the future, with all the qualities and benefits that they give daily. A garden becomes the collaborative work of one's imagination, so you'll receive many benefits to savor over the years by planting the right tree in the right place.

So when you're out looking for plants of any type, my motto is plan before you plant.

Remember that the little plant in a 1 gallon or 5 gallon nursery container might look cute at that stage, but could lift the concrete with roots, need constant pruning or start bug problems.

I have a huge library of gardening and flower books in my studio, but the mainstay book is always "Sunset Western Garden" guide. It's been a wealth of good solid proven knowledge and know-how for almost a century. I have one Sunset Magazine in my collection dating back to 1932, and I cherish it.

Gardening has been the lifeline of humanity since the original apple tree, and has had an adventurous ride all over the globe. The plant kingdom offers so many valuable aspects to weave into your lifestyle, and horticultural therapy by itself is proven to be good for your daily health.

Nothing is more rewarding than to be out in the garden planting tomatoes for summer or seeding wildflowers in fall. The winter rain has been wonderful for our garden plants, but also generated volumes of native plant growth. Practice good brush and weed management around your home now.

"A garden is a friend that you can visit any time."

Roger Boddaert, Maker of Natural Gardens and The Tree Man of Fallbrook, can be reached for landscape designs and consultations at (760) 728-4297.


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