The Planting of Princess E

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Where we left off: Elizabeth of Milarch Nursery tagging the Princess Emily
Princess E and traveling companion, a London Plane tree, on flatbed trailer with Kevin, who is about to cover them both for the ride to Royal Oak
. . . which was no small feat. Princess E may look small, but she was very heavy!
Straightening her out
Nick and Dean mulch Princess E with Ailanthus (“Tree of Heaven”) woodchips. Notice the honey locust watching over the scene in the background, just on the other side of out carport. February 2019, the month the Arbor Day Plot was conceived, Singing Tree visited me for the first time, to trim this honey locust. See that adventure here: https://arbordayplot.com/2019/02/26/singing-tree-the-honey-locust/
3 minutes of water and she’s good to go.
Princess Emily planted in her “forever-home,” Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Now for ferns for her backdrop and hostas, perhaps, in the foreground (and, of course, more river rocks)
Princess Emily tonight, her third evening here, enjoying a light drizzle with the American beech, who is the canopy to her understory

The Dogwood Chase

Okay, so I’m a tree nerd. I know at least two others. (And, you know who you are.)

I woke up this morning at 5:00, and I was too excited to go back to sleep even though the alarm wasn’t set to go off until 7:00.

So, I got up and went out in my bathrobe and bare feet to listen to the birds singing up the sun and to contemplate my work of yesterday:

The cool morning air smelled especially sweet. It was a good time and place for plotting.

The plan was to be at English Gardens by the start of their “At-Risk Hour,” 8:00, so I could take some photos of the little dogwood and maybe of Kevin D., who had helped me pick it out Thursday. I needed to get there during the At-Risk Hour and before Dean and Nick from Singing Tree picked it up and brought it to my house to plant. Satisfied with the plan, I went back inside and made a special breakfast of French toast to kick off the special day.

Off to English Gardens

Because I can count the times I’ve left my house in the last 10 weeks to go somewhere in my car without resorting to having to use my toes, it seems to take me an even longer to leave with everything I need to navigate with less risk through the world. We almost made it out of the door by 7:50 for the 9-minute drive to English Gardens.

When we arrived at the English Gardens’ tree department, the overhead jets of water were up and running . No surprise. Craig wandered off to find some morning glories, and I went to find the Cherokee Princess that had been tagged for me on Thursday. But, she wasn’t where I had last seen her.

Tree guy Kevin D wasn’t coming in until 11:00, so another tree guy helped me. He said she would be in the backlot if she was sold and being picked up. When he walked around the fence, I sauntered around into the employees-only area with him. He went through the trees one by one with no success.

We went back around to the trees for sale, and both got wet looking for the Cherokee Princess. I did notice that someone had bought her sister, and taken her home with them; there were no more Cherokee Princess dogwoods available on site.

Yesterday’s weather: breezy and hot

We returned to the backlot. I had noticed it the first time and performed a silent tsk-tsk disapproval when The Other Tree Guy walked by it. When he went by it again without doing anything–in his defense, he was intent on finding my tree–I bent down and picked it up.

Apparently, the wind had blown this stick of a tree over. Had it been frying in the sun and 90-degree Memorial Day yesterday, the hottest day of the year thus far? Where was the rest of its rootball?

And, more importantly, when I picked the tree up, besides the sold tag, why was it decorated with a polka-dot ribbon that had my name on it?

The Cherokee Princess had been found. But even The Other Tree Guy didn’t give her good odds for surviving and sent me to the Customer Service counter for a refund, being that there were no other white flowering dogwoods of any variety for sale; the season was over here.

Plan B takes shape

On my way to Customer Service, I sent Emily Brent of Singing Tree the text: “Stop the presses.” Fortunately, she understood what I was trying to communicate.

It was clear that when manager Sean was paged from the Customer Service Desk, he didn’t believe my story. When he saw the tree for himself, however, he took a picture of the rootball to send to the nursery from whence it had come.

While I was waiting for him to refund the cost of the dogwood from my charge, I text Emily we were going to “brave going to Telly’s.” This was going to get done. Today.

She texted back that Kevin Bingham, her partner, was heading to Ray Wiegand’s Nursery on Romeo Plank Road in Macomb and would she like me to call and see if they had any Cherokee Princesses available.

As he was handing me my receipt, Sean mentioned there were Cherokee Princesses at two other English Garden locations. Nope. An underlying current of possibility was surfacing on this beautiful day.

We had just loaded the morning glories (Heavenly Blue) and two big pots of geraniums (one pot at $10 got you another one free) when Emily texted me back: “They have Cherokee Princess!”

East to Ray Wiegand’s Nursery!

I asked Siri to navigate to Weigand’s, a 32-minute drive, and we were off. The morning reminded me of leaving to go on vacation as kid. That kind of sky, that kind of freedom, that kind of anticipation.

Just for the record, I did raise the question of whether this was an “essential” trip. WWWS? (What Would Whitmer Say?) If the greenhouses and nurseries are open, are we only supposed to be purchasing their plants and trees via delivery? (Probably.)

I’d met Kevin when Singing Tree trimmed the Honey Locust that had me awake worrying at night (my first posting on this blog in February of 2019), and I trust him 100% to pick out a good tree.

And yet my car kept heading east.

Until we got here:

Sterling Places Plaza on Van Dyke (M-53), just north of Metropolitan Parkway (16 Mile Rd.) had a completely empty parking lot when I pulled in to read Emily’s latest text.

Emily texted “We have a change of plans.”

Although on Friday, Wiegand’s had had 20 London plane trees–the reason Kevin was heading there (for one)–today, they had zero.

West to Milarch Nursery!

So now, instead, Kevin was headed to Milarch Nursery on Haas Rd. in Lyon Township, where they had both London plane trees and Cherokee Princesses.

Siri got on it and west we went, about 45 minutes worth. (Taking the Wixom exit off I-696 and then a couple of miles on Grand River Ave. gets you in the vicinity).

What an amazing nursery! (Check out the aerial view of the nursery on the homepage of their website.)

To the Dogwoods!

The directions we received were to walk to a green dumpster–maybe a quarter of a mile–turn left and “walk two long city blocks” to the dogwoods.

The entrance road to the 27.5 acres that is Milarch Nursery, a four-generation family business (The green dumpster did not come into view right away.)

But before she gave the directions, one of the nursery staff, when I asked, said they had two types of white flowering dogwood: Cherokee Princess and Princess Emily.

I’d forgotten about Princess Emily, a variety I’d come across online before Arbor Day 2020. A newer variety of Cornus florida. This is all I’d been able to find out about the variety:

“‘Princess Emily’ Dogwood . . . is a selection of Cornus florida that has (unusual in a dogwood) a strong central leader. The spring flowers have rounded, white overlapping bracts.The leaves are very similar to Cornus kousa but have a glossy appearance and turn to a brilliant red color come fall. It also has a high resistance to powdery mildew and will show continual growth even in the drier parts of summer.”

— David Dermyer of Christensen’s Plant and Hardscape Centers in “Some New Trees for 2016”

I had taken Princess Emily out of consideration because of the “strong central leader.” Remember, I wanted the classic layered look. But this morning, I found myself excited to be actually able to compare two different varieties of white flowering dogwood.

Just as we got to “Dogwood Row(s)”, we ran into Kevin and together, the three of us first passed a number pink dogwoods to arrive at quite a number of 9.5-feet-tall white dogwoods in bloom.

Dualing Princesses

Had I ended up planting the Cherokee Princess from English Gardens, or had Kevin picked a Cherokee Princess out for me from Wiegand’s or Milarch’s, I would have been very surprised come spring, with the respect to the former, or if Kevin pulled up in my driveway with a Cherokee Princess in bloom from either other nursery.

I would have been sure the nursery had made a mistake. One look at the blooms, and I would have been positve I had a specimen of the “Appalachian Spring’ variety of dogwood. This was the variety about which I wrote in a posting a few days ago:

I don’t care for the space between and slight curl of the bracts.

But here at Milarch Nursery, for the first time, I was seeing dogwood bearing both their nametags and blossoms. And, I got a big surprise.

The Cherokee Princess: notice the narrowness of the “curly” bracts; notice the spaces between them.

But Princess Emily, on the other hand, had the squarish flower bracts I liked and some very shapely trees.

Of course, the first Princess Emily I picked out had been tagged by someone else. But, with Kevin’s helpful suggestions regarding branching, I picked out a second-best and had it tagged.

Meanwhile, Kevin went to look for London Plane trees. He received some inaccurate directions, and while he didn’t find the London Plane trees (the only one that the nursery had left was actually at the end of the rows of dogwood trees). But, while he was looking, he found a section of smaller dogwood trees, maybe 7 feet tall. He suggested I have a look as smaller trees have a better chance of surviving the planting.

I walked to the other section of dogwoods, and there she was. The fiirst tree since I started looking to whom I had an emotional reaction.

Elizabeth of Milarch Nursery tagging a ‘Princess Emily’ flowering dogwood for me

And just that easy, and with that much lead-up to it, the search was over.

Princess Emily, my chosen one among many

Yep, tree nerd.

A Perfect Day for Making the Bed

Last year, in preparation for the brickwork across the back of our carport storage area, I spent a very long day removing a very full bed of very old euonymus. That mass of entangled vine stretched the width of this new bed and came out about four feet from where the brick is now. That particular portion of the new bed provided the easy digging today. The Wisconsin river rocks were repurposed from the ginkgo bed in the front yard. The Cherokee Princess dogwood will be planted where the sun-catcher is stuck (it looks like a stick here), at the halfway point in the width of the brick wall.
My husband, Craig, caught this shot when I thought I was nearing the end. Nope. The longer I dug, the more I kept imagining what else I could plant in the bed if only it were a little bit bigger . . . and then a little bit bigger. Fortunately, the photographer returned with another shovel to lend a hand at the end!
The other measurement I used to determine where the dogwood would be planted is from the point between the French doors in our 2019 bedroom addition (in the background above). The dogwood should provide a nice focal point in the view from the doors all year ’round.
Post-clean-up, post-shower, and post-G&Ts . . . here’s the bed ready for the Princess’s arrival from English Gardens via Singing Tree. After the tree is planted tomorrow–at some (safe) point–I’ll need to return to Haley Stone Patio and Landscape Supply for enough river rocks to complete this larger-than-planned semi-circular bed.

A great Memorial Day project for keeping busy all day at home!

“Cherokee Princess”

Coming to her forever-home, she finally is. Just met her–while masked, of course–Thursday morning during the “At-Risk Hour” at the English Gardens in Royal Oak.

One of her kind–an Eastern flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)–was supposed to have been planted on our 40th wedding anniversary (May 12, 2019). That was after I developed pre-planting Arbor Day 2019 jitters. And those came about even after having thoroughly researched my way through a list of 14 possible tree choices suggested by friends. And. believing I’d hit upon the winner: an American Basswood (aka “The Bee-Tree”). What could be more perfect in these challenging times for our pollinators?

An American Basswood

But botanist Bronwen Gates, who had been in my yard before, made a late contribution to my search, pointing out that there was already a canopy stretching over this spot on Earth.

Our yard before we moved in 14 years ago; the canopy is much fuller and denser now.

Bronwen suggested I consider:

“what the space was calling for . . .”

Like, perhaps, a native-to-Michigan understory tree. And, then she suggested three possibilities.

More research led to a new decision: the Eastern flowering dogwood (Cornus florida).

10  Cornus florida Seeds Flowering dogwood Seeds image 0
Photo from singingdaffodil https://www.etsy.com/listing/525730708/10-cornus-florida-seeds-flowering

However, by the time that decision was made, the nursery of the landscaper I’d been working with (to help with a grading issue) no longer had any pink Eastern flowering dogwoods left in stock. And I had been thinking pink.

Dogwood Trees For Sale: Wholesale Plants Online Today
Photo: https://www.tennesseewholesalenursery.com/wholesale-dogwood-trees-for-sale/

But, no worries, the season was warming up fast anyway, and he would have one for me on the next Arbor Day: April 24, 2020.

COVID Complications

Of course, then COVID-19 planted itself in our midst. Michigan’s Stay-at-Home order was loosened to allow landscapers to work on Arbor Day, of all days, so it wasn’t going to be an Arbor Day planting this year either. But, with excitement, I called the landscaper to confirm we were all set. In response to my inquiry, he responded that he’d not be able to get to me “’til mid-July.” At which point, of course, it would be too late plant a tree.

Obviously, if I wanted to plant a flowering dogwood this spring, I was going to have to expose myself (along with my at-risk husband and both of my parents in their 90s) to some risk.

Royal Oak
English Gardens in Royal Oak, MI (Note: Clock does not reflect the time at which I visited.)

An “under-water” introduction

Thursday, Kevin D–who had, coincidentally, helped us pick out our last Christmas tree–ushered us through the delivery entrance of Royal Oak’s English Gardens into the outdoor area of the store and directed us to the ornamental trees. A good thing the dogwoods happen to be located in the first two rows of the collection because this time of morning–between 8:00 and 9:00–the overhead rotating sprinklers were forcefully watering this half of the outdoor department. My husband, along for this relatively safe outdoor outing, wandered off to check out the shade perennials, which had already been watered.

Photo of English Gardens - West Bloomfield, MI, United States. Part of outdoor garden stock area
The dry part of English Gardens’ outdoor plant, shrubs and tree area.

I tiptoed through puddles, dodging the rotating streams of water, as Kevin braved direct hits to move in close enough to read the labels on the trees.

I should mention that over the winter my preference had turned from pink to white. He could only find two white dogwoods, both of the variety “Cherokee Princess”.

He said I might be able to find other white varieties at another English Gardens’ location. Aargh! I wasn’t prepared for a variety decision. (Only after I got home did I discover the reason I had no service–and so could not look up “Cherokee Princess” on my phone–was because somehow my “cellular data” setting had turned itself off. Just a weird coincidence or confirmation of a “meant-to-be”?)

Regardless, the At-Risk Hour was coming to a close. Given the Michigan’s COVID-19 lockdown under Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-21 and my scary experience last Friday at Telly’s in Troy (the lack of any mention of COVID-19 on their website should have been my first clue) . . . was I really going to visit another English Garden location? Probably not.

Both trees looked healthy. I paid for the one of the two little dogwoods I thought looked strongest in terms of how it branched and made arrangements for Singing Tree to pick it up Tuesday.

Buyer’s remorse?

But would the other one with the branch splitting off low on the trunk grow up to be a more classically-shaped dogwood tree? And, had I picked the right variety of white dogwood?

This is the species of dogwood I purchased:

Plant Photo
Bracts of Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Princess’
Cherokee Princess Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida 'Cherokee Princess') at English Gardens
Shape of Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Princess’

[Note: These and all photos of dogwood trees available from English Gardens below are credited in their plant database: “Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder“.]

The Lichfield Dogwood

What I really had imagined was a dogwood tree with: 1) creamy white “flowers” (i.e., bracts) . . . and 2) the classic “dogwoody”, bonsai-like layering of branches (aka “a low-branching, broadly-pyramidal but somewhat flat-topped habit”).

To my mind, these qualities represent the “old-fashioned” variety of dogwood, like the mature dogwood that grew on Lichfield Rd. in Detroit, the block on which we owned our first house.

Although looking at it now, close up, the bracts look green, right?

Options I didn’t know about

A search of English Gardens’ database, which contains a total of 25 (!) different dogwood varieties, yielded two other varieties of white Cornus florida:

Plant Photo
Cloud 9 Above: Bracts of “Cloud 9 Flowering Dogwood”; Below: Specimen of Cloud 9 Flowering Dogwood” (Cornus florida ‘Cloud 9’)
Cloud 9 Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida 'Cloud 9') at English Gardens
Plant Photo
Appalachian Spring
Above: Bracts of “Appalachian Spring Flowering Dogwood” ;
Below: Specimen of “Appalachian Spring Flowering Dogwood” (Cornus florida ‘Appalachian Spring’)

Appalachian Spring Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida 'Appalachian Spring') at English Gardens

. . . And two hybrids (notice these varieties lack the “florida” in their name, the species part of the tree’s name. Cornus is the genus part of the name).

Plant Photo
Eddie’s White Wonder Flowering Dogwood Above: Bracts; Below: Specimen (Cornus ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’)

Eddie's White Wonder Flowering Dogwood (Cornus 'Eddie's White Wonder') at English Gardens

Venus Flowering Dogwood (Cornus 'Venus') at English Gardens
— Venus Flowering Dogwood Flowers
(Cornus ‘Venus’)

Two additional white dogwood hybrids were available by special order only. The calendar and the forecast high temperature of 89 for Tuesday–the tree’s scheduled planting day–were certainly not going to allow time for any special ordering!

Now what?

Research, of course.

After looking closely at all of the other photos I could find online and doing a little reading, I discovered that all of these white flowering dogwood species are good for bees, butterflies, and birds. All flower in the spring, produce bright red berries, and add color to the landscape in autumn.

My notes and decisions along the way include:

Cherokee Princess

  • 15 to 30 feet high and a 15 to 30-foot spread
  • “‘Cherokee Princess’ is a cultivar that is noted for its consistently early and heavy bloom of flowers with large white bracts. Originally introduced in 1959-60 as C. florida ‘Sno-White’.”
  • I like the bracts; they may even turn out to be creamier white than some of the other varieties.
  • Good rust-red fall color.
  • “May be inadvisable at this time to plant this tree in areas where dogwood anthracnose infestations are present.”

Wait, what? Dogwood anthracnose infestation? Is that a problem in my zip code???

Cloud 9

  • Maybe this look is closer to what I was imagining?
  • 15 to 30 feet high and a 15 to 30-foot spread
  • “May be inadvisable at this time to plant this tree in areas where dogwood anthracnose infestations are present.” Oh-no! 

Appalachian Spring

  • I don’t care for the space between and slight curl of the bracts.
  • 15 to 20 feet high and a 15 to 20-foot spread
  • However: Has 100% resistance to anthracnose . . . Of course, it does.

Eddie’s White Wonder

  • A cross between the Cornus nuttallii, the native Western dogwood and the Cornus florida, the Eastern North American species
  • A “particularly attractive hybrid variety with profuse white blossoms, a distinctive growth pattern [I wonder what is?] and enhanced disease resistance.”
  • Named after its creator: British Columbia nurseryman Henry Matheson Eddie (1881-1953) in 1945.

Venus Flowering Dogwood

  • A 1973 cross between the Cornus nuttallii var. “Goldspot”, the native Western/Pacific dogwood, and Cornus kousa var. Chinensis, which then was pollinated with pollen from C. kousa “Rosea,” a pink-flowered Japanese dogwood in 1983. The resulting variety was patented as Venus in 2003.  
  • Cornus kousa is not a native tree . . . so, this one is out.

The bottomline, my brain, and privilege

I want a native flowering dogwood with white flowers, preferably creamy and with the classic layering branches.

Given the dogwood anthracnose threat, maybe ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’ would have been my best choice. (They did have some of that variety left over from last year–albeit frost-damaged–at Telly’s.)

More to the point:

  • What exactly has the lockdown done to my brain with respect to my decision-making aptitude?
  • Or with respect to the length at which I will write about . . . or anticipate how long readers might care to read about, well . . . indecision. (Even if one is a tree nerd.)

And, yes, I do realize how very fortunate I am to be so privileged–especially at this time in our world’s history–to be healthy and have the leisure to worry about what variety of native white flowering dogwood tree I will choose to have planted in my yard.

I could call around to English Gardens this weekend. I could visit any one of the other 5 locations of English Gardens between 8:00 and 9:00 Tuesday morning.

Or I could stop obsessing and que sera sera. . .

Tuesday approaches. Stay tuned.