Friday, January 13, 2012

The Best Time To Plant A Tree...

by Lynnda

I recently noticed an entry on my nephew's Face Book page:  "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The second best time is now."  ~Asian proverb

After some Internet research, I found this proverb is attributed to the Chinese.  I've been thinking more about trees for the past month, for many reasons.  In the Northwest, this year, the leaves stayed on some of the deciduous trees longer than usual.  My yard appears so different now that many of the trees have lost their leaves.  The forest canopy, while still thick with fir, hemlock and cedar, is more open during the winter.  It's an odd sensation to have the yard appear brighter in winter, after the leaves have fallen, than in the summer when the sun is more dappled, having to filter through alders and maples.

The steep slopes across the road from my house are fragile and there are recent scars resulting from small landslides, large trees lying on their sides, slowly decomposing and providing nutrition for new growth.  Although it's only January, some of my trees already seem to have swollen buds. They think it's late February, not mid-January!

Paulownia photo by Seeds and Things
I also have been thinking of the Empress tree, Paulownia tomentosa.  There is a large and lovely Paulownia at the Japanese Garden, located between the parking lot and the entrance gate.  I, and possibly other guides, start my tour at the shedding stone and miss an opportunity to talk about the Paulownia.  In spring, it is a gorgeous tree, filled with large, tubular flowers (corolla) resembling a foxglove flower.  The leaves appear later, and they also are large with a definite heart shape.  This tree is a native of China, Korea and Japan.

Because the Paulownia is a fast-growing tree, stories are told that, when a girl child is born, a Paulownia seed is planted.  When the child is a woman, about to be married, the tree is harvested and made into a wedding chest for the bride.  My mind imagines a small girl playing around the base of the tree, resting in its shade, gathering the flowers for a tea party.  As she starts her new life journey as a married woman, she takes with her the tree that was such a part of her childhood, as part of her trousseau.

Several weeks ago, I was listening to the radio, and I suddenly found myself paying very close attention to the story.  A Jimi Hendrix Park has been proposed for Seattle, and fund raising is now in progress.  That wasn't what caught my attention.  I heard the word Paulownia, not a common word used in radio stories.  The park plans call for a row of Paulownia trees planted.  Why that selection?  The flowers!

Photo by
The trees will be planted in honor of his composition, "Purple Haze".  The blossoms are very purple, large and tall with individual flowerettes.  What a lovely tribute to a great musician and to a great tree!

This spring, I will be more observant and hope to see other Paulownia trees throughout Seattle.  Please let me know if you know where others can be found. And in reference to the proverb my nephew quoted, I look forward to a row of Paulownia at a park in the Central District.  I hope they will be planted sooner than later.  

Click here for more information on the proposed park.
Proposed plans for Jimi Hendrix Park


  1. i have a juicy version of the paulownia tree story which i tell to high schoolers when they are touring the garden - not sure where i heard it, from the previous master gardener, i think... i describe the tree bloom (if not evident during the tour) and tell the teenagers that back in the days if you were a samurai looking for a girl to marry you just rode your horse around to find the right size paulownia tree in front of the house, and so you knocked at the door... kind of - i present it as a half-joke and can see their eyes lit at the thought; i let their imagination linger for a while before telling them that if the match is right the paulownia tree is cut for the bridal furniture.

    great post, Lynnda - i like how you managed to put so many lovely images into it: planting, paulownia tree, light in the garden, growing in the tree shade and Jimi Hendrix 'purple haze! :)

  2. just noticed that this post appears alone on the page (at least on my computer) - not sure where the problem is - went to 'settings' and changed the number of posts appearing on the page from 7 to 6, but still just one post, and no help on google forums; perhaps it is only a blogspot glitch, to be resolved when more people complain...

    but in the meantime: please, click on the 'older posts' under this one to see recent Monzie's writings about the Jackson School of International Affairs programs on Japan- related lectures and her info on ikebana class in february in TR. sorry about the inconvenience...

    1. On my computer, both of your comments are under my post, so it appears the problem may not affect everyone. Thanks for the samurai story. I hadn't heard that!

  3. On my computer only Lynnda's post about trees, followed by the mention of 3 comments, appears on the Home page. Clicking '3 comments', Lynnda's latest comment appears in a separate, medium-green box. Clicking 'Older Posts' on the Home page yields posts by others.

  4. Lynnda,
    Thank you for the beautiful post on paulownia. I liked your fanciful description of an imaginary girl growing with the tree:
    "My mind imagines a small girl playing around the base of the tree, resting in its shade, gathering the flowers for a tea party. As she starts her new life journey as a married woman, she takes with her the tree that was such a part of her childhood, as part of her trousseau."

    As to the samurai story, I have never heard of it either. It seem that he is too hopeful and impromptu.:)

    On the UW campus, two tall paulwonia trees can be observed near the music building and the art building. I also have seen paulwonia in Kubota garden, but unfortunately I am not able to describe where to find them there.

  5. Interesting post and comment thread. I love your story Aleks:)

  6. Thanks for the locations, Keiko. I'm going to make a special trip this spring to take pictures of the campus and Kubota trees.

  7. What a great Asian proverb, very sensible. I loved it. Thanks for the great post and photos. Keep us updated!

    -Samudaworth Tree Service

  8. I did a double take when we passed by some trees on the side of the road. At first, I thought their bright bluish-purple....Tree Nursery Co