Louis on the Loose

Golden Chain Tree

 

 

Here's how to grow this (admittedly) one-season wonder:

Latin Name

Laburnum x watereri 'Vossii'

Common Name

Golden Chain Tree

Family

Fabaceae, the Pea family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous hardy tree.

Hardiness

Zones 4 - 9

Habit

Small upright tree, taller than broad, especially when young.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

Fifteen to eighteen feet tall, eight to twelve feet wide.  It's not much bigger than that at maturity, either.

Texture

Medium.

Grown for

the pendant wisteria-like racemes of flowers in a decidedly non-wisteria color of chrome yellow.

 

Flowering season

Mid-Spring; late May here in Rhode Island.

Culture

Full sun preferably, but can flower enthusiastically in part shade, and even (as in the movie) against a North wall.

How to handle it

As a free-standing and free-range specimen, just plant it and let it grow.  The tree usually doesn't need pruning or training—just patience as you endure its many months of modest interest between the glorious but few weeks of flowering. 

 

Fortunately, you could give your laburnum greater interest by bringing some geometry on board.  The trees are easy to espalier against walls or atop pergolas, and they are then a thrill.  (Plus a laburnum pergola provides dappled but not dense shade all Summer.)  Or you could (counterintuitively, I admit) double-down with what is really a tree of strictly one-season interest by planting a lot of them, but in rows, to make an allee or even a grid—a laburnum orchard, so to speak.  Then you'd have the interest in the array, not just the flowers. 

 

Yet another strategy would be to view the tree's three boring off-seasons (Summer, Fall, and Winter) as inspiration to partner with plants that peak then.  Grow ivy up the trunk; yellow-variegated cultivars would be sensational company to the yellow flowers.  And/or plant one of the larger climbing roses about six feet out from the trunk, and train its canes up into the laburnum's canopy.  Then your tree will at least host some flowers in Summer even if it doesn't, itself, actually produce them.  Because the laburnum flowers themselves are such a strong yellow, the tree will need siting where yellow is an asset not an eyesore.  And so yellow (or white) roses in Summer would probably also be the ticket.  How about one of these: 'Lawrence Johnson', 'Long John Silver', 'Easley's Golden Rambler', or—in a scary echo of the tree's common name—'Golden Rain'?

 

Lastly, you could go for broke and stick with maximizing the brief Spring display by doing what Rosemary Verey did:  Train wisteria on each of the laburnums so you've got pendant chains of lavender flowers at the very same time, and in seriously exciting juxtaposition with the yellow.  With this level of creativity, laboriousness, and jazziness, the rest of the year sounds more like nap-time anyway.

Downsides

This is a tree of one season of peak interest only: mid-Spring, when it's in bloom.  The display is generous as well as unique for hardy trees or vines, though.  That said, sticking a laburnum in the middle of a small garden is both over-done and under-inspired:  The tree is only worthy of being a focus for two weeks of the year.  Unless the tree's short but exciting peak season can be amplified or extended, as above, it's not a tree to be planted nearly as often as it is.  Yes, the tree is irresistible in bloom—but the way forsythia can be.  Before you buy, consider if you can be creative in using it.

Variants

'Vossii' is generally the only cultivar (or species) to plant: it has the longest and densest racemes of flowers, and also self-seeds a lot less. 

 

There's also a weeping laburnum too, which brings some specific form to an otherwise miscellaneously-shaped tree.  It has flower chains as long as 'Vossii', but they are not as densely floriferous.  A weeping tree with weeping racemes of flowers:  Perhaps too weepy?

Availability

On-line and at garden centers. 

Propagation

Cuttings or grafting.

Native habitat

Southern Europe

 
 
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