Sunday, April 11, 2010


Spring is here and some of my favorite plants and trees are blooming – one of them the dogwood tree with a variety of white, pink and red flowers, depending on the species. The tree has a special place in my heart and has always provided me with a sense of renewal after the long, gray winter months.

When I was growing up in Birmingham, I couldn't wait for the dogwoods to flower. We had a few in our yard and then there were those that dotted the woods where my friends and I would ride our bikes and hike to what we called "the river." It was really a creek that fed into the Cahaba River – to us kids, however, it was a river. Anyways, each year, gardening associations would assemble something called the Dogwood Trail – a drive that took you to a selection of homes and landscapes with outstanding specimens of this flowering tree which thrives under the canopy of taller trees, but can do alright in full sun when planted as an ornamental.

As an adult, this tree is really tops due to the colors it offers in this season, similar to how I feel about maples and oaks in the fall. As a child, though, it was sometimes hard to appreciate. When I was about 10 years-old, I remember seeing a dogwood that I wasn't particularity fond of. My family was returning from my father's father's funeral in Cannon's Campground, S.C. when we pulled into our driveway and noticed a small tree had been planted in our front yard. It was a small pink dogwood that Mrs. Green and some other neighbors decided to plant as a memorial to my grandfather.

It was a total surprise to us and a lovely gesture now that I put some thought into it. However, to me and my brothers and sister at the time thought it totally ruined our baseball field, seeing it was planted just beyond the pitcher's mound and beyond the sidewalk which marked the 50 yard line to our football field.

My father was thrilled with the empathy shown with the tree and the thought that this might put an end to his Bermuda grass being trampled. Somehow we managed to still play the games there with our friends, dodging the limbs that seemed to reach out as if to grab us as we rounded second base or sprinted to the neighbor's driveway indicating a touchdown.

As we grew older, this flowering tree became the backdrop to my family's Easter pictures with all of us dressed in our Sunday best church outfits. It was also a tradition of mine to pick one of the flowers and press it in my bible from year to year where it would dry, resembling a cross. Interestingly, two of its petals are longer than the other two. It is no surprise today that I still have dried bits and pieces of the flowers stuck in the binding.

What I find especially nice about the dogwood is that it isn't a compact tree like the blooming pear and cherry trees. These trees' rather dense blooms demands attention, not being able to see through its color ladened shape. The dogwood's branches are less numerous and have more of a horizontal sprawl, providing an airy feel against the spring green backdrop of its surroundings and offering the chance to see other colorful plants.

Living in New Jersey now, I notice that there are a lot more of the pink and red dogwoods. I'm sure it has something to do with the nutrients in the soil or the temperature of the area being more suitable for it. There is a particular standout in a yard on the way to the park that is just beautiful this time of the year. It is a very mature, large tree loaded with vibrant red flowers. Once while on a walk, the home's owner was outside and I was able to ask him the species name – a Cherokee Chief red.

A few years back, my husband and I planted a white dogwood in our backyard. They are very slow growing trees and we are happy for now to see the few flowers it has to offer on its small frame. I was sure to plant it in an area where I can see it from our kitchen window so I can admire what all it has to offer us though the years.


Jeff Branch said...

Our dogwoods are in full bloom and I wish I had a pink one. Off the top of my head, I don't know of a single pink dogwood in my neighborhood, so they are rare. Glad you have one.

Amy L said...

I love the pink ones too! Loved the post, remembering our childhood and what a tomboy you were!

Jane Bell said...

LOL! Guilty!