Marin Master Gardeners
University of California
Marin Master Gardeners

Marin IJ Articles

Specimen trees bring beauty and interest to garden

November 5, 2011
Barbara J. Euser

SPECIMEN TREES are incorporated in a garden because of their beautiful flowers, architectural shapes, ornamental bark, prolific perfume or outstanding foliage. Specimen trees also may be planted to commemorate important occasions — the birth of a child, a marriage, even a death. They are given pride of place, a special spot where the tree's attributes will be fully appreciated. The specimen tree should grab one's attention.

At the entrance to my property in Greece, I planted a species of Cassia tree that had been given to me by a friend. It was a living house-warming gift. My friend had dug out a shoot from her own tree, potted it and cared for it for several years, until it became a viable young tree.

It is well-suited to the Mediterranean climate, although it does appreciate additional water during the summer, even after it is established. Its spectacular yellow blossoms and medium size make it an excellent specimen tree. Because I was able to plant it in an open space along
the footpath leading to my house, it enjoys full sun and can be easily seen and appreciated. When I planted it, I enriched the soil with some humus I had taken from the base of my carob tree.

In Greece, the rich humus that develops at the base of carob trees is commonly used to amend garden soil. Carob trees grow well in Mediterranean climates, without requiring any additional water. They
also can be considered specimen trees, with their interesting carob pods. If
properly pruned, they will provide comfortable year-round shade.

On my property, the single carob tree provides a screen between my property and my neighbor's. Carob trees grow large and require a large garden space. Carob pods are edible — they taste similar to chocolate — and can be ground up and used as a chocolate substitute.

In my garden in Marin, we had a small, flowering cherry tree that provided a focal point in spring with its delicate blossoms.  Sadly, after a hard winter, it died. Thinking about replacing it, I have considered planting a persimmon tree. As specimen trees, persimmons can be considered purely ornamental: in the fall they lose their leaves and the fruit remains hanging on the bare branches, looking like orange Christmas-tree ornaments.

However, if one consumes those orange globes, persimmons could accurately be considered fruit trees. I wait until persimmons are fully ripe, then scoop out the sweet pudding-like pulp and add it to my morning fruit juice drink. Alternatively, the pulp can be added to steamed puddings or breads.

In spring, the tree's foliage emerges pale green. In summer, the leaves become thick and leathery, providing excellent shade. Depending on where you plant a persimmon tree in the garden, it could be used to provide architectural interest, fruit, shade or all three.

It may also provide a symbolic connection. While young, persimmons are bitter and inedible, but as they age, they become sweet and beneficial to mankind. In the famous painting by the 13th-century Chinese painter Mu Qi, "Six Persimmons," persimmons exemplify the progression from youth to age, as a symbol of the progression from bitterness to sweetness.
As we age, we overcome rigidity and prejudice and attain compassion and
sweetness.

My older daughter recently celebrated, somewhat reluctantly, her 30th birthday. She is in shock at being no longer in her 20s.  My husband and I are in shock at having a 30-year-old daughter. How old does that make us?

The persimmon tree has a message for us all. It may be the perfect reason to choose it as a replacement specimen tree, a birthday tree honoring my daughter that has a message for her parents, too.

Top of page

Webmaster Email: banielsen@ucanr.edu