Trees are an integral part of the landscape here at The Willow Garden

Our garden area was entirely treed when Bill first moved to this fifteen acre plot. During the creation of the home and garden, many native trees were left. These have naturally increased in size over thirty five plus years. The property was a mix of hardwood and conifer species. White and yellow birch may have been the most numerous Hardwoods; most of the poplar have either disappeared or were taken down during land clearing efforts. The most noteworthy birch is a white birch which we estimate to be over one hundred years old. It is directly behind the house, and technically probably should not be there.

white birch

There are some very sizable Maples, both red and a few sugar maples. Beech is somewhat scattered in the gulley areas surrounding the garden proper. We have one acquired “ornamental” purple-leafed, contorted beech. It is still quite small. There are also the inevitable White Ash, which seem to pop up much like weeds, often where they are not welcome.

There is but one Chestnut, which was planted from a seed nearly twenty years ago. It is quite sizable, but seems very hesitant to flower significantly. It does provide very beautiful autumn color.

We have a couple of Chinese Chestnuts, given to us by a gardening friend, which are still in pots. They seem to survive in spite of us.

There seem to be very few Mountain Ash (Sorbus Americana) in our immediate area. We have one in the front garden area, which gives quite a nice bloom and berry production most years. It seems to have a lot of damage from sapsuckers, so we wonder how long it will persist. It is most entertaining to watch the birds strip it of its crop of berries in the fall.


There are some White and Black Spruce, some have been reaching old age in recent years and have actually blown down. White Pine has not been a resident species on this property, but several have been planted. Since they are not the fastest growers, none are of great size.

Native larch (Larix laricina) grows well in the area, but we only have one or two which were planted. Bill planted a so-called Norwegian larch from seed collected in the 1990’s. That tree is attaining a good size and has produced cones the last few years. There is also a relatively young “Contorted Japanese Larch”, acquired via one of the Rhododendron Society’s plant sales. It seems fairly happy growing just beyond the Holland bed at the top of the back hillside.


There are very few Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) found in this area. We have one or two small specimens slowly settling in.

Eastern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) doesn’t seem to be common in this part of Nova Scotia. Bill has planted some which were brought from Ontario. They seem to be a tree viewed with mixed emotions. They tend to have quite pervasive root systems, so are not the best planted close to other plantings. Never the less, we have several very large specimens quite close to the house. There are several others near the road. Some were removed some years ago as they became problematic.

Another native species that was not here, but has been added is Red Oak (Quercus rubra). These handsome trees (we have three) are doing very well. They came from Southern New Brunswick where I grew up. Our most mature is probably close to twenty years old and has produced some acorns and  thus a few little volunteer saplings.

red oak

We also have two English Oaks (Quercus robur), which are still quite young. They are exhibiting a much different character than the Red Oak.

There is a little leaf Linden (Tilia cordata)  at the far back. It seems to be a bit forgettable, although the blossoms are purported to be a favorite of bees.

Many people think our garden is so named because of the few Weeping Willows (Salix babylonica) planted near the driveway entrance. This is not the case, “Willowgarden” happens to be the literal translation from Dutch of Wilgenhof. Our willows are beginning to look a little worse for wear. One blew down in a big windstorm, but has started to regrow from the base. It is not a wonderful looking specimen by any means.



Deciduous fruit trees are not numerous, nor has it been a plan to have an orchard, per se. There are several Plum trees (Italian Prune type) which are quite dependable fruit producers, depending upon our spring weather. We have two Flowering Crabapple varieties; a very large type named ‘Thunderchild’ and a more dwarf double named ‘Brandywine’. Neither make very much in the way of fruit.


Creating a garden always involves adding species which are somewhat exotic to the landscape. Many of those trees have been grown from seed.

We have three Catalpa species. The Northern Catalpa (C. speciosa) will be the largest and toughest. The Chinese Catalpa (C. ovata) grows very fast and makes a somewhat smaller tree. The Southern Catalpa (C. bignoidinoides) has some hardiness issues here in Northern Nova Scotia. Ours were grown from seed Bill brought from The Netherlands. Winter dieback has meant they are slow to attain tree stature. We were heartened that the biggest one bloomed in 2013.

Catalpa species

The main drawback with the Catalpas, seems to be their propensity for wind damage during late summer, early fall windstorms. We have had several lose quite large branches. Their late leafing out habit is a bit irritating, as well. At a time in mid-June when all other trees have their new leaves, they are standing there with bare branches and perhaps the remnants of last years seed pods. Once they get their new leaves and head into their bloom time in mid-late July, we seem to be in a more forgiving mood.

Japanese maples are amongst the dearest of exotic species. We have several which are seed grown and have added a very nice touch to their garden area. They may not qualify as the “fanciest”, but are interesting in leaf form and color.

Japanese Maple

One of our more unusual trees is the Wingnut (Pterocarya stenoptera). This was received as a seedling  around 1999 and has grown vigorously ever since. It has very handsome bark and interesting pinnately compound leaves. The pendulous seed pods do indeed resemble little “wingnuts”. The flowers seem very insignificant. These have proven rather elusive, usually being very high in the tree and often disappear before one could conceivably harvest them.

wingnut tree

Magnolias have become much more attainable in recent years. Seed supplies have also improved, so many types have been grown reasonably successfully.

Magnolia tripetala is possibly at the top of the favorites’s list. Our first one was given to us as seedling in about 2004. It has grown into quite a reasonable tree and has treated us to bloom for about 
three years. Even without flowers, which appear close to June 20th, the leaves are magnificent. We have a juvenile planted in the front part of the garden and hopefully a few seedlings survivng the first winters,

Magnolia tripetala

Magnolia sieboldii seems to grow very well from seed. We have several seed grown versions that have bloomed at a reasonable age. The growth from seed is quite rapid and vigorous. The later bloom period and a long period of bloom make this an interesting addition. We have pleasantly surprised at the hardiness.

Magnolia sieboldii

Magnolia kobus x loebneri hybrids are quite common varieties. Bill has grown a number of open pollinated seeds from several, namely ‘Leo Messel’, ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Spring Snow’. All have bloomed and make quite good additions to the garden.

magnolias seedling trees

Magnolia stellata is usually the earliest of our Magnolias. These were seed grown from seed collected from a quite dwarf form in the town of Antigonish. They are dependable, but it seems are never able to set seed here. Perhaps spring frosts prevent the flowers from being pollinated or developing. It has quite a nice fall leaf display.

Magnolia stellata

We have one small Magnolia virginiana, which is still in a pot. It will try to be evergreen some years. Some of the other seedlings that are currently only two-three years of age come from seed of Magnolia macrophylla, sourced from the ARHS Seed Exchange. 2013 saw quite a number of new seedlings pop up from ‘Leo Messel’, M. stellata, ‘Ballerina’  and M. sieboldii. There seemed to be a few too many perhaps.

We seem to have very few exotic Conifers. Perhaps they did not seem to be the best approach from seed. There is one so-called Blue Spruce which we have had for over fifteen years. It is quite an attractive tree and is certainly beginning to take up quite a bit of space. It has beautiful new growth and rather makes up for some of the inherent problems with some of the native trees.


We were given a Van der Wulf Pine (Pinus flexilis) a few years ago. It seems to be setting in. Its most interesting feature is the white stripe exhibited by the needles, especially when each years’ new growth has appeared. It may not be planted in quite the proper place.  Choosing  a site for a new tree always seems problematic. It is in the general vicinity of the "gulley bed" where there are other White Pines. Needles from those tress make a nice little mulch layer for the hostas and rhododendrons in the area.

pines along gulley

For a repeat of the image components here is a slide show.