Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’

In my shade garden you’ll find one of my favourite trees; a Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’ – aka Golden Catalpa or Golden Indian Bean Tree.  It isn’t a shade lover; I’m expecting it to provide shade when it gets a little bigger.

The shade that it casts is quite complete, because it’s large heart-shaped leaves are densely packed.  I love to stand underneath and look up, basking in the golden glow.

In fact, the foliage is so dense that I stay perfectly dry sheltered underneath the tree’s canopy during summer rainstorms.  At this point there’s not much room, but when it grows larger I plan to limb it up and place a seat underneath the canopy where I can sit and read or just relax and enjoy the view of my garden.

new leaves emerging

One of the last trees to leaf out each year, my Golden Catalpa is almost a harbinger of summer; when the new bronze tinted golden leaves  begin to emerge I know that warm weather is here at last.

The foliage of this tree is stunning all on its’ own, but to my delight two years ago my adolescent tree began to flower, producing just a few blooms the first year, and a few more last season.  The blossoms are somewhat hard to see among all those gigantic leaves, but the lovely, frilly white bonnets are flushed with a pinkish cast, lightly freckled with small pink spots, and exude a sweet light fragrance that I adore.

Golden Catalpa flowers

When the flowers are finished seed is set in a long  beanlike pod; hence the name Indian Bean Tree.  One year I will sow some of these seeds to see if the seedlings produce golden leaves or if they revert to the regular green shade of the more common Catalpa bignonioides.  Even if they don’t come true they will be beautiful; green Catalpa sports the same huge heart-shaped leaves and pretty flowers.

Golden Catalpa with Katsura 'Red Fox'

I’m always looking to provide striking contrasts in my garden, and am certainly not above borrowing the neighbours’ landscaping to help achieve my goals.  Just on the other side of our shared fence my neighbour had already planted a burgundy leafed Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Red Fox’) which was the deciding factor in the placement of my Golden Catalpa.  The Katsura provides a rich, dark  backdrop for the Golden Catalpa and I also like that both trees have heart-shaped leaves, though the Katsura’s are tiny compared to the Catalpa.

Below the Golden Catalpa I’ve planted a collection of heuchera in bronze, salmon, rich burgundy and red-veined green.  They play off the gold admirably and tolerate the dry shade quite well.

Heucheras, l-r - Green Spice, Stormy Seas. Georgia Peach, and Burnished Bronze

This pocket of vibrant foliage creates a warm spot within the shade garden, which is otherwise planted in cooler shades of pink, blue and white.

Catalpa bignonioides 'Aurea'


About hortophile

I am a very opinionated, slightly obsessed gardener with decades of experience in the retail nursery industry. A lucky resident of the "Wet Coast" of British Columbia I tread a muddy path between practicality and beauty, with my veggie patch, herb garden and fruits vying for position with the beautiful trees, shrubs and flowers that I can't resist. DON'T ask me to choose between them! I believe in environmental responsibility and common sense.
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10 Responses to Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’

  1. barb19 says:

    I love the Indian Bean Tree, and the flowers it produced look so pretty. You have worked hard to get yourself a beautiful garden, full of color and different textures which keeps it interesting.

  2. munira says:

    Love the colours of your collection of heuchera under the Catalpa…so pretty! And the Catalpa flowers are beautiful….
    Just the other day I was thinking how unvaried the greens in my courtyard are, so went shopping and bought some colourful plants to liven things up!
    Thanks hortophile, for inspiring me with your beautiful posts 🙂

  3. Shauna Lambeth says:

    looking beautiful!

  4. Evan says:

    I am local in Vancouver and looking for one of these Catalpa’s myself. Can I ask where you purchased yours? It is a fantastic tree and I am looking to create a small shade garden underneath it, much as you are doing with your yard. Keep up the great work.



    • hortophile says:

      I bought mine at Campbell River Garden Centre (Vancouver Island), but we haven’t any in the nursery right now. I would ask at your local garden centre (not a box store) . A good one will take your contact info and try to find one for you if they haven’t one in stock – they’re not common. If the store where you regularly shop doesn’t offer this service, try somewhere else. I’d offer to do it for you, but you’d have to come here to get it – probably after we get one shipped from the mainland – the carbon footprint of that transaction bothers me…Good Luck!

  5. Ben says:

    Where did you buy your golden catalpa tree? I want one and have not been able to find a North American seller.

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