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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.