One of the first trees I planted in my new garden is the aptly named Goldenchain, or Laburnum x watereri‘Vossii’. I wish I had taken a picture of it back then because it was an entirely unimpressive four-foot tall stick, with a singular peg-like branch jutting out from one side. The poor thing was the victim of an unfortunate accident at the garden centre and as my boss deemed it unfit for sale I was allowed to give it a good home, lucky me! You know how much I love free plants!
Laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’is a tree of relatively small stature, maturing somewhere between 15’ and 30’, depending on the climate and conditions. Here in the Pacific Northwest the Goldenchain can be expected to finish up towards the top of that range, as it loves our temperate climate. This beautiful cultivar, with exceptionally long racemes of golden blossoms is hardy to around -30C. Laburnum is a member of the pea family Fabaceae which is very evident from its’ seed pods, resembling pea pods but with the unfortunate difference of being quite poisonous. For this reason many are unwilling to plant this tree if they have young children (or grandchildren) in the family. I always warn people if I’m selling them a Laburnum, but also tell them the story of the Caragana hedge at the house where I lived from ages 2-8. Caragana is another plant with poisonous pea-like seed pods and I remember my Mom telling me, “Don’t eat those peas, dear”. Somehow I managed to survive…
The blossoms of Laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’ appear during May and are glorious, graceful, golden garlands of pea-like florets. If you have a wisteria sinensis planted nearby they are likely to bloom together, the form echoed in blue and gold, quite spectacular. I remember a house in Chilliwack BC where someone planted an amazing combination that consisted of a Laburnum, with a wisteria vine growing right on it, planted in front of a burgundy leafed Prunus (flowering plum) – what a fabulous show of colour! I wouldn’t recommend planting a wisteria to grow up your Laburnum because it’s such a vigorous vine that I think it would swamp the tree after several years.
My Laburnum stick has flourished, despite being planted and then transplanted the following year (I decided it wasn’t in the right spot). It has grown at an astounding rate, and has had no pest or disease issues. It did, however, blow over during a particularly bad windstorm last summer. I just hauled it back upright and staked it securely with rebar and guy lines to the windward side. It didn’t even pause in its’ growth after that rude treatment – what a bomb-proof plant!
After the blossoms are finished I like to cut the seed pods away, it makes the tree look much tidier and prevents seedlings from popping up all over the place. Laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’ is really nothing special to look at once the blooming season is done, its trifoliate leaves are rather humdrum and it has no fall colour. The bark is quite pretty though, a vibrant shade of green, eventually fading with age. I don’t know that I would have chosen to plant one in my yard but of course I couldn’t pass up a free plant!