Our Intuitive Davidia
On Walnut Hill On Walnut Hill On Walnut Hill

As if it knew that the annual meeting of the Garden Club of America were beginning in Baltimore this week, the Davidia involucrata (dove tree or handkerchief tree) has bloomed for the second time since it was planted. Welcome, GCA! We look forward to seeing about 30 delegates in our garden the day before meetings start.  

Kurt Bluemel, the late and renowned plantsman and designer, who transformed our garden, found this Davidia for us in 2010.  As a blog on the Barnes Foundation website states, it “is rare in home gardens.” Kurt found three: one for us, one for a dear friend, and one for his wife Hannah.

Although the Davidia normally does not bloom for ten years after it’s planted, our prized tree bloomed the first time after only five. Kurt died in 2014, and our tree bloomed the following spring in May 2015.

 To look at its gossamer white bracts fluttering in a gentle spring breeze, reminds us of his artistry and his passion for rare plants. The movement of its leaves and blooms bespeaks the New American style that Kurt, Jim van Sweden and Wolfgang Oehme pioneered in the American landscape.

The Davidia is a perfect entrance plant, perched at the edge of our woodland garden, which was Kurt’s last big project here. It stands sentinel above undulating swaths of hostas, hellebores, Solomon’s seal, ferns, and other perennials.

It is named for Father Armand David (1826-1900), a French missionary in China, where he found one growing at 6000 feet. While David never propagated it, a Scottish plant collector found another in China in 1888. He sent Kew Gardens its first specimen. According to the Barnes Foundation article, the Davidia at that time was considered the “Holy Grail of exotic flora….”

We feel the same way about ours on Walnut Hill. It bloomed prematurely just months after Kurt’s death and now for a second time two years later, several weeks ahead of schedule. We hope its seemingly intuitive powers override the unseasonable heat of the past weekend. May our Davidia’s delicate blooms not turn to parchment before the GCA visit.