It happens every year, visitors from communities north of the 58th parallel (Homer, Anchorage, Fairbanks) venture down to the Emerald Isle for a mini vacation. But beyond the ‘wild’ things, like fishing trips, Audubon hikes and drives up to Pillar Mountain, they’re drawn to a special domestic tree: the goldenchain.
This year has been one of the most luxurious goldenchain shows in recent memory. But for visitors hoping to cart one of these shrubs back to Homer, they’ll be disappointed, for the goldenchain might grow in Kodiak with ease, it doesn’t do well in regions with cold, dry winters.
What’s interesting, says Lorne White of Strawberry Fields Nursery, is that goldenchains, with their weeping look, are considered a Zone 6 tree, which means they prefer climates more like Seattle. “They do fairly well in our range of Zone 3 or 4, probably because of our temperate, cool summers.”
Kodiak, he says, is probably its northernmost limit.
When I pass by my neighbor’s very stately goldenchain, or golden shower tree, I hear hundreds of bumblebees darting among the flowers. The energy is almost frantic, as if the bees know the end is near. True, the goldenchain is deciduous, meaning it loses its clover-like leaves each year, but first, the flowers depart. After about ten days of vivid yellowness, the blossoms mature from the top of the cluster down. Soon our lawn will be covered with yellow snow.
Speaking of flowers, if you can get past all the bumblebees, take a close look at the individuals blossoms. They look like a cross between an orchid and a pea. In fact, goldenchains are a ‘Laburnum’, a member of the pea family.
Native to the mountains of southern Europe, goldenchain trees are often planted as ornamental trees for parks. When pruned or trained as espaliers on pergolas, the effect is a stunning tunnel of yellow.
If you’re into making a tunnel of yellow, place three or four arched steel trellises together and train the flexible branches of the yellow laburnum to grow over them. In mid-June, the walk under the bright, weeping blossoms would be magical.
Now the goldenchain may be a member of the pea family, but that doesn’t mean you should steam a pot of it for dinner. All parts of the goldenchain are poisonous. And it can be lethal if consumed in excess. A couple years ago, my neighbor, who often has visiting grandkids, cut down her two magnificent trees.
“They’re poison,” she said.
We were sad to see them go, but you couldn’t argue with her reasoning.
According to White, you’ll see two varieties of goldenchains around town: A grafted, weeping type that remains politely shorter than the ‘regular’ one, as he calls it. The regular goldenchains can reach 25 feet tall.
Because they love Kodiak’s growing conditions, White admits to going through several goldenchains in the almost 30 years he’s lived in Kodiak.
“After 15 years or so, sometimes you have to start over with landscape plants because they get so big. Which can mean, pruning with a chain saw.”
Sunset’s Western Garden Book suggests pruning the trees regularly after blooming “to keep them tidy,” and to remove dead or crowding branches in the tree’s center. Avoid large cuts, the garden guide says, because cut areas callus over, or heal, slowly.
The pruning tip is a heads up for local gardeners, as it might prevent top-heavy trees from toppling over after a heavy rain and strong wind. Goldenchains are rubbery and very flexible from head to toe, and White suggests providing support by staking it to the side of the house, a fence or trellis. Providing shelter from cold, northwest winds is also appreciated.
If you’ve considered growing a goldenchain but don’t know if they appreciate your kind of soil, don’t worry. Turns out, they’re not too picky. While they prefer good quality, well-draining soil, they will thrive in ‘ignored’ soil, too. If your tree does not bloom however, then add some bone meal and compost to the soil.
The next time you see goldenchain “gawkers,” give them a wave and a smile, knowing inside that we’re pretty lucky to have such beauties.
How to propagate lilacs
Rhododendrons, goldenchains and lilacs have been extraordinary. But what if you’d like to start your own sweet-smelling lilac bush. Here’s how you do it, but you might have to wait for next year. Give it a try, though, to see if it works.
Start by removing at three to four cuttings from a lilac plant before its leaves reach maturity and after its final flowering. Choose softwood cuttings that are 4 to 6 inches long. What’s a softwood cutting? If the cutting breaks easily, it is softwood. If the cutting bends and doesn’t break, the wood is too young. Old growth, which won’t root successfully, won’t bend.
Dip the end of the cutting into rooting hormone and insert the cutting into a hole made in growing medium, such as sand or vermiculite. Mist the cuttings 2 or 3 times daily and keep the growing medium well saturated.
Thin beets and carrots.
Take advantage of local plant sales.
Make compost from grass clippings.
Feed tea to your plants: Place a handful of kelp and fish meal, compost or manure in a 5-gallon bucket. Fill with water. Stir daily for a week. To use, dilute 1 part concentrate to 10 parts water.
To learn and connect with local gardeners, visit the Kodiak Growers Facebook page. Archived copies of Marion’s columns are posted at www.kodiakdailymirror.com. Contact Marion at firstname.lastname@example.org.