Not far from home there’s a very ornamentally suckering clump of that old, old thing – I was going to say ‘dear old thing’ – which we always called Cedrela. The common name (the use of which is uncommon) is Chinese Cedar. And the current botanical name is Toona sinensis.
There’s possibly no plant nearer to sporting true flamingo pink, unless perhaps it’s Magnolia campbellii. But with Cedrela (I’m sticking with my old name, for no reason other than familiarity), it’s the leaves that produce the colour, immediately upon emerging from winter dormancy.
I’m always in two minds about Cedrela. I can’t help but think that there must be a sensational way of using it, though it’s safe to say it hasn’t been discovered yet. It’s only ever used as an individual plant in older gardens, so rarely achieves anything more than curiosity value. I’d love to try it on a massive scale, preferably over a whole hillside, dotted unevenly throughout a huge planting of smaller trees.
The pink is totally crazy, just for a few weeks. After that you forget about it until next year. Come to think of it, it’s not quite that simple. The pink becomes infused with silver initially – a characteristic which if you wanted to celebrate you’d consider its George Clooney phase, and if you wanted to condemn, you’d suggest that it looks like it’s in an advanced stage of two-spotted mite infestation. I’d probably err on the side of positivity and lean towards the former.
But there’s no talking up the next stage, which can’t be described as anything more flattering than jaundice yellow. No pics of that, as we’re not at that stage yet in Woodend. Mercifully that quickly evolves into a straight green, and then you forget about it until next year.
But the real point of all this (which I’m getting slower at getting around to) is that I can’t remember the last time I saw a Cedrela being planted. All of the plants I know are old. Hence my nearly saying (actually I said I nearly said it, so that means I did say it) that ‘dear old thing’. Cedrela is one of those plants that may never be planted again. This is not a matter of it simply being out of fashion. It’s more about there being fewer and fewer contexts for a plant like this given the shrinking of gardens, the shrinking desire for plant diversity for its own sake in the average gardener, and perhaps most alarming of all, the rapidly shrinking range of plants available in nurseries.
There’s heaps of such plants. And it’s not just happening here. I went through a dilute fetish for Prunus mume (flowering apricot) a few years back (love that fantastically innocent mid-winter scent), and it occurred to me that I’d possibly never seen a young plant of it in my entire life. There were only two forms listed as available in Australia, while the Plant Finder in the UK showed a reduction of something like 30 or 40 forms to just 12 in a matter of a couple of years. I’ve just looked again. It’s now down to three.
There’s so many plants I never seem to see anywhere but in old gardens, and even then, rarely. My first thoughts are for plants like Justicia carnea (which we sometimes called Jacobinia), the shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana) and the marmalade bush (Streptosolen jasmesonii). I admit I have very occasionally seen the latter for sale, but haven’t seen it used in years. Come to think of it, these may be much more used and available in slightly more tropical climes in Australia, but they were once common in Melbourne gardens. And what’s happened to the various forms of dwarf blossom, like Prunus glandulosa or Prunus tenella? I spotted several forms of the former at Burnley the other day, but can’t remember seeing them for sale for at least 20 years.
What plants – once common – do you mourn the loss of?
While checking on my spelling of the various names for this plant, I discovered that it’s used as a vegetable in China, where the young leaves are cooked up and provide an oniony flavor. So while I was out taking pics for this, I grabbed a leaf and chewed on it. I’d call it more like chewing on a raw spring onion, and now I can’t shake the taste. Wonder if the colour survives cooking?