Hybrid golden chain tree -Laburnum × watereri'Vossii'
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Hybrid golden chain tree -Laburnum × watereri'Vossii'

May & June 2011

Laburnums & benchThe Laburnum Walk, one of the most beautiful and most photographed features at VanDusen Botanical Garden, begins blooming around mid-late May and blooms for only three spectacular weeks. Planted before the Garden opened in 1975, Laburnum Walk consists of a curving pathway with Laburnum × watereri ‘Vossii’ planted on either side. These trees are hybrids of two EuropeanLaburnum species, and their bark, leaves, seed pods and flowers are poisonous. When in bloom, their branches dangle yellow chain-like clusters of flowers over the heads of visitors, set off by the under-planting of contrasting purple alliums and blue bells.

Laburnum Walk was designed by former Garden Curator Roy Forster. O.C.. He was inspired by a visit to Bodnant Garden in Wales which features a 4.5 m wide, 55 m long Laburnum Arch. The Arch, made of Laburnum × watereri ‘Vossii’ mixed with Wisteria, was planted in 1882 and is perhaps the oldest known Laburnum Arch. The trees in the Arch are grown along a curved metal frame, and their branches are trained to meet in the middle of the arch. For VanDusen’s Laburnum Walk, Mr. Forster let the trees grow naturally with a little pruning to keep them neat.

Originally thyme and lavender were planted beneath the VanDusen laburnums, but these herbs did not always survive our wet winters. Steve McNamara, Kew-trained VanDusen Foreman and Head Gardener in the early 1990s, suggested planting alliums instead. He may have been inspired by the work of Rosemary Verey, an English garden designer and writer who, in 1964, created her own laburnum walk on the grounds of her home, Barnsley House, in Gloucestershire. Ms. Verey’s laburnum walk was inspired by a book by famed English landscape gardener Russell Page, The Education of a Gardener. In it, Mr. Page mentions the Laburnum Arch at Bodnant Garden, and also discusses the beauty of pairing yellow and blue flowering plants. In this quote from her book The Art of Planting, Ms. Verey discusses the effect of yellow and purple in the eye-pleasing Laburnum Walk:

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“My most striking early June effect is created by the mass of round-headedAllium aflatunense which have increased many-fold since I first planted them twenty years ago under our laburnum walk. This is a strong clear yellow and pale mauve picture, interspersed with plenty of green; the magic is that they are both at their best for the same two or three weeks. I can claim credit for choosing the alliums, but not for the fact that, being darker than the laburnum, they act almost as shadows, with the laburnum as the lighting overhead. (If you were to reverse these colours, with purple wisteria above and yellow alliums beneath, the glow would be lost.)”

VanDusen’s Laburnum Walk is located west of the Centre Court, next to the Formal Rose Garden. Once in bloom, it is hard to miss, and a must-see for any visitor.