By Donna Williamson
It’s one of those blue sky days in Virginia, rare and exquisite –a perfect day to check on the ginkgo grove at the State Arboretum of Virginia at Blandy experimental Farm in Boyce. For weeks, I have swung by there, watching the slow departure of chlorophyll from the leaves of the ginkgo trees, While not so noticeable at other times of the year, the autumn show is spectacular.
Ginkgoes are among the most beautiful trees for the landscape. The leaf shapes are exquisite, pests and diseases seem to leave them along, and they grow very well in our climate. They hold their beautiful yellow autumn color and then, drop their leaves almost all at once. No dribble of leaves to rake over weeks – just one deluge!
A usually large and broad shade tree, some varieties of ginkgo are unusual, like Princeton Sentry, a large tree that is distinctly upright or Jade Butterflies, a dwarf, getting only 12 feet tall in 10 years, perfect for most one-story homes.
Most folks select male ginkgoes for their landscapes since female ginkgoes bear fruit with a fleshy covering (over a nut) that is so stinky, containing some of the same chemicals as vomit. One year when I was a docent at Blandy, we went out and collected these fruit for a demonstration by Asian experts who treasure the nut within the fruit. I wish I had remembered that event earlier in the day.
My dog Lucy needed a good walk so she came along and as I walked around taking photos, she found it delightful to roll in the stinky fleshy coverings of the fallen ginkgo nuts. Of course she did. Dogs love to roll in stinky things that smell like death or vomit. She was so proud!
The ride home was breezy with all the windows open. Of course, I won’t remember this next year when I am watching to see the ginkgoes go yellow – I will think – what a great day to take the dog to the arboretum for a walk. Not a thought in my head except – with a blue sky like this, the ginkgoes must be fabulous!
Donna Williamson is a master gardener, garden designer, and garden coach. She has taught gardening and design classes at the State Arboretum of Virginia, Oatlands in Leesburg, and Shenandoah University. She’s also the founder and editor of Grandiflora Mid-Atlantic Gardening magazine, and the author of “The Virginia Gardener’s Companion: An Insider’s Guide to Low Maintenance Gardening in Virginia.”