Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Garden Tree

Acacia salicina foliage, willow acacia

It has been clear from the beginning that the small, sunny garden would need a tree.  Partly to create a little shade, partly to add a vertical line that can connect the garden itself with all the big sky above it (not to mention the house beside it).

I have had the spot picked out for months, but deciding on the tree took longer.  It needed to be small, but still tree-form, something that the average person could stand underneath and feel a little shade on the top of the head.  At the same time, it must not unduly crowd the garden, let alone the house.  The short list originally included Desert Olive (Forestiera neomexicana), Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis), and Acacia - type to be determined.  The Forestiera I ruled out fairly early because I wanted a different effect.  But Chilopsis vs. Acacia - that has been a running question.  In the end it was decided on the spur of the moment.  Acacia salicina, the Willow Acacia, was trundled home in the back of our minivan last Tuesday.

It is small, but it looks like a real little tree...!
Acacia salicina, Acacia foliage, desert tree, willow acacia
I had actually decided on the Chilopsis after my last trip to Elgin's Nursery in Tolleson, where they had some lovely specimens with their soft purple trumpet flowers.  However, many acacias are just coming into bloom in our area, and I kept wondering whether I might not like them better.  I nearly bought a Chilopsis at the local garden center but remembered that Elgin's trees had looked so nice and healthy so why not wait...?

At last I went to Elgin's.  And they were out of Chilopsis.  They did, however, have some graceful little Willow Acacias...
Acacia salicina, Acacia foliage, desert tree, willow acacia
So the Willow Acacia came home with me and is now happily in the ground.  Very happily, since we had another good rain last night.
Acacia salicina, Acacia foliage, desert tree, willow acacia
So here are a few thoughts on Acacia salicina.  It grows taller than wide - roughly 30 ft (9 m) by 15 ft (4.5 m).  This allows me to have a taller plant in a small area.  It is said to be short-lived but to grow very quickly.  The one distinct disadvantage recorded in my post-purchase online information hunt, is that it has a tendency to sucker freely.  Well, I can only hope that doesn't make too much trouble for me; I do dislike having to hunt and chop back robust things that come up where I didn't put them.  There was a wisteria once...  but that's another story!  Acacia salicina is evergreen, unlike Chilopsis linearis, and it supposedly has fewer seedpods and creates less litter though there was a comment about seedlings.  It's a tough plant and has to hold its own in the world, no doubt!

Acacias seem to originate in many (warm) quarters of the world, including some Arizona natives, such as Palo Blanco (A. willardiana).  A. salicina itself is from Australia.  Very drought-tolerant, watering on one side of the tree only was recommended by one source.  The rain thinks differently, and the tree is happy for the present.  But I plan to plant only reliably xeric perennials beneath it to avoid overwatering.  As it has little cream-coloured ball flowers, it should combine well with the yellow-flowered natives such as Hymenoxys and Berlandiera, which I also brought home and hope to get into the ground soon.

It is so nice to see a tree - however small - in the garden.
Acacia salicina, Acacia foliage, desert tree, willow acacia

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