Special trees, like dogwoods, take root in your heart
By Michael Leach
The affair started with the first glance and continues almost a half century later. As with similar affairs, it’s unrequited love. The object of my affection couldn’t care less and never deigns to notice me. Yet enchantment grows and reaches fever pitch for about a fortnight each spring.
My aloof horticultural love in this case is the pink dogwood tree, Cornus florida f. rubra. I encountered pink dogwoods when taking a shortcut to church through an old cemetery near my apartment in the small southern Ohio city of Portsmouth. This was during my cub reporter days. Jaw-dropping clouds of cotton candy tethered daintily to slender black trunks were scattered across the sward of Irish green grass.
I had to have one. I eventually bought two — as Mother’s Day gifts that I planted at the home place in suburban Columbus. Mother, who had planted two white ones in the yard, was delighted.
My journalistic career took me from Portsmouth to Kentucky, Florida and finally back to Columbus 30 years ago. I moved into the home place. Every spring since then, I’ve had my own little pink cloud to look at. Sitting in an old wicker rocker on the sunporch makes a comfortable, all-weather viewing spot.
One of the pinks was cut down almost four years ago, new growth couldn’t keep up with the dying branches. The second tree was stingy with flowers this spring, after being a small cloud of pink in previous seasons. Perhaps this is only a hiccup. Mother’s little white trees slowly declined and were cut down about 20 years ago. This is not great territory for dogwoods.
Meanwhile, Portsmouth’s Greenlawn Cemetery launched a memorial pink dogwood plan in the 1990s. Even in that much friendlier clime, they aren’t known for longevity. However, the ones that do live decades become spectacles. At the base of many trees are small white marble markers with the names of special people. Their horticultural legacy is a tree with burgundy foliage in fall, a silhouette worthy of a Japanese print in winter, and those pink clouds every spring.
In recent years of semi-retirement there’s been time to head south to Portsmouth for a view of the dogwoods. Along U.S. 23 are what could pass for tufts of clouds that got too close to the branches of the chartreuse wooded hills. They are groves of dainty white dogwoods, often accented with redbuds. It’s a 3-D Impressionist painting.
The allure and excitement never dims. Each spring I thank God for granting me another view of pink clouds. And each time I pass the little tree at the end of the sidewalk, I remember Mother.