Grounds for Sculpture and Sayen House and Gardens
One of my most favorite trees (and contrary to popular belief they are not ALL my favorites) is the Katsura Tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum). Typically I focus on native plants and their role in our ecosystem and place in plant communities. I like to explore faunal associations and examine their potential for ornamental use. This tree, native to Japan, captures all of my attention because of its fragrance. Katsuras don’t emit their perfume when flowering like most trees do. Katsura give off the most wonderfully sweet fragrance just before their leaves start to change into their apricot splendor of autumn. The scent is distinctive enough that you will smell it before you even see a Katsura and just know one is around, somewhere.
Fall is my favorite season. We are so lucky here in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic that we get to experience the changing of the seasons through riotous colors thrown together painting hillsides, roadways and mountaintops. As I look out my window Red Oak (Quercus rubra) leaves are just starting to show the crimson they are known for and the cat-faced shaped leaves of Tulip Trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) are turning golden. The only thing that makes this show better is the addition of fragrance and that’s where Katsura comes in.
I, accidentally, timed my visit to Grounds for Sculpture just perfectly for a stunning sensory experience. The place is loaded with Katsura trees and they were all alerting their presence on the breeze. Sculptures you can get up close to and touch, ornamental gardens and Katsura perfume in the air. I was in heaven. A little early for fall color, but if there was fall color, there wouldn’t have been any perfume on the wind. Some compare the scent to cotton candy, others liken it to brown sugar or a cake baking. In fact, according to Michael Dosmann, curator of living collections at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, “Germans call this tree ‘kuchenbaum,’ which translates to ‘cake tree’.”