In the Shade of Mom's Mimosa
This was a favorite tree, loved by adults and children alike but especially loved by my mother. I had to concur since the blossoms alone were pure fantasy with their fiber-optic sort of look and their heavenly scent. (God knows that my mom surely needed an escape from time to time what with a busy household of eight sandy-footed children constantly coming and going.)
Mom would look up at the blossoming tree with a pleasant expression on her face, drawing me into her moment of joy. I think that may have been the start of my love for trees. When it was in my power to do so, I finally had a mimosa tree of my very own.
What makes Mom's mimosa special at this time of year is the presence of many little plantings that I have under the tree. The eye is drawn downward, and rightfully so; Albizia julibrissin is one of the last trees in spring to "leaf out".
That's okay, though, because an equally precious white dogwood shares the same proximity and has bracts fully open to lend interest while the mimosa is making up its mind about having leaves.
At the base of both the dogwood and the mimosa lie clusters of creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) that have their show in late April to early May in my zone, 7a. These flowers attract the first butterflies of spring; it is not until the phlox blooms that I spy any Swallowtails.
After the phlox blooms, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails seem to increase in number.
They eventually work their way to the top of the mimosa to partake of its flowers that occur in summertime.
In addition to the phlox, the base of the mimosa features a pink yarrow mat that starts out soft and fluffy and is pleasing to the touch. Soon its flower stalks grow upward to reveal strikingly lovely blooms. By the time the pink yarrow flowers begin to open, the mimosa's pinnate leaves have created a canopy that stretches over much of the front yard to shade the front of the house from summer's sun.
When summer arrives, the phlox will have long since reverted back to its grass-like appearance, leaving to the imagination a memory of its beauty that had been a reality just a few weeks earlier. That's why the yarrow is there, to keep the pink splashes of color going.
Yet as you can see, the shade of the canopy makes the yarrow stretch to find light. I find that it is an ongoing process to keep the perennials happy if they started out under young trees that eventually mature and shade out the light. While the early-blooming creeping phlox is perfect at the base of the tree, the yarrow's bloom comes too late to enjoy full sun.
This concern keeps me busy with my perennial gardening, and I really do not mind the work of transplanting; in fact, I enjoy it.
Basking in the warmth of summer and in the shade of the delicate leaves of the mimosa tree is a pot of Tradescantia zebrina, or Wandering Jew. It's a tradition for me now to place a pot of this easy plant outdoors under the mimosa for the summer and to bring it back in again for the winter.
While Tradescantia zebrina is outdoors, it lends its two-toned charm to the summer season by trailing up the tree, around the tree, and into the surrounding lawn. It also freely puts down roots. I have often lifted the potted plant to find that it has rooted directly into the ground all along its stolons as if to say, "I don't want to be a houseplant. I belong out here."
The dappled shade of the mimosa is perfectly suited to this tropical plant's needs, so I let it go all summer that way, keeping watch that the lawnmower does not get too close.
The cats love it out here among the front yard trees and always seem to be present when I drop to my knees to inspect the plants at the base of Mom's mimosa. Come to think of it, the cats find me in the yard wherever I happen to be gardening at any given moment. I think they just want to test my patience by getting in my way, but I do not stay frustrated for very long. It's good to have company.
Especially under the mimosa where it is shady and pleasant.
Mimosa was once sold as an ornamental in earlier centuries and is now considered an invasive, weedy tree in the lower 48 states due to its habit of casting off many seeds and creating a canopy that deprives native trees of light.
As for Mom's mimosa, it does sprinkle children here and there which I am diligent to dig out if they have taken root. Knowing that Albizia julibrissin is an invasive species, I do not wish to cause grief to the surrounding environment. There may come a time in the future when I will need to make a decision about keeping the mimosa in the yard due to the young trees that would spring up if I were not here keeping watch.
Time will tell how long Mom's mimosa will last. According to the USDA Forest Service, its lifespan can often be shortened due to a Fusarium root fungus that causes death to the tree.
So far, so good. Mom's mimosa is still going strong after fifteen years.
For further information:
USDA Plant Profile, Albizia julibrissin
Albizia julibrissin, by Rachelle Mayer, 2010
Planting Under a Tree, by Doris Taylor, Fine Gardening online, 2014
Planting Under Existing Trees, by Kathy Ripke, University of Minnesota SULIS, 2006