Pretty in pink

This pink-leaved beauty stops visitors in their tracks

Toona sinensis 'Flamingo'Plants have green leaves, right? Of course they do – full of chlorophyll so they can photosynthesise and feed themselves. That’s the beauty of this time of year, when everything emerges in fresh, bright green. But, hang on a moment, are they ALL green? There are always exceptions to the rule. And this is a great one.

Every spring there is a murmuring among the visitors when they look up the Mixed Borders towards the bottom of Battleston Hill and see a tall, slender tree covered in pink leaves. Yep, pink. Not a dull pink either – this is rich and deep, and definitely pink. Intrigued, people walk up to take a closer look, at which point they see a second specimen (and there are more of them further up the hill, too).

What they find is Toona sinensis ‘Flamingo’ – also known as Chinese cedar 'Flamingo'. Truly, an apt cultivar name. When the leaves initially emerge they’re like little tufts before they widen out to make pinnate foliage, reminiscent of ash. In China, they apparently harvest the young leaves as a crop, but we love it for its ornamental value and wouldn’t dream of eating it. In time, and that can be up to a couple of months depending on the nature of the season, the leaves gradually become less vivid and more creamy, before eventually greening up in the summer. Come autumn, they turn a pleasant yellow.

Toona sinensis 'Flamingo' stands out against a bright blue skyToona sinensis is part of the mahogany family, and rare within it for being hardy. Some people admire the way the old bark strips off, others like the aromatic flowers for using in displays, but we enjoy it at its colourful springtime best. Propagation is by root cuttings – it can be prone to suckering.

With such an intense, vibrant early season display it’s a good idea to surround this plant with an evergreen backdrop that will enhance its pinkness. Alternatively, look for a clear blue sky to show it off against! At Wisley, on the hill, the various specimens have a variety of planting partners in what is an incredibly colourful part of the garden in May, courtesy of the rhododendrons.


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