Ginkgos for All

On my way to work most mornings, I pass by a daringly planted stand of ginkgo trees, starkly silhouetted against a building with black glass walls. It is only this time of year, however, that I am tempted to stop (as I finally did this morning) and try to grab a shot of them.

Gingko biloba, gingko trees

Ginkgo biloba trees along the front of a curved office building in suburban Chevy Chase, MD

That’s because that – remarkable as this tree is – this is the time of year when it really shines its brightest. Its fall color is a stunningly bright golden yellow, a color to which it turns gradually, with its leaves edged in green initially as the color widens out.

Gingko biloba

Ginkgo leaves that have almost turned completely yellow-gold

The leaves are fan-shaped.

Gingko biloba

Ginkgo biloba leaves on a 'Princeton Sentry' cultivar

When I studied “woody plants” as part of my training as a landscape designer, I learned that the Ginkgo has been on earth for approximately 150 million years. It’s often chosen as an urban (street) tree because of its ability to withstand drought, pollution, and other stressful aspects of city life. As a young tree, its habit (as is evident from the opening photo) is somewhat gaunt and open. But with maturity (as with us?) it becomes full and dense, a beautiful specimen.

Gingko biloba

A mature ginkgo planted as a street tree in a suburban neighborhood near me.

If you are thinking of adding one to your landscape, choose carefully. As I said, these make great street trees and can look wonderful even in a garden as long as you site them carefully and give them enough room to grow. (At maturity they can be 50-80′ high, with a variable spread.)

Gingko biloba

A ginkgo tree in the front yard garden of landscape designer Corinna Posner in Washington, DC. Note its placement at the edge towards the edge of the garden, making it useful as a screen.

Gingko biloba

This ginkgo may eventually outgrow its place in the garden.

If you have less space in your garden, consider ‘Princeton Sentry,’ a fastigiate (narrow) cultivar. I first encountered this variety at Innisfree, in New York, on my Hudson River Valley trip, and have since planted it in a few client’s gardens.

Gingko biloba Princeton Sentry, Innisfree

Two 'Princeton Sentry' gingkos at Innisfree.

One final word of advice: male varieties (which includes ‘Princeton Sentry’) are preferable to female ones, because the latter drop bad-smelling seeds. Instead, go for the gold with ‘Princeton Sentry’ or ‘Autumn Gold’ if you have a larger space to fill. Then stand back and watch for that cold snap in the fall, when all the leaves may drop at once, creating large golden sheets underneath the tree – until next year.

Please Note: Garden Shoots will be taking a break over Thanksgiving Weekend  so the next post will be in early December!

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7 Comments on “Ginkgos for All”

  1. Susan Hirsch Says:

    Magnificent photographs of a great topic! I saw a lot of these trees in Chicago last summer.

    • Melissa Says:

      Susan, I’ve yet to visit Chicago but hope to remedy that in the next year or so. Are they street trees there, or did you see them somewhere like the Botanic Garden?

  2. Karl Gercens Says:

    Very nice blog! As the days get shorter I’m gardening online by seeing what everyone else has been up to. Love the article on GinKGo and just wanted to drop a line to let you know a few places it’s misspelled. I’m always alert to the spelling of this tree since my initials are in the middle of it 🙂



  3. Melissa Says:

    John, I had to re-type the post title but I think the URL is correct now. Wow, the national “champion” gingko in your own back yard!! Would love to see it – maybe next year.

  4. Mia Says:

    Lovely photos, & an interesting piece on the Gingko,
    I like the colour, & shape of the leafs.
    I especially like the Innisfree photo.
    I’ll have to investigate, I can’t say we’ve any gingkos in the area.
    The ‘Princeton Sentry” sounds like a nice choice, too.
    I like the tight vertical growth, too bad about the female trees.
    Very informative, thanks for sharing and Happy Thanksgiving.

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