Wednesday, December 14, 2011
I was desperate. I needed a photograph of the fruit of the wonderful small tree, Crataegus viridis 'Winter King' (common name: hawthorn) for my column in the newspaper.
There was only one possibility I could think of without driving 60 miles one way - the Publix at a shopping center across town. I had noticed the trees a couple of years before, thinking what a good choice for a parking lot. 'Winter King' has white flowers in spring, nice fall color and best of all, persistent red fruit in winter. As a bonus, the bark becomes more beautiful as the tree matures and begins to exfoliate. Gray strips peel away to reveal a cinnamon color. Altogether, a great small ornamental tree.
The only problem was, when I drove up to the grocery store, the trees, though usually slow growing, were taller than I anticipated. I circled around and waited for a parking space next to the trees. I was in luck. Someone pulled out after just a couple of passes.
Then, the embarrassing part. I backed into the parking spot, got out and climbed onto the roof of the car. At the time, I was driving an SUV (today, I wouldn't be able to stand on my Honda Civic). Soon, I had my camera pointed at the gorgeous red berries.
"What do you think you're doing, lady?" a gruff, booming voice came from below. I froze, picturing the manager of the Publix who was going to get me for trespassing. I turned around to see a pleasant looking man, probably about my age. He broke out in laughter.
I bumbled out an explanation, telling him all the wonderful features of this Southeastern native tree and why I was going to such lengths to get a photograph. He said he'd often wondered about the trees, thinking all along they were some kind of holly.
The next thing I knew, he asked if I'd like to have lunch with him some time. Again, I started fumbling for words. I had been newly widowed, so I had no idea about what to do. I said I didn't think my husband would like that.
Did I miss my chance? I don't think so. He probably wasn't Jack the Ripper, but it just didn't feel right. Over a decade has passed since that encounter, so I don't think I could garner such an invitation if I tried this caper again. I did get a picture - though not the sharpest. Still, you can see how this is just about the perfect tree for the winter landscape.
Note: Plant in full sun. An ideal spot would be in front of a bank of tall evergreens. That way you can appreciate the bright red color and beautiful bark in winter. Grows to about 20 feet tall.