A rare tree blooms in Edmonds, thanks to gardener’s TLC

EDMONDS — Maybe you’ve seen Susan Watts. After all, she’s hard to miss.

She’s that happy-go-lucky woman with the bright red hair zipping around the Meadowdale area on a shiny red mobility scooter loaded with garden tools and a big blue watering can at her feet.

What’s up with that?

Watts, 71, doesn’t let multiple sclerosis get in the way of working in her yard that has been featured on Edmonds garden tours in previous years.

The home she shares with her husband, Dick, isn’t on tour this year, but has a unique attraction. It’s a dove tree, a rare species also called a handkerchief tree, laundry tree and ghost tree.

Watts called The Herald swooning about the tree, which took 15 years to bloom.

No wonder Watts was so excited.

“It’s blooming its head off,” she said.

The white wispy blossoms pop out and flutter like doves or hankies, laundry or ghosts. The tree, native to China, was once considered to be the Holy Grail of exotic flora. Seeds were first sent to England in 1901 by legendary botanist Ernest Wilson, who called the trees “at once the most interesting and beautiful of all trees of the north-temperate flora.” It has a reputation for taking its sweet time to bloom.

There aren’t many dove trees around Snohomish County. Watts got the tree as a seedling from a friend as a housewarming gift when she and Dick moved into their Edmonds home 16 years ago.

It was a spindly thing then. Now it’s a majestic tree, about 20 feet high, with wide beautiful branches.

“We watched it grow up,” Watts said. “We thought, ‘Gosh, are we going to be here when the doggone thing finally blooms?’ We were so shocked when it finally did.”

It blossomed for the first time last year, but nothing like this year.

All Watts knew about the tree’s roots was that her friend got the seedling from the late Dr. Robert Deisher, a UW professor of pediatrics. I decided to do a little digging myself, and when I mentioned “dove tree” my co-worker Gale Fiege jumped up, flabbergasted. Turns out she has a dove tree that came from Deisher’s tree. What are the odds of that?

Gale’s mom, Phyllis, was a friend of Robert Deisher and his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Bryan, who had a huge dove tree at their Lake Forest Park home. It took him about 10 years to figure out how to germinate the seeds and then he spread the joy around.

“Robert loved giving dove tree seedlings away,” Gale’s mom said. “Each year when their tree bloomed, they would invite all their friends over to enjoy it.”

After the Deishers died and their property was sold to a developer, Gale’s mom stopped to caution the construction crew that “it was a very unusual tree and they best be careful with it.”

Gale’s tree is about 12 years old and has not yet bloomed.

“When mine blooms,” Gale said, “I’m having a party.”

Maybe these should be called party trees.

Watts and her garden-mobile were just as interesting as her dove tree.

The front basket holds her broom, saw, garden knife, gloves, hat, water bottle, scissors, snips, pruner, edger and trowel. The big stuff is in the back basket.

“I’ve got a shovel to dig in the dirt with,” Watts said.

She does it all from the scooter, often bent over with her butt in the air, she said, laughing.

“I dig. I weed. I prune branches,” she said. Nothing stands in her way. “One of my tools is four feet long. I used to have a longer one, but I rolled over it and bent it out of shape.”

Watts laughed about that, too.

I told Watts that she reminded me of Lucille Ball. “I think I might be a little bit like Lucy,” she said. “She’s a little absent-minded. I don’t know if I’m that way. But I am goofy. Liken me to Lucy at the chocolate factory.”

Watts retired from Nordstrom customer service due to MS.

“I laugh a lot. Maybe it’s weakness,” she said, still laughing.

“I just have fun with what I can do. To have a good life is to have a good laugh.”

Send What’s Up With That? suggestions to Andrea Brown at 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown. Read more What’s Up With That? at www.heraldnet.com/whatsup.

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