A New Respect For Serviceberry

I am going to start out by admitting that I have never been impressed with serviceberry. The first serviceberry or shadblow (Amelanchier spp.) that I encountered was in Pennsylvania in 1996. I was told that it was an impressive, native tree that was being promoted as a replacement for the over-used Bradford pear. When it flowered, well, um, I actually forgot ever seeing it in flower. It was so underwhelming. Since that time, I have seen other serviceberry trees and written them off because of short flowering time or early leaf drop in the summer.

Cole's Select flowers

My view has changed this spring in Maine. I am not sure whether it is Maine’s climate or the particular selections we have at CMBG but the flowering this year has been outstanding. Planted along our education center are Amelanchier grandiflora ‘Cole’s Select.’ They started flowering a couple of weeks ago and are still going strong. The form is somewhat upright and the trees are around 20′ in height, making for a remarkable display of white flowers this May. Amelanchier grandiflora is a naturally occuring hybrid between the two east coast US native species: A. arborea  and A. laevis. The result is a small, upright, native, spring flowering, edible fruit producing, and brilliant fall colored tree. Our cultivar, ‘Cole’s Select’ has dark green leaves that turn a brilliant reddish-orange in the fall. The form is perfect for the small landscape, it reminds me of a small crepemyrtle or upright Japanese maple.

Cole's Select at the Bosarge Education Center

There are other cultivars of Amelanchiergrandiflora available including ‘Autumn Brilliance,’ ‘Princess Diana,’ ‘Robin Hill,’ and ‘Cumulus.’ We have ‘Autumn Brilliance’ and ‘Robin Hill’ planted in the gardens here in Boothbay and I would definitely like to add some more in the future based upon the performance this spring of ‘Cole’s Select.’

Do you have serviceberry planted in your garden? How is it growing for you?


Photos: Rodney Eason

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rodney eason

Rodney Eason - Director of Horticulture and Plant Curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, father of 4, husband to a Renaissance woman. I spent the first part of my life in North Carolina, the middle in Pennsylvania, and now I am determined to become a Mainer  while keeping my southern drawl. I consider the rhetorical question, "you're not from around here, are you?" a compliment. I love great gardens, beautiful plants, and inspiring architecture. Because of this, I am on a lifelong quest to find a garden that artistically combines beautiful plants while being centered around an evocative building. For me, this would be Beatrix Farrand's Dumbarton Oaks, with the plants of Lotusland and Chanticleer, around Fay Jones' Thorncrown Chapel. My wife and I are now making our new home and garden in a 130 year old New England house with a farmer's porch near the Damariscotta River in coastal Maine. When our kids get into college, we want to hike the Appalachian Trail as a family over a summer break. My likes (in random order): the smell of fresh basil and rosemary, bold foliage, India Pale Ale, good running shoes, Top Gear, the smell of New England in the fall (it reminds me a bit of English Leather, which my grandfather wore), and the sound of our family laughing together around the dinner table. I dream of one day owning an old Toyota 4X4 pick-up and seeing the Avett Brothers in concert.
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  1. Laurrie on May 14, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    I think the reason serviceberries can be underwhelming is that they get cedar apple rust and defoliate early. It doesn’t kill them, but I have not seen any with pretty fall foliage, so I think they get relegated to woodland settings rather than specimens, and they fend for themselves and become multi stemmed weedy looking shrub-trees.

    Yours sound so pretty and so garden-worthy, but you must not have eastern red cedars (junipers — the host) around nearby. I have a lot of wild junipers with the icky gelatinous orange rust spores, so planting a serviceberry is asking for a plant that will live and grow but never look that great. The ones you describe sound so enchanting!

  2. [email protected] Trekker on May 14, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    My first introduction to Serviceberry was on campus where they were used in a garden and around the seating areas. When they were in bloom it was truly amazing, I was not aware of their problems. I will certainly research them further before adding them to my yard or garden.

  3. Carlseng Designs on May 14, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    I love serviceberry! Out here in the middle of Oregon we don’t have any problems with them and I love their elegant spring flowers and they have some of the best fall color (except for Mountain Ash). I am glad you have found their beauty!

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