Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Quercine Reflections

Picea breweriana

Foggy gray gloom descended on Friday night and remained throughout the weekend. The Garden was a collection of brooding forms – such as the hunchback of Picea breweriana – that brought no delight to this plantsman certainly. There was no light to illuminate anything, and I stayed indoors for the majority of the weekend, feeling cold and depressed by it all. Ok: that was my problem, not the garden's, so I ventured out on Monday...determined to find something to be happy about. C'mon Buchholz – snap out of it!

Quercus garryana

Actually there's nothing wrong with the oaks in winter; with their leaves out of the way you can appreciate their stoutness. Besides, they appear more mysterious in the fog, more as formidable denizens. I had a girlfriend in my early 20's who said I reminded her of an oak tree, not just any tree, not a pine tree or a fir tree. Of course, back then I had broad muscular shoulders, not like the flabby pads I carry now, but I took her oak comparison as a wonderful compliment.

Quercus garryana

If I have a "favorite" oak it must be our native Q. garryana, and that's because a behemoth specimen grows at the edge of the lawn in front of my house. I have seen a few equally as large, but none larger, and besides – like with people – they all carry their weight differently. The national champion Q. garryana grows out in the middle of nowhere in southern Oregon, where I'm told you have to bushwhack to get to it. It is an astounding 25% larger than mine, and if nothing else I'd like to see a photo of it. I've mentioned before that I bought my property – which we call Flora Farm – primarily because of the huge oak. I guess it's ridiculous to call it "mine" since it sprouted long before me, in fact before white men came to Oregon, and hopefully it will outlast me by many years. From a valid point of view, we can never "own" a native tree, but rather we are just able to coexist for a while.

Quercus lobata

Similarly, though I've never grown or "owned" a Q. lobata – the largest American oak – I was fortunate to witness an impressive stand of the "California Valley oak" in central California about 20 years ago. The details are now vague, but I remember that I and two other plantsmen entered into a military zone where we produced identification and stated our purpose: "to see the oaks!" Apparently we weren't the first so we were granted entry. I didn't know where we were going or what we were up to...until I witnessed some gigantic oaks growing randomly. Wow – that one's big...whoa, that one is really big!...etc. My god – where was my early girlfriend now? Honey – these are some damn huge oaks!

Quercus lobata

Q. lobata is an obvious specific name when you see the dark green leaves – "Elliptic to obovate, with broad, rounded lobes" according to the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014). It is native to the hot, very hot interior valleys, but the roots require a water table to survive. Mature specimens can live up to 600 years which is probably double the age of my Q. garryana, and at maturity Q. lobata's branches assume a drooping characteristic which gives the tree a wonderful silhouette in the winter sky. The largest valley oak (153' tall) has been growing for centuries near Covelo, California on what is now the Fetzer ranch, and it is believed to be the largest oak in America. The base is so big that it would take 20 people standing shoulder to shoulder to encircle it. The current "owners" say that if the tree dies in their lifetime, "We'll give it the biggest funeral this valley has ever seen." Probably no one has consulted with the remnants of the Native Yuki tribe who were ousted from the territory as to how they'll grieve at its death.

Quercus dentata 'Carl Ferris Miller'

I have an impressive specimen of Quercus dentata 'Carl Ferris Miller' at Flora Farm which now features yellow-orange* leaves. The leaves will persist throughout winter but eventually turn to mocha brown, but then they are still attractive. Though native to Japan, Korea and China, and commonly called the "Daimyo oak," Carl Peter Thunberg gave the specific epithet dentata for the Portuguese word for "small toothed." The word can also mean a "bite, nip or snap," so beware of Japan's Ainu and Shinto legends of a vagina dentata where a sharp-toothed demon hid inside the vagina of a young woman and wreaked havoc on two young men on their wedding nights. Supposedly the woman sought help from a blacksmith who produced an iron phallus to break the demon's teeth.

Quercus dentata 'Carl Ferris Miller'

Carl Ferris Miller
*Hillier mentions the cultivar of Q. dentata 'Carl Ferris Miller', that it was "Selected from plants grown at Hemelrijk, The Netherlands,** from seed collected in South Korean in 1976 by Robert and Jelena de Belder [Arboretum Kalmthout] and Sir Harold and Lady Hillier," but then states, "No autumn color." Instead, Hillier promotes Q. dentata 'Sir Harold Hillier' as, "A tree of the same origin as 'Carl Ferris Miller' but with deep orange to pink autumn colour." You can see from my photos of 'Carl Ferris Miller' (above) that Hillier was drawing conclusions too quickly from limited observations. Remember – Ol' Hills and Ye other "experts" – that your "autumn colour" in England, or elsewhere, might never match that in Korea or in Oregon. The lesson is: Be very careful what you put into print, and that is also a constant reminder to me to not become too arrogant and "knowing."

Jelena de Belder

Arboretum Hemelrijk

**Furthermore, what is absolutely strange is for Hillier to suggest that Hemelrijk – where I have visited – is in The Netherlands, when it is positively located in Belgium. The Jelena de Belder in question was born (in 1925) to parents who were ethnically Slovene and some of the plants she raised were granted awards from England's RHS, such as Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane'. Albert II of Belgium elevated her to Baroness for her contributions to dendrology. How could Hillier travel to Korea with the De Belders and not know what country they were from? Maybe they lied to keep him off track. It continues with Quercus ellipsoidalis 'Hemelrijk', described: "Named from a small tree at Hemelrijk, the Netherlands originally supplied by Hillier Nurseries."

Quercus dentata 'Pinnatifida'

A most interesting cultivar of Q. dentata is 'Pinnatifida', and surprisingly – according to Hillier – it has been around since 1879. The deeply-cut narrow lobes make it look less like an oak than some kelp-like creature from the ocean. The fun autumn color is apparent now in the greenhouses, and the leaves seem to hang on forever. The only problem with 'Pinnatifida' is that it has a poor shape with no two looking alike; either that, or this nurseryman hasn't figured out how to best grow it.

Quercus x 'Pondaim'

I mentioned in a previous blog that Oak-man, Dick van Hoey Smith of Arboretum Trompenburg, quickly declared when asked, that his favorite tree of all was Quercus pontica. Personally I prefer Q. dentata over Q. pontica, but a wonderful hybrid of the two species is Q. x 'Pondaim', and that was first raised by v. H. Smith about 1960. It is considered a Pondaim Group since there are several forms of the cross in cultivation, and one in England is marketed as 'Pondaim Giant'. Since I don't know, I hope someone in the readership can tell me the origin of the 'Pondaim' name. Sadly the hybrid is rare in America so I don't grow it, and the photo above was taken at Arboretum Trompenburg in Rotterdam.

Quercus macrolepis 'Hemelrijk Silver'

I was given a start of Quercus macrolepis 'Hemelrijk Silver' a year ago by Roger of Gossler Farms Nursery. He is always bringing me something new and I, sadly, lag behind in reciprocation. Of course it is another De Belder plant, in this case grown from seed collected on the island of Rhodes. Thankfully, this time Hillier doesn't say in which country the De Belders have their arboretum. But news to me is a specific name change: from macrolepis to ithaburensis subsp. macrolepis. It is commonly called the "Valonia oak," with the name derived from Italian vallonea, and that from Greek balanidia, diminutive of balanos for "acorn," and the dried acorn cups were/are used in tanning or dressing leather. The species has a wide range in southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia and it is the national tree of Jordan. The oak is mentioned in the Bible (First Samuel 10) and is known as the "Tabor oak," where Saul met an Israelite who gave him two out of three loaves of bread per Samuel's prophecy. The Hebrew name for oak is derived from the word "providence."

Quercus turbinella

Quercus turbinella, commonly known as the "Sonoran scrub oak," is native to the hellishly hot and dry areas of Baja California, Sonora, Arizona etc., yet it performs admirably well in the wet climate at Flora Farm. My first specimen originated as a seedling, while subsequent propagules are rooted as summer cuttings under mist. In its native haunts it grows scrubily, but in my garden I have a neat, small upright tree. The small evergreen leaves are leathery in texture and are also spine-tipped, so it would be possible to misidentify it as a holly (Ilex). For some reason Hillier doesn't list it – perhaps he considers it a form or subspecies of a different species. It can hybridize with other oak species, and I've read – but never have seen – the cross with the huge Quercus lobata. That's hard to imagine, and it reminds me of the nursery ditty where skinny Jack Sprat could eat no fat, while his hefty wife could eat no lean...Anyway, it received its specific name due to a gray cap at the top of the acorn that resembles a turban, so originally I incorrectly concluded that the turbinella species was from Turkey.

Quercus vaccinifolia

Picea breweriana
While Quercus turbinella can resemble a holly, Quercus vaccinifolia can look like a Vaccinium, and indeed it is commonly called the "Huckleberry oak." It too comes from dry areas of California, Oregon and Nevada and grows low and shrubby on slopes and ridges and sub-alpine forests. Its acorns are said to be very bitter but I've never nibbled on one. The American black bear will eat them though, and I know that first hand when I stumbled (way too close) to a bear on a Castle Crags trail in northern California while I was photographing a Picea breweriana near Mt. Shasta. Q. vaccinifolia is said to grow to less than 5' tall, but in my lush Quercus section at Flora Farm, one quickly grew to 10' tall and 10' wide, and I finally had to remove it because it pushed into the road. I didn't particularly like the evergreen bush anyway – it was a dense blob of gray-green that looked out of place in my landscape.

Quercus suber

We'll see if my "Cork oak," Quercus suber, will survive a cold winter. The species is native to southern Europe and North Africa, and though a couple of mature specimens can be found in nearby Portland, Oregon, it is generally 5-10 degrees warmer there. It never gets as cold in England either, and Hillier states, "Though very frost-resistant, it is not satisfactory in the coldest counties." I've had my 10' sapling in the ground for 5 years now, and often if you can establish a tree of questionable hardiness for a few years it can continue to beat the odds. Besides, my tree is of seedling origin, and like with people, some are just more tough than others. Anyway, Q. suber's fame is for its thick, corky bark which continues to be used for wine stoppers. Appropriately, the largest specimen in America is probably in Napa, California – wine country – and is over 90' tall. Contenders include some (photographed above) at the San Diego Botanic Garden.

Quercus x hispanica 'Luscombeana'

More suitable for Oregon – though not quite as corky – is Quercus x hispanica which is a hybrid of the "Turkish oak" (Q. cerris) with Q. suber. I have seen an impressive specimen at Arboretum Kalmthout in Belgium of the cultivar 'Luscombeana' which was raised by Mr. Luscombe in his English nursery as far back as 1762. The evergreen tree's gray-green foliage is not particularly attractive, and the hybrid would never be grown if it were not for the fascinating bark.

Quercus cerris 'Variegata'

Quercus cerris is hardy to USDA zone 6 (-10 degrees), but I don't have any interest in the large-growing species other than the beautiful cultivar 'Variegata' ('Argenteovariegata'), which I have not been able to acquire. In fact I've never seen it in America and the photo above was taken at the Arboretum Trompenburg. Their specimen was a spreading bush that made a cheerful presence in the always-raining Rotterdam garden. The specific name cerris was coined by Linnaeus and is Latin for a "curl" or "tuft" as in a tuft of hair.

Quercus robur 'Concordia'

Quercus robur 'Butterbee'

Quercus robur ("oak" + "strength, hard timber") is the common oak, European oak or English oak,* and it is the "type" species for the genus whose name was coined by Linnaeus. In its native range it is valued – besides for timber – for its importance to insects and other wildlife; in fact Q. robur supports the highest biodiversity of insect herbivores of any British plant. I don't grow the straight species – why would I when we have so many other handsome American species? But I do appreciate some English oak cultivars such as the lovely golden form known as 'Concordia'. It can withstand full sun when established, and though not so common in horticulture, it was first raised by Van Geert's nursery in Ghent, Belgium in 1843. I don't know why it is not more popular. Also, we have an excellent golden selection – 'Butterbee' – that arose as a random seedling at Buchholz Nursery about 25 years ago. Sloppily, website lists it as Quercus robur 'Bumblebee'.

*Some modern scholars agree with Classical Greek and Roman authors that the word for Druid is that for the word "oak," and can mean "One with knowledge of the oak" or "Wise person of the oak;" in other words: a Forest Sage.

Quercus robur 'General Pulaski'

Casimir Pulaski
Another cultivar of Quercus robur that I grow is not a thing of beauty, but I guess I collected 'General Pulaski' because it's so bizarre – in fact, you're not sure that it is even an oak to begin with. It grows with a narrow upright form and is distinguished – or undistinguished – by small, puckered blue-green leaves. It is not common in the trade because 1) it is ugly and 2) at least for me, not easy to propagate for those who like ugly trees. The oak was named for General Casimir Pulaski, an American patriot of Polish origin who fought in the American Revolutionary War. He was born in 1745 in Warsaw and died in Savannah in 1779 – a mere 34 years – and was known as the "Father of the American Cavalry."* There is even a General Pulaski Memorial Day held every year on October 11, and President George W. Bush issued a presidential proclamation the day before for Americans to honor the Pole. Of course, Bush was after the Polish vote in Illinois at the time.

*Casimir wasn't so good at cavalry, however, for he died from wounds received during the Siege of Savannah which the Americans lost.

Quercus robur 'Purpurea'

I'm proud of my specimen of Quercus robur 'Purpurea' which is about 16' tall by 20' wide. Leaves emerge in spring with a rich Bloodgood-purple, but a greenish hue develops when we reach the hot summer temperatures. The RHS lists 'Purpurea' as a valid name, but awkwardly Hillier goes with 'Atropurpurea'. Another English oak is Quercus petraea, the "Sessile oak," and it has a 'Purpurea' cultivar as well. I guess the conclusion is that I don't know my oaks so well, to know if my species is robur or petraea, but I've been selling it as robur with no controversy for at least 30 years. Presumably, because of its Latin name, 'Purpurea' was selected before the 1950's.

Quercus rubra

Quercus rubra 'Greg's Variegated'
Quercus rubra 'Greg's Variegated'
Not to be confused with Quercus robur is Q. rubra, the "Red or Scarlet" oak from eastern North America. I don't grow the straight species, only the splashy Q. r. 'Greg's Variegated', but I can point to some huge specimens of Q. rubra in nearby Portland, Oregon. I can stand under the canopies or cross the street to stare at the monsters, and the neighborhood women can relax that I'm just an old harmless tree guy...and sometimes they'll even come out of their houses to chat about their tree. That's the best way to "own" a Red oak – for just 10 minutes at a time – then leave to the homeowners the gargantuan task of raking the leaves and cleaning the gutters.

The way we experience the world around us is a direct reflection of the world within us, it has been said, but my world with the oaks has been most formative.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Flora Wonder Arboretum

Mahonia x 'Arthur Menzies'

Near my home at Flora Farm a specimen of Mahonia x 'Arthur Menzies' is already in flower, and as I drove by a little hummingbird darted into and out of it. In fact it was the bird's movement that caused my brain to register the fact that the yellow-flowered Mahonia was indeed in bloom. It is a large 10' bush and it's planted only 30 steps from my house, so where have I been that I only noticed it today, since it has been there for the past 15 years and has always bloomed at this time?

Flora Farm

The arboretum at Flora Farm is only 16 acres in size, and I've decided to sell the remaining 44 acres of good, empty farm land because I don't use it anymore. If I was still in my 30's or 40's I wouldn't sell any of it; I would fill it up instead with more trees and shrubs. But at this point I put small portions on my plate, take small bites and chew slowly.

Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii'

I remember the first tree I planted at Flora Farm – it was a Camperdown elm of good size. It didn't like the transplant and declined for the first five years, and finally I had enough and threw it out. It was my last Camperdown tree when I once grew and sold a lot of them, so now I don't have the remarkable cultivar in my collection any more. I could easily acquire it again, but for some reason I haven't made the effort...but thanks for the memories.

Ginkgo biloba 'Blue Cloud'

If a tree doesn't prosper in the arboretum then I toss it out. I'm not on a mission to help anything to recuperate and stay on the ark. I am cold and ruthless, some would say, and I've been accused of pulling the trigger too soon. The older I get, the less patience I have, and that includes with people as well as plants. At the same time I imagine myself to be incredibly understanding and patient. A few years ago a plant acquaintance became bizarrely upset with me because I posted an April Fool's Day blog about Buchholz Nursery introducing a blue-leaved Ginkgo biloba. I managed to hoodwink the majority of the Flora Wonder Blog readership who later learned the truth and laughed at my wonderful story and their gullibility. But the one acquaintance – who I thought was a friend, but who wasn't after all – hasn't spoken to me since, and his problem was that I “betrayed his trust.” Over a silly, fun, April Fool's joke. Whatever: he is like the tree I no longer need in my collection. Of course, if I found out that he was suffering from some sort of dementia then I would feel bad and change my attitude to that of pity.

Cardiocrinum giganteum

Cardiocrinum seed

There were some plants that were added to Flora Farm this past fall. We planted 5 Cardiocrinum on the shady side of the house. I did it for my wife who never manages to visit the nursery when they are in flower, so I don't think she has ever seen the real blossoms before. My first Cardiocrinum was given to me by the folks at Far Reaches Farm in Washington state. I kept it in GH20 where the foliage grew luxuriously, but the flower spike would rise to a few feet and then always rot off before opening. I felt confused and cursed about the situation, then one day the office manager Eric snapped, “get it out of the hot greenhouse! It wants to be outside.” So then I grew it in a shaded hoop with no poly and it bloomed lustfully the next summer. We collected the seed that fall, and have every year since, so we are now purveyors of Cardiocrinum and they sell quite well.

Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Greenpeace'

I planted a group of 5 Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Greenpeace' and gave them about 30' of space so they'll have room to develop. Of course one day they will grow into each other, and I might be around for that, but maybe not. Anyway, they were placed at the top of the Upper Gardens near the county road. I suppose a handful of motorists and bicyclists have noticed their bright green foliage and perhaps they wonder about the mysterious tree man with the mega landscape. When I first bought the property the entire hillside was a boring wheat field, but I immediately saw the potential for a stunning landscape where the public could gaze down the hill at fantastic colors and shapes. I chose the trees and shrubs to please myself primarily...or did I? Maybe I was really showing off, that my purpose in life is to present the wonders of nature, and horticulture in particular, to the general populace. I know that most passersby don't notice a thing as they race to school, work, or to pick up their welfare checks, but if I can bring happiness to myself, and maybe a few others, then I will be satisfied with my accomplishments.

Calocedrus decurrens 'Maupin Glow' 

Alas, it can be a problem when you plant in groups of three or five, because if one tree dies then your scheme looks rong, especially if you don't have a replacement tree. Such was the case with the 'Greenpeace' when one of the five slowly declined for unknown reason. Last year I cut it down and left the space empty for the entire year...just thinking about it. Should I put a different Sequoiadendron cultivar in its stead, or perhaps a Sequoia sempervirens 'Mt. Loma Prieta Spike', a narrow, somewhat weeping selection? Or a Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Filip's Golden Tears', where the green and yellow might look good together? Finally I chose a Calocedrus decurrens 'Maupin Glow', for it will grow with a narrow upright form, and its dark green foliage will be splashed with bright “glowing” portions. Yep – good choice – it looks good and all is well.

Juniperus scopulorum 'Tolleson's Blue Weeping'
Abies koreana 'Gait'

Some trees outstay their welcome in the arboretum. In the middle of the collection a Juniperus scopulorum 'Tolleson's Blue Weeping' was beginning to crowd a Juniperus formosana. The formosana is much better looking (to me) than the stringy-foliaged Tolleson's, which happens to be my last one. I supposed we'd dig the large Tolleson's and relocate it, but then it would look even worse for a couple of years. After staring at it for five minutes I decided to simplify and just cut it down, good bye. I do miss its trunk though, and wished it supported a better looking tree. Let's see now: I can plant something more dwarf in its place, and certainly something that looks better anyway. Maybe an Abies koreana 'Gait'. That would look good.

Abies squamata 'Flaky'

Speaking of Abies, I do have an “Abies” section which contains about 20 species or cultivars interplanted with dogwoods and Rhododendrons and other things. A main purpose for buying the farm was so I would have adequate room for my “true fir” collection. I am able to travel to the “best corners of the world” with just my Abies collection – to the west Himalaya with my Abies pindrow, to the Rockies with Abies concolor, to Algeria with Abies numidica, to Taiwan with Abies kawakamii etc. One special stop is in China for Abies squamata – the highest altitude (15,000') fir in the world. I've never seen an A. squamata forest in person, unfortunately, and I'm not likely to ever do so given my age. Sorry, but today, as I write this, it is my birthday – god, another – so that explains why I'm a little mopey.

Abies beshanzuensis

My Abies section also contains A. beshanzuensis, the “rarest conifer in the world,” according to Debreczy and Racz in Conifers Around the World. My tree resembles the photos in their book, so I suppose I have the correct species, but of course I don't know for certain. There were only eight trees in existence at their discovery (1975), which is now reduced to only three, so how did I get it, and furthermore, should I even have it at all? Scions were sent to me about 18 years ago by a botanist – I won't say who. He used to ship to me a number of other rare conifers, and even though the scionwood was often old and scrappy, usually at least one would survive. I had no idea at the time, however, that the beshanzuensis was critically endangered. I suppose that today there are efforts underway to repopulate the species, or at least I hope so. Maybe it's a blessing that one grows in my arboretum – you know, just in case – but I furtively glance over my shoulder in case the Authorities will one day confiscate my specimen and haul me to prison for Red List Violation! Well, I sold about 100 grafts of A. beshanzuensis about 12 years ago, then I decided I should cool that and haven't propagated it since, but there might be a few other conifer collectors who are also on the hook. There is scant information about the species on the internet, and never does the information collude, for example: it was discovered in 1963, not 1975, where only seven trees were found, not eight. Three of these were dug up and moved to the Beijing Botanical Garden, where they died. Of course they died in Beijing, the dumb shits, and it's actually a miracle that any Pandas have actually survived in China either. Should imprisonment or any other misfortune fall upon me or my House it would be a shame, for the rare fir in question is an ok-looking tree, but certainly not a species of great beauty.

Quercus garryana

When I bought Flora Farm I reported to my old friend Dick van Hoey Smith (of Arboretum Trompenburg in Rotterdam) that I finally had a place to plant my oak trees. I also mentioned my young wife and our new child (who was still in the oven) when they first met. He replied, “Congratulations on the good news. I don't remember your wife, but that doesn't matter. What is important is your tree collection.” Wife H and I still laugh about that, that we must always observe our priorities, the trees. Sadly V. H. Smith never did see Flora Farm and my massive Quercus garryana, for he was considered the world's Quercus expert, and he would have marveled at its size.

Van Hoey Smith with Quercus pontica

So, what oaks did I plant out? Not so many, really. I was using “planting out oaks” to mean “trees in general.” But I remember when the American Conifer Society was visiting the V. H. Smith-led Arboretum Trompenburg tour, a member asked him what was his favorite tree. Stupid question – he can't answer that I supposed. But he promptly replied, “Quercus pontica.” At the time I didn't know anything about the species except that with a name like pontica it is probably native to the Caucasus region. When I saw Q. pontica seedlings for sale I bought a few, grew them on and was able to sell them before they grew too large. I kept one for the collection, and though it is a sturdy, handsome tree, it's not even close to being my favorite tree.

Garrya elliptica 'James Roof'

Nicholas Garry
It's remarkable that some trees can survive our brutal summers with no supplemental irrigation. One such is Garrya elliptica 'James Roof', a vigorous male with long dangling catkins to about 8 inches (20 cm). My specimen is planted under a 150 year old Douglas fir in ground so hard a pick was required to break surface. I watered the Garrya for the first summer only, and then nothing for the past 15 years. Tiny catkins are apparent now if you look closely, then in January-February they will fully extend. The Scotsman David Douglas introduced Garrya, and the genus name honors Nicholas Garry (1782-1856), Deputy-Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company who was very helpful to Douglas with his botanical explorations. Garry was relieved of his duties in 1835 and lived his remaining 26 years being declared of unsound mind.

Acer macrophyllum 'Mocha Rose'

Acer macrophyllum 'Mocha Rose'

Acer macrophyllum 'Santiam Snow'

A 50-foot wide strip runs along the road at the eastern side of Flora Farm. It is called the Quercus section because three large Quercus garryana have been growing there for over 100 years. This section is about 3-4 acres in size so there's adequate room for some of my “big-boys,” trees such as Acer macrophyllums 'Mocha Rose', 'Santiam Snow' and 'Golden Riddle'. Of course these trees will crowd into each other in the future, but I'll deal with that at a later date. The golden macrophyllum is not yet adequately established and so it burns when we hit 100 degrees. If it is a constant summer eye-sore at some point I might dump it, but the other two cultivars are doing quite well. It's good to be the owner: I can choose what stays and what goes without approval from some committee.


The head groundskeeper at Flora Farm is Luis, and I really cannot trust anyone else. It might not always be a pleasant skill, but he is the only worker who has learned to read my mind. Everyone else gets worried and confused, but Luis simplifies, then executes with mind-boggling energy. He and his crew are allocated only a few days per month at Flora Farm, because he's also busy making boat loads of money as the head foreman at the nursery. The 32-year-old is paid well and lives rent-free in the nursery house, but then he's the guy who has to go out and scrape snow off the greenhouses on Sunday in the cold winter. Luis is small, but strong like the Sherpas I used to trek with near Mount Everest, and he certainly commands respect at the nursery. So whether we are planting, digging, dumping, mowing or watering at Flora Farm I know I don't have to personally be there with the workers. Then its fun to return home in the evening to see what he has accomplished.

Name lost

Flora Farm is a working arboretum where, besides the tree collection, we must also eke out a living. We plant and sell some of the trees but none of the workers have a clue about my capitalistic decisions. Prior to management by Luis, our de facto “foreman” was a large man with a loud mouth, and for some reason he imagined himself more intelligent and organized than his co-workers. But he wasn't at all. Worst of all, he never did understand the concept of tree labels, about tree identification. He would mow the labels to shreds willy nilly...because they were in the way. There are dozen trees now with no name. My wife thinks that it's not so important because they display attractive branching and happy birds chirp from the tree top, so what's the problem? Big J. is no longer with us, thank goodness, but I'm tempted to cut down the unidentified trees and plant others that I do know. So, when the joggers, bicyclists and motorists gaze at the landscape, they'll never understand the frustrations of the owner.

One time when I toured the Arboretum Trompenburg with V. H. Smith and my wife, I asked him for the identity of a certain tree. He screwed up his face in consternation, at a loss for the answer. The label wasn't on the tree where it should have been. He pawed around in the duff and leaves in an effort to find the label. I felt bad to have even asked. Finally he gave up and muttered to himself, “Hopeless.” I imagined that the following day he screamed and yelled at the staff to find the damn name, and to never let that happen again. The poor man knew more than most about his trees, but he didn't know everything.