Friday, August 11, 2017

Dog Daze of August

Uncle Al

“It's all relative,” my Uncle Einstein used to theorize. At the nursery we're relatively relieved that the temperature has only been in the upper 90's compared to 106 F the week before. Not so far away from my Oregon nursery is Death Valley, California where the average temperature in July was 107.4 F, a record for the hottest month at a single location in U.S. history. Of course Death Valley holds the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded in the world, and that event occurred on July 10th, 1913. How hot? You guess first; the answer comes at the end of the blog.

Highs at Death Valley in the 100's are common from mid-June through early September. But in the summer of 1996 it sizzled over 120 degrees for 40 days, and in 2001 the Valley endured 154 consecutive days (5 months!) of triple digit heat. Keep in mind that these are air temperatures, because at Furnace Creek on July 15, 1972 the ground temperature measured 201 F, just 11 degrees short of the boiling point for water. That location is 190' below sea-level, and since air warms as it moves down an intense oven is created.

Death Valley swarms with pasty German tourists who are inspired by American TV nature programs, and it's not uncommon to see Vater frying eggs on the hood of the vacation rental van while Mutter videos the episode. Tochter (daughter) Hilda scorched her thin-shorts ass as she leaned against the vehicle while texting her boyfriend. He doesn't respond because 1) nothing works in the heat, or 2) he already has a new girlfriend, but in any case she regrets coming on the stupid American vacation. The boring German guidebook admonishes them to drink plenty of water; but OMG one tires of it because it's sooo tasteless's just wet.

Bodie, California

Wagon train in the desert

I find it interesting that Death Valley and (relatively nearby Bodie State Park, California – only 259 miles (417 km) apart – occupy the most-hot and the most-cold sites in America for the greatest number of days in the year. I don't know how many days because I haven't tabulated them, but I'm certain that I am correct, and I wonder if the California meteorologists are aware of the fact. 116 F in Death Valley for the high, 29 F in Bodie for the record low – this is not at all uncommon. Both locations are in the eastern part of the state with the hell of Nevada only a short distance away. Bodie is now a ghost town, at 8379' in elevation, and it is administered by the Bodie Foundation which spouts the tagline: Protecting Bodie's Future by Preserving Its Past. Bodie was originally established in 1859 with the discovery of gold, and was named after prospector W.S. Bodey. Bodey never got to see the rise of the town named after him as he perished in a blizzard while making a supply trip the following November. Death Valley received its name in 1849 during the California Gold Rush when 13 prospectors perished with heat on one early expedition of wagon trains. So, highest temperature or the lowest, which way do you prefer to perish?

Abies grandis

Abies firma

A national pizza chain advertises: Happiness at 425, meaning that you set your oven at 425 degrees, then slide your pre-made pie in for about 25 minutes, then the whole family will be grinning from ear to ear. No one has time for salad as they sate themselves on cheese, chemical dough and pepperoni from steroid-fed cows, but I'll admit that I like a greasy slice now and then too. Anyway 425 is an average temperature to cook food while just 106 is scalding for plants, especially the kind that I grow. Which plants love the heat, and which do not? In general Abies do not. Very few species inhabit an area so warm. Perhaps A. grandis, which is native to the Pacific Northwest at low elevations. Perhaps Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis (Canaan fir) from West Virginia, although I don't know their climate and have never visited them hillbillies. Maybe Abies firma? How hot does it get in the lowlands of central and southern Japan? I don't know how hot it gets, but I know that it can be very humid, and that is why it succeeds as a rootstock for fir grafts in the American Southeast.

Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'

Abies koreana 'Cis'

Abies koreana 'Tundra'

What has struggled the most in our humid-less heat are some of the dwarf Abies, those that originate from witch's brooms. Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker' can burn if it misses its drop of water, as the newly planted one did that's just outside the office. Actually, it didn't lack for water – the roots were plenty wet – but the H20 just couldn't make its way up to the top shoots. Other established Abies in the 'Ice Breaker' planting are lustfully thriving – in fact the dwarf witch's brooms are erecting the most prodigious of leaders that I'll have to prune so that these little conifers won't revert into full-sized trees. Also, be careful with the dwarf tiny-leaved green buns such as Abies koreana 'Cis' and 'Tundra'.

Tsuga heterophylla 'Thorsen'

The Tsugas also complain when hot, regardless if you are talking about canadensis, heterophylla, diversifolia, carolina or mertensiana. It seems that the more dwarf that they are, and the more close to the ground that they grow determines whether or not the needles will burn. Remember what I just said about Death Valley, that the ground temperature can be 80 or 90 degrees hotter than what we experience in the air.

Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine'

Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine'

Wollemia nobilis

Sun-damaged Wollemia

I can comment on two surprises that we've experienced in our little heat wave. One is that our large established Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine' still looks remarkably well after 106 F in the full sun. Every year in the ground counts for something when dealing with the heat. Of course it receives regular watering. Unfortunately our 14' Wollemia nobilis in a cedar box now shows some foliage burn, even though it never missed a watering. It is too large to fit into any of our greenhouses and last winter we constructed a poly dome over it and installed a space heater. That worked perfectly and it looked great this spring. But now it sits in front of a white poly house in the blasting sun and I certainly was remiss to have not protected it better. Since it's along the main road into the nursery I'll have to move it – hide it – for now, and then we'll have to figure out where to put it for winter. The Wollemi's foliage somewhat resembles that of Cunninghamia lanceolata, and I've learned that with the latter species it can take a couple of years of fresh spring growth to cover the persistent burnt needles. The Wollemi is from Australia so I assumed that it could withstand our full sun, but upon further reflection it is native to deep canyons which are probably very humid, quite unlike the location where I placed it.

Acer palmatum 'Hubbs Red Willow'

Acer palmatum 'Bihou'

Plants that thrive in the heat are numerous, especially the broadleaved trees in the greenhouses. Maples, Ginkgo, Magnolias etc. will bolt if given sufficient water. Our irrigation pond is full of nutrients from our water drains that lead back to it, and certain maples like Acer palmatum 'Hubbs Red Willow' can achieve 5' shoots – water shoots I tend to call them. The difference between Buchholz Nursery and the competition is that I am a prophet of prune. Don't stake, prune rather. It builds trunk caliper and leads to a more-bushy top. A couple of years ago our trailer-dwelling meth-addicted neighbor expanded his enterprise by stealing more than our gas, tools, vehicles etc., but he and his cohorts took to stealing our plants as well. In his brain-fog he wouldn't know what plants to take, but he was apparently assisted by the neighboring nursery's nefarious employee – and we know who he was – into pilfering relatively new maples such as Acer palmatum 'Bihou'. It was in late winter and the 'Bihou' stems were lucratively glowing with orange-yellow color. I checked out a couple of nearby retail nurseries but could never locate my maples. But the point is: my maples have a signature and they are different – superior I would say – to those of any other company. Not just the pot, the media, the fertilizer – that's enough evidence right there! – but primarily by the way that they are pruned. I keep harping at the crew: “More, more, more.” The women employees are scared to death to prune, fearing that perhaps I will beat them senseless if they prune too much, but fortunately foreman Luis trusts me, and most importantly himself, to really whack at the Asian species.

Acer palmatum 'Kinshi'

Acer palmatum 'Sister Ghost'

It is nearly mid-August and we are well into our maple grafting. I used to cut all of the scions, but now in the evenings my 11-year-old daughter Saya sometimes helps cut while I hold the bag. There's no time to chat as she has learned to focus on the tree and must discover the appropriate wood and where to cut. At the same time she has to keep count, and she knows I don't want 99 or 101 when I say to do 100. So if you buy liners of Acer palmatum 'Kinshi' or 'Sister Ghost' next spring you'll know that Saya made it possible. I'd love to show you a recent photo of Miss S. – and she's gorgeous – but I've decided to never show my children on the blog again. For example the boys in her class are exceedingly interested in her and so they google her name. The round-heads went wild and teased her last year because she was wearing shorts, and she does have a nice set of honey sticks.

As we were preparing our maple rootstock we discovered that mice had nibbled on some trunks at the exact point where we would have grafted. Always something, always something that can go wrong. But maybe just as well because perhaps we are producing too many plants for our limited labor to care for, and also for our space limitations. I don't need to build another greenhouse at my age. The key to a successful nursery is to find balance: that you're not too far behind, but also not too far ahead. Actually I've never been “ahead” in my life – there is always more that could be done with the plants. We have a “B” nursery but we do turn a profit. You have to achieve a number of “A” results to outweigh the “D's” and “F's,” so it's an awful lot of hard work and worry (and luck) to be able to run a “B” nursery.

The record high temperature on earth is 134 F (56.7 C).

Friday, August 4, 2017

"Sam - The Maple Lady"

Sam and Talon with Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost'

Meriwether Lewis
Very often my customers have larger specimens than I do, even with plants that were introduced by me. Last week I visited Samantha Hatch, AKA "The Maple Lady" of Eastfork Nursery in Washington state. Her beautiful property sits along the east fork of the Lewis River, a river named in honor of Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. As you can see we are dwarfed by her Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost' which is larger than my original tree in the Display Garden, in fact hers is the largest that I have ever seen. I could have had a 'Purple Ghost' her size except that I always sell mine at some point. Another factor to explain her large maples is that she maintains a spacious landscape, uncrammed and uncluttered like mine, so the root-zone competition is not as fierce.

Acer palmatum 'Japanese Princess'

Sam loves her maples, her "babies" as she refers to them, and she was particularly dismayed when an Acer palmatum 'Japanese Princess' began to go off-color this summer. She investigated further and discovered that a squirrel had stripped off the bark from the trunk. The purpose of my visit – and I had been meaning to visit for years – was to bring her a sizeable replacement grafted on a short sturdy trunk. She set the tree next to her greenhouse area and we continued our tour. A squirrel then scampered across her lawn and I joked that it was heading for her new maple, and was maybe the critter that killed her previous tree. Sam assured me that she would protect her new 'Japanese Princess' with a wire cage, at least until it has grown larger. As I have mentioned before, a grafted propagule – especially when grafted onto vigorous green rootstock – can outgrow the original seedling, and that is the case, that the original 'Japanese Princess' is not the largest that I have.

Seedlings from Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

Sam recently placed an order for both lining-out stock and older specimens. I love it when we sell liners at this time of year because it gives us many less that we have to pot up and take care of. We're short on space, while I noticed some empty areas in her greenhouses. She ordered a handful of 2-year seedlings from A.p. 'Mikawa yatsubusa' in 2.5" pots. We harvest seed from our huge specimen along the main road into the nursery and the big mama has always proven fecund. I guess about ¼ to ⅓ of the germinants show the 'Mikawa' tendencies with overlapping leaves and short internodes. After a full year in their pots we sort out the non-'Mikawa' types and they eventually become rootstock. The "nons" display good vigor so I doubt that we are dwarfing any of the cultivars that we graft onto them. We even find variegated "nons," and one beautiful seedling resembles our introduction of Acer palmatum 'Ikandi', so much so that we probably will just sell it as an unnamed seedling in our Rising Stars Series. The seedlings that do resemble 'Mikawa' are inexpensive, and as I mentioned before I don't have time or room to grow them all on for observation. I think many of them end up in the hands of bonsai aficionados because they will not display the graft union of a true 'Mikawa'.

Acer palmatum 'Orangeola'

Acer palmatum 'Brocade' in August

Acer palmatum 'Brocade' in October

Speaking of A.p. 'Ikandi', The Maple Lady bought some of them too. I chose a goofy name, I admit, a name that I would likely make fun of if someone else chose it. For example when A.p. 'Orangeola' was first introduced to the trade I scoffed at the stupid name, in fact I listed it as just 'Orange'. But then we began to sell quite a few so I jumped on board with 'Orangeola'. I like maple names like 'Bloodgood', 'Fireglow' and 'Orange Dream', but 'Orangeola' sounds more appropriate for a rose or some cheery perennial, or for a sugary soda pop. Furthermore I can discern no difference between the earlier cultivar 'Brocade' and 'Orangeola'. They looked identical this spring and also now in August in our 106 degree heat; in other words 'Orangeola' should have never been named and introduced. I don't want to sound like I'm riding a high horse here because I sell scads of the easy-to-produce 'Orangeola' and I don't even propagate 'Brocade' anymore because no one will buy it.

Acer palmatum 'Ikandi' in May
Acer palmatum 'Ikandi' in August

Back to 'Ikandi', it was a seedling from A.p. 'Alpenweiss', the latter being a seedling from A.p. 'Higasa yama'. Did you follow that? The old cultivar 'Higasa yama' produced a seedling – 'Alpenweiss', selected and named by Baltzer Rare Plant Nursery in Oregon – that was more colorful in spring than its parent. Then I did the same thing, with 'Ikandi' coming from the 'Alpenweiss' parent, as I think 'Ikandi' is superior, or at least noticeably different. I have a large 'Alpenweiss' specimen in an open garden setting that produces thousands of seedlings every spring. We spray them out as weeds when they're tiny before I can evaluate any of them. But what else can I do? – I can't dig them all up to grow on – but annually I wonder if I'm murdering something even more wonderful than 'Ikandi'. It would be fantastic to live in a parallel universe where our gardens are watered only, and all the herbage had to vie for itself, to thrive, limp or die. I suppose blackberries and ivy would eventually conquer all, but imagine the thousands of seedling maples trying to gain purchase at the expense of their nearby rivals. A jungle of Acers, all offspring from named cultivars – what an orgy!

Acer palmatum 'Taylor'

Sam will pay the big bucks to get ten A.p. 'Taylor', a Dick van der Maat from Boskoop, Holland introduction. Nothing is more pretty than a 'Taylor' when it is happy, and nothing is more ugly when it is not. We are licensed to grow it in America, but at its worst it is slow-growing and prone to mildew. It is possible to keep 'Taylor' pristine at the nursery with fungicides but I wonder how many gardeners will succeed with it in their landscapes. I saw a container yard full of them in Holland one October, and indeed it was a sight to behold. In America I think it is best suited as a container plant where it can receive shade in hot times and protection when it's cold.

Acer palmatum 'Phoenix' in May

Acer palmatum 'Phoenix' in October

Also on order is Acer palmatum 'Phoenix', another exciting cultivar from Dick van der Maat. 'Phoenix' is more of a garden "doer" than 'Taylor', at least that's my experience in Oregon. To quote van der Maat,* "The small-to-medium size sized palmatum-type leaves emerge a bright pink-red with yellow veins, the yellow slowly expanding towards the red margins to give a long spring-early summer color display....The leaf stalks are red and the young shoots become dark red. 'Phoenix' forms a compact broad shrub, estimated to grow up to 16' (5m) tall and 8' (2.5m) wide." 'Phoenix' tends to leaf out earlier than most palmatums, and visitors in mid April hurry past other cultivars to see what is so dazzling.

*From De Collection, Dick van der Maat Japanese Maple Nursery

Acer palmatum 'Ghost Dancer'

Acer palmatum 'Sister Ghost'

Acer palmatum 'Phantom Flame'

She also bought the last of our A.p. 'Ghost Dancer' liners. About 20 years ago nurseryman Dave Jarrell of Oregon discovered a beautiful seedling with a variegation pattern much like our A.p. 'Sister Ghost'. Mr. Jarrell wasn't aware at the time that I had introduced my Ghost Series – 'Purple Ghost', 'Amber Ghost', 'Grandma Ghost', 'Sister Ghost', 'Baby Ghost', 'Uncle Ghost' and 'Martha's Ghost'. Did I forget one? Anyway, Jarrell named his seedling 'Ghost Dancer', and I wasn't aware of its existence until about 10 years ago. What's funny is that we knew each other, and in fact I had bought palmatum seedlings from his mother years ago at the beginning of my career. Wouldn't it be fun to visit all of the nurseries in Oregon, to see what treasures are hiding in greenhouse corners? One such nursery is Crispin's Nursery of Molalla, Oregon – a small operation, but with some outstanding introductions* – and Crispin handed me a new maple that he discovered a few years before. He named it Acer palmatum 'Phantom Flame' because, even though it was a 'Sister Ghost'-type, it featured reddish new growth. But as you can see from the 'Ghost Dancer' photo above, it does too.

Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine'

Styrax japonicus 'Frosted Emerald'

Ginkgo biloba 'Majestic Butterfly'

*Crispin's Nursery has introduced Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine', Styrax japonicus 'Frosted Emerald', 'Styrax japonicus 'Fragrant Fountain', Ginkgo biloba 'Majestic Butterfly' and much more.

Acer palmatum 'Yuki yama'

Sam bought an Acer palmatum 'Yuki yama' in a 6" pumice stone. I listed only one for sale, and at a high price, but she snapped it up in the first minute that we released our availability. 'Yuki yama' – Japanese for "snow mountain" – is the variegated form of 'Mikawa yatsubusa', and so far none of our plants have reverted. Apparently it originated as a sport branch on a 'Mikawa' but I don't know who first discovered, then propagated it. According to a 2015 UBC forum, "During a recent visit to Oregon, it was explained that the original tree was purchased from Larry Stanley of Stanley and Sons Nursery [of Oregon]. The variegated 'Mikawa yatsubusa' seedling was originally dubbed 'Elmer', since the sales transaction took place at a pancake restaurant chain in Oregon, Elmer's Pancake House. The purchaser then changed the name to 'Snow Kitten'." I think this "purchaser" was Fred Hooks of Georgia, and he gifted me a start a few years ago. I was happy to have the tree, but I – along with everyone else – groaned at the name 'Snow Kitten'. At some point someone, and I don't know who, changed the name to 'Yuki yama' and all growers exhaled a sigh of relief. If the original name of 'Elmer' would have stuck I would have quit horticulture altogether.

Acer palmatum 'Amagi shigure'

Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost'

Our best crop – large and bushy – of Acer palmatum 'Amagi shigure' in 3-gallon pots was included in our recent Specimen Availability, and Sam ordered 20 of them. I remember my first encounter with it at Tsukasa Maples in Japan. I saw it from a distance in the spring sunshine, and at first I thought I was looking at an A.p. 'Purple Ghost', but 'Purple Ghost' was too new at the time to have made it to Japan. The label was in Japanese characters – 天城時雨 – and thankfully my Japanese wife could translate for me.* According to Masayoshi Yano in Book for Maples the cultivar was introduced in 1987. Most growers find 'Amagi shigure' to be a weaker grower than 'Purple Ghost', but for the first month or two I find the former to be more bright and spectacular than my introduction.

*Not easily though. "Amagi" is a Japanese place name in Shizuoka and "shigure" is an "autumn shower." In the famous novel Izu no odoriko (Dancer of Izu, 1927) by Yasunari Kawabata a young man meets a pretty dancer for the first time in the Amagi tunnel during a rainstorm. I don't know why that delicious scene – which many Japanese people know – inspired the naming of the maple.

Eastfork Nursery began buying plants from me in the previous century – in the late 1990's she reckons. Her company is a combination of mail order, some on-site retail sales and plant-show sales. At the Hardy Plant Society event this past April, Sam's display outshone all other vendors, and most other maple sellers have quit the show because they can't compete with her product, knowledge and enthusiasm. The "Maple Lady" is one of my very most favorite customers: she is happy with my plants and always pays on time. Win-win.

Note the Eastfork advertisement in the Maple Society Newsletter, where "Japanese Maples are Our Passion." I don't know who she means by "Our," unless it is herself and her happy customers. I asked Sam's husband, Dave, if he was into the maples also. He said "not at all," although he does help out, but that he was interested in "other things." Earlier he had driven up in a shiny red Corvette; I pointed to the car and said, "you mean things like that?"

Acer palmatum 'Phoenix' or a shiny red Corvette? No offense to Dave, but I think I'd choose the maple.