Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Texas Two-Step

My 15-year-old daughter just returned home from a six-week intensive program with the Houston Ballet. Wife Haruko flew down to watch the final performance but she made it into a “business” trip by visiting nearby Peckerwood Gardens. Then due to a screw-up by Southwest Airlines they were stranded for a day in Dallas, but put that to good use by visiting the Dallas Arboretum.

Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost' and 'Amber Ghost'

The Dallas Arboretum Maple Rill

I've never been to Peckerwood but I was invited to speak at the Dallas Arboretum almost 6 years ago, and the year before they purchased quite a few specimen maples from me for a newly installed Maple Rill. I had never heard of the term rill before my visit, but it means a small brook. Apparently money flows in Dallas because I think the rill project cost a couple million with huge stones, imported topsoil and my expensive maples. Haruko reported that the plants appeared in excellent condition and were expertly pruned, with our introductions of Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost' and 'Amber Ghost' showing off wonderfully.

Both Houston and Dallas are ugly brown cities where the flora is boring to this Oregon plantsman. That's what makes the plant collections appear like an oasis of fantasy. If you know what you're doing – and I wouldn't – there is quite an array of plants that can thrive in the two hell-holes. Let's take a look at what Haruko saw that allowed her Texas-two-step to qualify as a “business trip,” and note that she took most of the photos in this blog.

Texas Woodpecker

Peckerwood is a funny word, especially coming from my wife with her Japanese accent. It is used for a woodpecker, but also used as a derogatory term for white people, especially those rustic or poor. To African-Americans in the 1920's, the woodpecker symbolically represented white people, while the blackbird represented black people. Anyway it's a curious name for a garden – but apparently founder John Fairey named his property after the plantation in the 1955 movie, Auntie Mame and for the woodpeckers that frequented the garden.

Quercus tarahumara

Peckerwood is well-known for its oak collection, with many species coming from Mexico. Quercus tarahumara – say it again, what a beautiful name – is a species from the Sierra Madre Occidentale that was named for the Tarahumara People, an indigenous group known for long-distance running. It is commonly known as the “hand basin oak,” for the large leaves when inverted resemble a sink. I don't think it would be hardy in Oregon, but it would be fun to try anyway if I could find one.

Quercus crassifolia

Alexander von Humboldt
Quercus crassifolia is another Mexican species with a range that extends south to Guatemala. It is a large shrub or small tree with toothed, thick black-green leaves, and its specific name – from Latin crassus – means “solid, thick or coarse.” It was first collected by Alexander von Humboldt and Aime Bonpland on their five-year journey of scientific discovery in the Americas. Its common name in Spanish is “Encino chicharron” which means that the oak's leaf looks like “fried pork rinds.” One of the ornamental features of the evergreen/deciduous oak is that the young spring leaves display a hairy purple-red color before turning to green.

Quercus polymorpha

Photography was brutal for Haruko due to the harsh light, and it was over 100 degrees at the time of her visit. Nevertheless she knew I would be impressed with the bark of Quercus polymorpha, yet another Mexican oak with a small population also in Texas. It is a semi-evergreen species commonly called the “Mexican white oak,” and according to the Texas A&M Forest Service it is now widely planted as a landscape tree.

Weeping Quercus species

Curator Adam Black led the tour that Haruko was on, since one is not allowed unrestricted access to the garden. In any case Black was pleased to show off a weeping oak specimen that does not come true from seed. It originated from seed collected in Mexico, but to propagate further it must be grafted. There is question about its specific identity as well as its hardiness, and finding out is one of the purposes of Peckerwood Garden, as it now transitions into Garden Conservancy status. Judging from the photo I don't think I would want the tree in my collection, but it seems to fit into the scrappiness of this Texas garden.

Mahonia chochoco

The label said Mahonia chochoco, a plant that I have never seen or heard of before, but then some taxonomists insist that it is actually a Berberis. Either way the evergreen is in the Berberidaceae family and it comes from the mountains of northeastern Mexico. I think it's funny that botanists have long argued over Mahonia/Berberis classification and there may never be consensus. Plants, like people, don't always neatly fit into cubbyholes. Birds, butterflies and poets still make use of them even though the confusion unnerves the scientist.

Clematis texensis

Clematis texensis was attractive in seed, but too bad that Haruko missed the “Scarlet Leather flower” in bloom. It is native to the Edwards Plateau in Texas where it grows on rocky limestone cliffs and stream sides. Texensis is more showy when crossed with other Clematis species, and cultivars such as 'Princess Diana', 'Duchess of Albany' and 'Etoile Rose' have been developed.

Pinus taeda

Haruko was impressed with the trunk of Pinus taeda, commonly known as the “Loblolly Pine,” a species native to Texas and the southeastern United States. It is considered a “yellow pine” and according to the US Forest Service it is the second-most common tree in the USA after Acer rubrum. The species doesn't offer much as a garden tree, but scientifically it is interesting because as of 2014* it had the largest genome size of any organism on earth, with 22 billion base pairs (7 times larger than that of humans). P. taeda is commonly known as the “Loblolly pine,” a southern reference to a “mud hole” or “mire” as the pine can often be found in lowlands and swampy areas. The specific name taeda can mean “pine wood, a wooden board or a torch.”

Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum)

*As of 2018 the current genome champion is Axolotl, the “Mexican Walking fish” (a salamander).

Taxus wallichiana var. chinensis

Not all of the plants at Peckerwood are native to Texas or from Mexico, and there were a number of specimens from Asia as well. Again, the garden's theme is to grow and analyze plants that can thrive in harsh environments wherever they may be. Taxus wallichiana is a successful example, and the var. chinensis was thriving in the miserable Southern heat. The evergreen species is dioecious with male and female cones on separate plants. Actually, to call the female fruit a “cone” is not accurate because it is more berry-like, and it contains a single dark brown seed. Again, the taxonomists crab over the yew, whether it should be Taxus wallichiana or Taxus wallichiana var. chinensis or Taxus chinensis or even a form of Taxus baccata. In any case the species has been exploited for its leaves and bark across most of its range and it is currently classified as endangered by the IUCN. Besides being used as a fuelwood it is prescribed for some types of cancer, and for making tea by the Bhotiya tribe of the Garhwal* Himalaya.

Nanda Devi

*Home to the beautiful mountain Nanda Devi (25,643', 7,816m), the second-highest mountain in India.

Acer coriaceifolium

There are probably a number of maple species that would do well at Peckerwood, such as Acer truncatum, Acer griseum, Acer coriaceum and others, but the only species that Haruko recalled seeing was A. coriaceifolium, a Chinese species that should not be confused with southern Europe's A. coriaceum. Both were named from Latin coriaceus, referring to leathery leaves. For some reason De Beaulieu in An Illustrated Guide to Maples does not list A. coriaceifolium, while Oregon State University says that it is sometimes known as A. cinnamomifolium (not listed by B. either) or as a variety of A. oblongum. Whatever, the Peckerwood tree is a semi-evergreen shrub or tree but it is only hardy to 10 degrees F, USDA zone 8.

Keteleeria davidiana

Pere David
Augustine Henry
I was surprised that Haruko encountered a Keteleeria davidiana, not out of a winter hardiness issue, but that the Peckerwood soil might not be to the Chinese conifer's liking. I had the species once but it croaked in a hard winter, but on the other hand I saw a happy specimen at Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina and their winters are pretty much like ours. The first time I encountered Keteleeria was in Hong Kong, but at the time I was still wet behind the horticultural ears. It looked like an Abies with the erect cones but the foliage wasn't exactly fir-like. Now I assume that it is not native to Hong Kong and a landscaper must have planted the tree. K. was discovered by Pere David in 1869 and introduced by Augustine Henry in 1888, and was named for J.B. Keteleer, a French nurseryman. He was also “honored” with a cultivar of Juniperus chinensis 'Keteleeri', a boring female tree with a pyramidal habit that the bankrupt neighboring nursery used to grow.

Taxodium species

Taxodium species

Taxodium mucronatum in Tule, Oaxaca

A creek (rill) runs through Peckerwood and Taxodium with protruding knees impressed Haruko. When I saw her photos I asked her what was the species of Taxodium and she returned with a blank stare. Since Peckerwood is so fond of Mexican plants I wonder if some or all of the specimens might be T. mucronatum. According to The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014), the Mexican cypress is “A small to medium sized tree, closely resembling T. distichum, but with leaves semi-persistent in warm areas.” Oddly, after calling it a small to medium sized tree, Hillier mentions the famous specimen in the town of Tule, Oaxaca, Mexico, which is thought to have the largest girth of any tree in the world with a circumference of 42 m (138 feet). I have seen the behemoth, and though it was far off the beaten path – out in the “tules” – it was one of the greatest thing I have ever seen.

Agave nickelsiae

Naturally the Peckerwood landscape featured Agaves. They are in the Asparagaceae family and the genus name is New Latin, borrowed from Greek agaue, feminine of agauos for “admirable, illustrious, brilliant,” and certainly I find them so. A. nickelsiae is the “King Ferdinand Agave,” and was previously named A. ferdinandi-regis. The gardener must be patient because it can take from a dozen to one hundred years to flower, but when it does the stalk can shoot up to 15' and produce clusters of yellowish-red blossoms. I like the blue-green evergreen foliage that has white markings, and that each blade terminates with a black point. A. nickelsiae is probably hardy enough to overwinter in Oregon, but the problem is that we are too wet, so I keep my few Agaves in pots and overwinter them in a dry greenhouse. Various species of Agave can be made into a powder with a mildly sweet flavor that can substitute for sugar. More famously, Agave is also used in the production of tequila.

Agave protamericana 'Miquihuana Silver'

Agave americana contains the subspecies protamericana which comes from the Sierra Madre Orientale in Mexico, and also from Texas. The cultivar 'Miquihuana Silver', according to the Peckerwood Garden, is still an unidentified species. John Fairey collected it near Miquihuana, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Their website states, “At first glance, young plants might resemble just another common silvery blue agave abundant in the area's landscapes. However, once this plant gains some size, it is a real standout with an elegant form to the 6 feet long leaves, most of which point straight up, creating a vase-like shape. Unlike the more common silver species, this great selection maintains a clean matte coloration free of blemishes.”

John Fairey

Peckerwood is a collection of over 3,000 plants, and John Fairey says, “It is a garden that looks to the future, not to the past. Yet, most essential, it is my studio, a place where artistic and horticultural research are fused to create an environment that stimulates all of the senses, including the most elusive of all, our sense of time.”

That's probably enough of Peckerwood, and certainly Haruko needed to get out of the heat. My 15-year-old was ready to go also, and she summed up the experience (unfairly) by stating, “Well, I like my Papa's garden better.”

Lagerstroemia arch

Dallas Arboretum flower garden

The next day at the Dallas Arboretum was also hellishly hot, but Haruko and daughter dutifully fulfilled their “business” mission. I'm sure that 95% of visitors to both gardens would prefer the Dallas Arb. because of the green lawns and well-tended flower beds. It is more touristy with abundant color versus the drab laboratory of Peckerwood. I would be more interested in the latter garden I suppose, but I am proud to have supplied maples to Dallas.

I was happy to have my girls back home, and my daughter certainly matured after her six week absence. I cannot use her name because she doesn't want creeps to google her, but if you care about dance, you can google Houston Ballet Summer Intensive Performance and see the show. However, I must keep working so I can pay for it all.

Oops...sorry, the performance post has been removed. Too bad.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Wespelaar Redux

Seth was too busy with our Specimen Availability to produce a blog this week, so let's go back in time for a rerun of one of the first Flora Wonder Blogs ever - a trip to Arboretum Wespelaar in Belgium.


European Trip Day 3

One excuse for our European trip was to attend the International Maple Symposium, held in Antwerp, Belgium, a two-day conference with lectures, followed by a three-day post tour to botanic gardens and a maple nursery.

We checked into our hotel, a high-rise rectangle with a large orange-red sign which could be seen for a mile. This hotel is yet another big-city enterprise where the cost--even at our reduced rates--never lives up to expectations.

Philippe de Spoelberch

Never mind that. The next morning we left for a half-hour drive to Wespelaar, to the famous arboretum owned by Philippe de Spoelberch. The collection was started in 1985 and has become a world-class arboretum and scientific institution, noted for its plantings of Acer, Magnolia, Stewartia and Rhododendron. Botanical explorations around the world have resulted in the introduction of plants from known wild provenance, some on the Red List of endangered plants. But more than a scientific laboratory, Wespelaar has a beautiful, peaceful charm. I think most visitors come away with the feeling that the money (Spoelberch's) was well spent.

Koen Camelbeke
Peter Gregory

I won't go into detail about the lectures, except to say that they were given by botanical heavyweights. On the podium for the day was Koen Camelbeke, Cor van Gelderen, Tony Aiello, Augustin Coello-Vera, Peter Gregory and Piet de Jong. My experience with Maple Society events is that there are two general groups of attendees: the "botanists-dendrologists" and the "cultivarists." The botanists are forever arguing about the identification of a species and how it should be classified. There is sort of a pecking order to the botanists, which can be amusing when they disagree. The cultivarists, usually collectors and growers of Acer palmatums, japonicum and shirasawanum (i.e. Japanese Maples) grow weary of the debates. When the botanists can't agree, they'll walk away from the tree and proclaim that "it's probably a hybrid."

 Enough! We still had time for a two-hour tour of the arboretum in the afternoon. Our hosts constantly remarked how lucky we were, to have blue sky and pleasant weather late in October. Yes, so why were we sitting in the lecture hall most of the day? With my newly attained freedom, I ran into the garden to see the trees, at my own pace, which is never with someone else, let alone a group.

I was impressed with plants known and unknown, or with those simply underappreciated by me previously. The Acer pensylvanicums were stunning; they were not cultivars, but just the species collected from the wild in eastern USA. A species unknown to me was Acer calcaratum from Laos and Burma--handsome but certainly not hardy for Flora Wonder Arboretum. Acer micranthum, the "Small-Flowered Maple," a neat, small tree from Japan never disappoints for autumn color, and even features pink seeds. Another new species for me was Acer tsinlingense, from China and similar to Acer sterculiaceum. We probably have the only variegated selection of the latter, called 'Joseph's Coat'.

Acer calcaratum

Acer tsinlingense

 The largest specimen of Carpinus betulus 'Columnaris Nana' I have ever seen stood proudly on the lawn. A fantastic Ginkgo biloba 'Fastigiata' skyrocketed into the blue sky, and I had never before seen another cultivar so narrow. Liliodendron chinense displayed a wonderful trunk, and so did Paulownia 'Purple Splendour' and Phellodendron piriforme.
A big surprise was the dainty beauty of Sorbus alnifolia, a small tree from Japan with red berries and rich-red foliage in autumn. This species is not at all rare, but I had never seen it looking so good before. Zelkova serrata was majestic with foliage just turning to gold, and of course with a reddish-tan trunk. Sapium japonicum, the "Japanese Tallow Tree," with deep-green leaves turning to purple-red in fall, is a tree I'd like to try, even though it is only hardy to USDA zone 8.

Ginkgo biloba 'Fastigiata'
Carpinus betulus 'Columnaris Nana'

Besides colorful foliage, autumn brings on berries and fruits, and especially interesting Magnolia seed pods.

The tree collection was tied together with a rich green lawn, and here and there were some very tasteful statues. One got the sense of space in this arboretum, with distant views, but at the same time it felt intimate to me. Around every corner was another wonderful tree or vista. Sadly, dark shadows grew longer and the bus began to fill, but tomorrow we would be back.

Phellodendron piriforme

Acer pensylvanicum

Magnolia 'Athene'

European Trip Day 4

Sunday we returned to Wespelaar. I was still grousing about botanist Piet de Jong's comment a day earlier, that the hybrid of Acer griseum and Acer maximowiczianum (one such cross resulting in the cultivar 'Cinnamon Flake') "do not show an interesting bark and they are a collector item at the most." What? 'Cinnamon Flake', anyway, shows very interesting bark. The cultivar is vigorous with excellent fall color. Seeds and leaves are larger than just Acer griseum; indeed the previous owner of Birchwood Arboretum, Dean Linderman, described it as a griseum on steroids. For me, it was the most impressive specimen in his extensive collection.

Well, another botanist was quoted in a previous Maple Symposium, that "certainly we have enough Japanese Maple Cultivars." Ha! Since that comment was made, our small nursery has introduced Acer palmatums 'Japanese Princess', 'Mikazuki', 'Geisha Gone Wild' and 'Ikandi', just  to name a few. And from Japan: 'Akane', 'Ryu sei' and 'Amagi shigure'. And from Europe….. For me, these cultivars are like pretty girls: they're all new and different, and who tires of another one?

But I have no feud with the botanists, and I certainly wouldn't want to contend with one. Just stick to your day job, your microscope and pubescent undersides, and leave horticultural merit to nurserymen and hobbyists who actually have dirt under their nails.

Back to the lectures, which were good. Douglas Gibbs spoke of maple conservation in the 21st century. Philippe discussed autumn color in maples with colorful photographs. Indeed, he contributed photos to the excellent An Illustrated Guide to Maples by fellow countryman Antoine Le Hardy De Beaulieu. Sorry to the Europeans that Oregon's native "Vine Maple," Acer circinatum, does not color well in autumn. You're missing a lot.

Hugh Angus
Piet de Jong and Philippe de Spoelberch

John Grimshaw spoke on recent maple introductions, Hugh Angus on maple identification, and Paul Goetghebeur spoke on whether Acers should be in the family Aceraceae or Sapindaceae. He championed Sapindaceae and the botanists nodded in approval. How could it be otherwise? He also promoted the notion that Acer comes from Latin for "sharp," and should never be pronounced as it commonly is, "Ā-ser," but should be "Ahker," as in acute, or acropolis.

Arboretum Wespelaar

Malus hupehensis

Finally, back outside, where attendees were divided into groups, each with a leader, to use the maple identification keys. Some were keen on the project, and spent a half hour on the first tree. The impatient truant in me quickly abandoned that project, and I struck out on my own again. And a good thing, for every hour or day or season, a tree is never the same. I chased the light, and experienced the collection anew, happy as could be.

Sapium japonicum
Liriodendron chinense

Acer sieboldianum 'Microphylla'
Sorbus alnifolia

Paulownia 'Purple Splendour'
Sorbus alnifolia

Zelkova serrata

Arboretum Wespelaar:  can I return?
Yes, I must return!