Friday, August 16, 2019

Making Maples

I've been grafting Japanese maples for 44 years with one early year being custom grafting for the nursery I used to work for. In that case I was paid ($1.00 apiece) for only those grafts that “took,” those that were successful. In October I prepared the rootstocks, cut and grafted the scions, then tended to them with watering and pruning until the day of reckoning on May 15th of the following year. I made $17,000, with my beginner's luck yielding about 90% success rate, but even though I worked six and sometimes seven days a week for about seven months, the owner winced as he handed me my check. I used the money to buy rootstock for my own grafting, and for the acquisition of stock plants.

There was a period in the nursery's history where the scion-cutting was delegated to an English employee, and he did quite well for a dozen years even though he was left-handed. But before that, and since he departed, I am the “trusted” employee that is assigned the task. One exception these days is if the scion cutting requires a ladder, then I stay on the ground and catch what young David tosses down to me, as I don't want to climb above two steps anymore.

Acer palmatum 'Tamuke yama'

I remember about 25 years ago when the propagator at the large, nationally-known M. Nursery wanted to visit and observe our grafting, especially since their results were poor the previous year. As we chatted I made the observation that I could teach any willing employee, even a monkey, how to graft. What was more important was the selection of scionwood and then the aftercare of the crop. This “propagator” admitted that the scions were cut by someone who didn't fit into one department of the company and so was transferred into propagation. I developed a cold sweat at the thought of just anyone choosing the scions. “Just anyone” might select water-shoots that I would consider too soft, or cut scions too thick or thin, or mix up the 'Crimson Queen' with the 'Tamuke yama' etc. Yikes! Why do you think I prefer to eliminate as many variables as possible by doing it all myself? I guess their company still propagates maples because I see their dubious product in certain retail outlets, but I could list a couple dozen of other Oregon nurseries that grow a better maple.

The above is not to imply that I have it all figured out and never make poor decisions. I know better propagators than myself, especially many from The Netherlands, and there's likely a young man or woman just down the road with better skills. I have fathered five children and I used to greet all of them when they ran up to me by lifting them from under their armpits...into the air, then catching them. It was good fun and they loved the game. At some point there was the last time for each child, but I never knew it would be so at the time. The same is true with maple grafting. It's been at least 20 years since I performed my last graft, probably with some rare variety I didn't trust to anyone else, but I have no re-call of the event. There's no need for me to graft anymore – my trained monkeys do a pretty good job.

Acer palmatum 'Ghost Dancer'

But I still cut the scions, if for no other reason than as an opportunity to commune with my trees. I have had a short, but interesting relationship with Acer palmatum 'Ghost Dancer', an Oregon-selected cultivar that originated at about the same time as my “Ghost series,” and in fact it appears quite similar to A.p. 'Sister Ghost'. I'm pretty sure that the 'Ghost Dancer' name was chosen independent of any of the six or seven cultivars in my “Ghost series.” In any case I bought two ten-foot trees at a retail location for $295 each, so it was a considerable investment. They were under potted and in poor condition per usual in retail garden centers where the stock stays around too long. We potted them up and placed them in a white-poly greenhouse where they thrived. The following August I instructed David to climb the ladder to cut all of the appropriate shoots. David said “ok,” but then once up the ladder he asked, “How many?” “All that you can,” I repeated. Then I further cut the pieces into one or two-node sections, and by the following spring we had about 300 young healthy starts. Last summer we could only graft about 125 good scions from the two trees, and this August the same two post-prime hags presented me with nothing. Instead, I was forced to cut form the original 300 propagules in one-gallon pots, except that in the meantime I had sold 200 before I could cut anything. So, we went from an abundance of loaves and fishes to scrounging for wood in just three year's time. Nursery production can be a roller-coaster ride with any cultivar, but as I've said before: my production department is often at odds with the sales department. Nevertheless I should have managed 'Ghost Dancer' much better.

Davidia involucrata 'Aya nishiki'

Styrax japonicus 'Snow Drops'

Styrax japonicus 'Snow Drops'

I like to finish summer grafting by the end of September, but often we'll slide into the first half of October. Besides the palmatums, shirasawanums and japonicums – the “typical” Japanese maples – we'll also produce the Acer buergerianums, A. circinatums and perhaps some of the stripe-bark maples such as Acer conspicuum 'Phoenix'. Then, if time, we'll do Styrax, Davidia and Carpinus grafts. They do well in late summer - early fall if we have the time. There's no one in the company attuned to the ticking clock except for me. My grafters receive a $50 bonus above their regular pay when they work on Saturday as an incentive to slog through the thousands of scions, but for every one of my 44 propagating years I have always felt behind.

Acer palmatum 'Peve Starfish'

Acer palmatum 'Peve Starfish'

It was seemingly just a couple of years ago when I received scionwood of Acer palmatum 'Peve Starfish' from Vergeldt Nursery in Holland. Actually – I just looked it up in my records – I got my start seven years ago. Besides its display of red-purple leaves that feature downward-curling lobes, the cultivar is vigorous with a stout appearance. I easily sell all that I put on the availability so there is the temptation to produce as many as possible. But I know better than to do that because it is better to be sold out than to have too many. Two years ago I stopped at 1,000 grafts when I could have grafted double that number. This summer I have enough wood to do 5,000 grafts but I'll probably settle for about 700. When 'Peve Starfish' becomes better known and other nurseries are producing it I might settle on just 300-400 per year, comparable to other cultivar amounts. Why it's tempting to produce more is because the trees produce a lot of excellent scionwood and our graft take is high. If I hadn't sold any at specimen size I could graft as many as 10,000; I actually would have had enough scionwood to do so.

Acer palmatum 'Ikandi'

On the other hand, good scions are hard to come by for Acer palmatum 'Ikandi'. I have lots of stock trees but all of the stems are soft and flush with new growth. It's easy to sit in the office and project how many grafts I'd like to do, but you don't know what you're going to find until you start pawing through the trees with felcoes in hand. The seed tree that begat 'Ikandi' was Acer palmatum 'Alpenweiss', and I produce a few of the latter still, but I don't have a market for the same amount as 'Ikandi'. Maybe I shouldn't propagate 'Alpenweiss' any more because 'Ikandi' is more colorful anyway. The seed parent of 'Alpenweiss' was the old cultivar Acer palmatum 'Higasa yama' which I don't have on the property anymore. I gave 'H.' up because 'A.' was more colorful than its parent...if you follow what I'm saying.

Acer palmatum 'Garnet'

I still have one 35-year-old Acer palmatum 'Garnet' in the field but it doesn't produce viable scionwood anymore. My only other 'Garnet' is a younger tree in a 20-gallon pot. It originally belonged to a larger group but they were sold and the single remains because it is one-sided and has a scar on the trunk. For some reason I cut 20 scions – I guess just to keep the cultivar on the ark. Twenty five years ago, when we sold thousands of maple liners more than today, 'Garnet' was a popular red laceleaf, but the demand has waned since then.

Acer palmatum 'Red Dragon'

In Vertrees Japanese Maples (1978), the photo of 'Garnet' is the same as the one in the latest, 4th edition (2009), except that in the latter edition the photo has been rotated on its side. The descriptive paragraphs are re-worked somewhat in the 4th edition, but both editions state: “It retains it color well and is a durable landscape plant.” Actually it doesn't retain its color well compared to other red laceleaf cultivars, at least in Oregon. Of course 'Garnet' will be more green if grown in shade. My venerable old specimen is in full sun in a row with 'Crimson Queen', 'Tamuke yama', 'Red Dragon', 'Select Red' and 'Inaba shidare', all of the same age. I don't harvest scions from these trees anymore, but I leave them in place so one can compare their shapes and colors, and from that point of view 'Garnet' is inferior. By the way, I'm writing this in mid-August, when earlier in May all of the trees looked pretty much equal.

Acer palmatum 'Select Red'

Acer palmatum 'Inaba shidare'

Another reason for leaving these laceleafs in place is to absolutely prove that Acer palmatum 'Select Red' (also incorrectly known as 'Red Select') is not the same as Acer palmatum 'Inaba shidare' as some have alleged. They were planted next to each other on purpose to make my point. I won't belabor the 'Select Red' story again* – as I've done it in a past blog – but I will be blunt: the bottom line to the mix-up was due to Dutch greed in the 1970's. I don't propagate 'Select Red' anymore because 1) I don't like the boring name and 2) 'Inaba shidare' is the better cultivar. Again, at least in Oregon.

*Interestingly, 'Inaba shidare' is also known as 'Holland Select'.

When we graft a large number of a cultivar – say 500 up – I purposely graft on two or three different dates, with the scionwood coming from different places. It would be easier to do all of one variety at a time, but I feel that I'm spreading out the risk by splitting things up. Maybe grafter J. has a migraine on one day and her results won't be so good, but hopefully she's fine a month later when we do some more. Even after 40-plus years I continue to be nervous and I take nothing for granted. I don't put all of my chicken eggs in one basket either.

Acer palmatum 'Anne Irene'

Most men are attracted to women, but we all have our "type." Aside from anatomical features, some of us would choose smoldering beauty but others prefer cute and sweet. I go for the latter for it aptly describes my wife. Similarly I have become smitten with Acer palmatum 'Anne Irene', a new Dutch introduction that was discovered as a sport on A.p. 'Summer Gold'. Best in spring, the bright yellow leaves are highlighted by a red margin. I won't go so far as to say 'Anne Irene' is my favorite maple, but she's certainly a maple I highly favor: cute and sweet in spring and summer, but then she actually smolders in autumn with deep red-to-maroon foliage color. I would love to meet the girl that the maple was named for; was she the finder's daughter, or...

I'm no stranger to beauty because my two youngest daughters (ages 13 and 16) are responsible for preparing the scions. They cut the leaves off at the petioles and shorten the tips as necessary, and they are faster, more confident and involved than my regular employees. They would work for no pay, just to help me out, and besides they like to bond in the shared activity. Each has worked alone, but they are happier and faster in each other's company. So just know: if you buy a maple graft from us next spring, or a specimen five years from now, one of these two beauties had her hand on it in the beginning.

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Painted Hills of Oregon

B.C., long ago (before children) my wife and I went to an upscale restaurant in Portland. After studying the menu she decided on a rather expensive “Painted Hills” cheeseburger. It was the first time for me to see a region in central Oregon used to promote high-priced beef, kind of like Kobe is used in Japan. I explained that those hills were indeed painted – I had been there once before – with red, green and blonde coloration which took millions of years to develop, something that one might encounter in the Martian landscape. I promised that I would take her there one day, and sixteen years later I finally kept my word.

Pseudotsuga menziesii
Pinus ponderosa

Pinus contorta
Chamaecyparis nootkatensis

We drove east, through Portland, then past Mt. Hood and into the more arid portion of Oregon. I love road trips, to see how the trees change with the elevation and the geography. The Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) of western Oregon is replaced by Pinus ponderosa, Pinus contorta, Xanthocyparis nootkatensis and various Abies species at higher altitude. Once east of Mt. Hood (in the Cascade Range) you enter the high-desert region around Bend, Oregon. Bend was so-named by the pioneers on the Oregon Trail due to a bend in the Deschutes River which runs through the now-trendy town. The river was named Riviere des Chutes, French for “River of the Falls” during fur-trading times in the early 1800's.

Juniperus occidentalis var. occidentalis

Juniperus occidentalis var. occidentalis

Juniperus occidentalis var. occidentalis

Cattle ranching and farming are important industries in central long as water is available. We drove past huge bales of hay and contentedly-grazing cattle, but I wondered how far away from the actual Painted Hills the rancher could be and still label his stock as coming from the Painted Hills? Where water is not available, the one tree in abundance – with sage-brush growing at its feet – was the “Western juniper,” Juniperus occidentalis. In Oregon it is J.o. var. occidentalis while in California it is deemed J.o. var. australis. I know of no cultivars of the former, while the RHS Encyclopedia of Conifers lists a half dozen for the latter. Curiously the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs doesn't even list the species at all. I found a shiner with fabulously blue foliage and I imagined driving 300 miles back to harvest some scions this winter...which of course I will never do.

There are a number of “painted” places in the area, and interpretive signs explain what causes the red or yellow colors. I won't go into the details, except that it's amazing to realize that today's dry landscape was once a tropical jungle. Fossil remains have been found of early horses, camels and rhinoceroses, and indeed there is the nearby town of Fossil, Oregon where behind the grade school one can rummage through the rocks and pick out your own fossils. We stopped for gas in Mitchell, Oregon, a two-block hick town with weathered wooden store-fronts. My wife and daughter went into the general store to use the bathroom. I waited in the car while three men drove up in a high-rise pickup. The middle-aged cowboys with dirty hats got out and lumbered across the road, all walking bow-leggedly like they were suffering from painful hemorrhoids. Of course all six boots featured circular spurs on the heels, so they were possibly the hombres who raised the Painted Hills burger that satisfied my wife sixteen years ago.

Friday, July 26, 2019

For Sale or Not For Sale

Acer palmatum 'Yuki yama'

It's a monumental task to compile our two sales lists: 1) Liners Ready Now and 2) the Specimen List, with the latter ranging from pots at one-gallon size up to a huge wood box of Stewartia pseudocamellia at $24,000. The liner list (LRN) is far more simple, with plants constantly appearing on the list...which often sell out quickly. The specimen availability is released at one time in July, whenever Seth and I can finish the task. I walk up and down the rows and count and price, and try to keep a balance between what we can part with and what we need to keep for future propagation needs. For example I could sell a thousand Acer palmatum 'Yuki yama' in the size of my one largest specimen, but then I would be cutting my own throat for future production if I was to sell it.

No way!                            Me neither

I'm a true capitalist and I love money, but the sales department is always fighting with the production department. Since I head both departments, neither gets their entire way. Micromanaging the balance is my responsibility, as no other employee is capable or wants the job. The notion of “incapable” might sound demeaning, but one cannot be capable if one does not wholeheartedly want to do said task, and they don't, believe me.

Acer japonicum 'Maiku nishiki'

Acer japonicum 'Maiku nishiki'

Acer japonicum 'Kujaku nishiki'

Let's look at what's not for sale, for there are some fantastic plants, and it's mostly that I need more time to build up my stock. I have one plant each of Acer japonicums 'Maiku nishiki' and 'Kujaku nishiki'. Originally I assumed that they were the same since kujaku is Japanese for “peacock” and maiku jaku means “dancing peacock,” and the latter is the Japanese name for what we Westerners call 'Aconitifolium'. Now that my stock is older it appears that 'Maiku nishiki' and 'Kujaku nishiki' are separate cultivars, but then sometimes variegation in a cultivar does not always look the same, with some trees being sparsely colored and others lustfully so.

Acer x 'Gossamer' 

Another maple that I won't part with yet is x 'Gossamer', a supposed hybrid between A. japonicum and A. palmatum f. dissectum. A. japonicum was the mother tree and that is quite obvious with the brilliant orange-to-red autumn color. According to “'Gossamer' was found as a chance seedling by one of our good friends, Billy Schwartz, under a large Acer japonicum at the original Red Maple Nursery in Lima, Pennsylvania.”

Acer palmatum 'Bloody Talons' in July

Acer palmatum 'Bloody Talons' in November

You can't have Acer palmatum 'Bloody Talons' either, but my original seedling discovery has fascinated me since it was tiny and its future looks very promising. Today in mid July, the leaves are an unusual olive-green with just a hint of red along the center of the downward-curling lobes, then they will turn absolutely bloody-red in autumn. We kicked around names for this seedling for a couple of days before office manager Eric hit the homerun. The mother tree for 'Bloody Talons' was Acer palmatum 'Amber Ghost' which is famous for being a great source for new cultivars.

Acer oliverianum 'Hot Blonde'

Augustine Henry
Acer oliverianum 'Hot Blonde' should probably be listed as Acer x 'Hot Blonde' since it was “found by the brothers at Mr. Maple as a chance hybrid between Acer oliverianum and a golden Japanese maple.” The Nichols brothers from North Carolina was my source and thankfully they didn't patent it as they once considered. A. oliverianum is a central-Chinese species discovered by Augustine Henry and introduced in 1901 by E.H. Wilson while the latter toiled for Veitch Nursery. It was named in honor of the English botanist Daniel Oliver (1830-1916) who was Librarian of the Herbarium, RBG Kew from 1860-1890. In the greenhouse the foliage of 'Hot Blonde' is a light yellow with orange-peach new growth, then in autumn it will flame to brilliant red. Chatting with Tim Nichols about 'Hot Blonde', I expressed the worry that some women in the “new-order” squad might take offense at the name, but Tim dismissed the comment because it was named for brother Matt's wife who is a hot blonde, and “she's fine with the name.” I love the North Carolinians, or at least those from East Flat Rock, y'all.

Acer palmatum 'Red Whisper'

Acer palmatum 'Red Whisper' originated as a seedling from A.p. 'Fairy Hair' and the offspring is similar to its mother except for being a little more red. I've never propagated 'Red Whisper' because my one tree never puts on suitable new growth for scionwood, but it is named in case I try propagating with older scionwood, which I probably should by this summer; in any case keep your hands off of it in the meantime.

Cardiocrinum giganteum

You can't buy a Cardiocrinum giganteum which produced a bizarre fasciated flower stalk – we want to collect seed this fall to see if any of its offspring will replicate with fasciations. Probably they won't, and in fact our one plant may never do so again. A fasciation is a banded or bundled portion of growth, a deformity, which is believed to be caused by a hormonal imbalance. It can occur from random mutation or may be caused by insects or physical injury to the plant, but fortunately it doesn't spread to other plants. Some cultivars such as Cryptomeria japonica 'Cristata' and Taxodium distichum 'Peve Minaret' regularly produce fasciations, at least at Buchholz Nursery. As you can see from the seed-head (above), the Cardiocrinum in question contained far more flowers than normal, but they were of smaller size. For us it takes about six years for a Cardiocrinum to germinate from seed until it reaches flowering size. When small they are grown in the greenhouse, and every year they are potted into a larger size. We move them outside under shade when they are ready to flower because the flower head seems to resent the heat and humidity of a daily-watered greenhouse and they will often rot. Cardiocrinum (from Greek for “heart lily”) is another one of our “crops,” but we all ooed and aahed to see the one plant freak out.

Poncirus trifoliata 'Snow Dragon'

I received my start of Poncirus trifoliata 'Flying Dragon' years ago from a California nursery and I have sold quite a few myself. In The Hiller Manual of Trees and Shrubs, back with the old 1st edition...and at least continuing until the 5th, Hillier goes with the generic name of Poncirus which is probably derived from Latin pomum fruit & citreum (or citron), from “Citrus tree.” In the Hillier's 8th edition (2014) we have somehow arrived at an improved classification, and today we are instructed that the Poncirus genus (in the Rutaceae family), is more accurately included in the Citrus genus (also in the Rutaceae family). The “Japanese bitter orange” flowers white, then evolves into the production of enticing little oranges, but which are impossible to eat. I was gifted two dwarf cultivars of P. trifoliata, 'Tiny Dragon' and 'Snow Dragon', with the former exhibiting diminutive green growth, and the latter with a similar dwarf habit, but also featuring variegated leaves and stems. The new treasures are from Japan I think, for the gifter, Rick Crowder of Hawksridge Nursery in North Carolina, is a frequent visitor to the eastern Islands. Our cutting propagation, unfortunately, is not very successful, so every visitor who wants to purchase my original stock plants must be turned away.

Stewartia monadelpha 'Fuji shidare'

One reason that Buchholz plants are not for sale is because they have not reached a profitable point on the price curve. I used to hide a dozen older Stewartia monadelpha 'Fuji shidare' at Flora Farm because I knew that visitors to the main nursery would want to order them and I would have to disappoint. I needed them for scionwood if I was to continue with the rare weeping cultivar at all. Sadly our graft takes are so poor that the small percentage that make it must be grown to a larger, more profitable size. A few female plants hounds are adept at sniffing out these back-corner treasures, and if happy and attractive they always seem able to wheedle a few plants out from under me. My original two plants came from A. Shibamichi in Japan, and I was successful to acquire them because my happy, attractive wife was able to charm the old geezer into sending them, plus other choice plants. Nothing is off limits if the right woman asks.

Picea engelmannii 'Snake' 

I can sell the bizarre Picea engelmannii 'Snake' with ease, but I refused to part with my few stock plants that remain. It is such a strange Dr. Seuss-like creature that I can understand why plantsmen are attracted to it, but it is a tuff cultivar to get into production. The long, arching “snake-branches” often contain only one suitable scion for reproduction, but if you cut that off the rest of the branch will cease and eventually die completely. No two specimens will look alike, and honestly, it is one of the ugliest trees we grow, like a pathetic Charlie Brown-Christmas tree. Again, I wish I owned some secret property where I could house that which is not for sale. I once toured with an arrogant nursery big-shot who condescendingly advised me that anything not for sale should be placed on one side of the nursery, and what was for sale should be on the other...because most of what he wanted was not on the sales list. He never did buy anything from me – even though I thought I had a wonderful for sale group of plants. He had no understanding or appreciation of the difficulty to manage a wholesale nursery/arboretum, and certainly he did not have the drive and intelligence to organize my nursery any better. And by the way, I have discarded a number of employees who fit into the same category. There's nothing more useless than employing a smart-pants, college-educated knuckle-head who proclaims: “If it was my nursery I would, or would not, do this or that.” When you ask the question: “Then what would you do?” you find that the simpleton never sufficiently developed an opinion that would resolve the matter.

Pleione alishan 'Mt. Fuji'
Pleione askia 'Cinnabar'
We grow about 50 species or cultivars of Pleione, the (relatively) hardy terrestrial or epiphytic orchid. The intention is to eventually offer all of them for sale, but for most we don't yet have sufficient stock. Most species will thrive outdoors in western Oregon (USDA zone 7, 0 F), but do prefer part-shade and protection from winter wet. They are often grown in containers in a greenhouse or cold frame, then brought indoors and put on the window seal to bloom. The photo of the attractive couple above was taken on March 24, their wedding date.

Gustave Dore - Les Oceanides (Les Naiades de la mer)

Pleione 'Riah Shan'
Pleione 'Irazu'
As I wrote a couple of years ago:
The name Pleione originates in Greek mythology, and as a star she was the mother of seven daughters known as the Pleiades. At the same time the Greeks knew Pleione as an Oceanid nymph, and naturally I am partial to her when I consider her depiction in a painting by French artist Gustave Dore. There are other possible origins to the name Pleione – all of them great stories – but her name is associated with grace, speed and elegance.

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

All right, one tree that is absolutely NOT for sale, but IS for sale, is perhaps the large Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa' which lines the main road into the nursery. No plantsman from America, Japan or Europe can report of one larger or more attractive. I admit that it would be a shame to move it – to sell it – as there is the possibility that it would succumb. It's better to leave it alone, so, it's not for sale...well, unless you buy the entire nursery, which is always for sale.