Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The "Other" Plants

We grow three kinds of plants, as many of you have heard me explain before: 1) maples, 2) conifers and 3) everything else. A good business plan might be to grow the three in equal numbers. In the past I felt secure to produce a lot of different plants, but everything in small numbers -- and today is no different. To be sure, the bulk growers made more money than I did in the good years, but now some have gone bankrupt. The problem with a bankrupt nursery is that they don't just go away, but rather are forced to sell at half price, to sell at less than it cost to produce the plant, which does us solid "good guys" no good. Those who fail, and then take drastic measures thereafter, are harmful to the overall good of the industry, including themselves should they reorganize and expect to make a future profit.

Well, enough, I shouldn't be preaching to the choir. Business has never been easy, and I have been grinding for 32 years, but at least I am still here. One essential component for success is to provide new and interesting plants, and also to present them in new and interesting ways. Today I focus on the third category of our product, the "everything else" group.

The everything else group can range from alpine miniatures to perennials, to woody plants from dwarf to huge. Many are no longer in production (for various reasons) such as Abutilon, Fuchsia, Betula...and hundreds more. But they have been replaced with gobs of new things such as Acanthus, Bergenia, Daphne and Zelkova to name just a few.

Acanthus spinosus

Acanthus 'Whitewater'

Acanthus is commonly called "Bear's Breeches," but I have little clue as to why, except that the flower could be said to resemble a bear's foot? I've grown the species spinosus for many years, and even though it is native to the eastern Mediterranean, it has proved winter hardy in our zone 7 climate, and some claim that it even survives in their zone 5 gardens. Large green leaves are thistle-like (hence spinosus) and deeply divided. In summer the white flowers are topped with a hooded purple bract, and the flower spikes can rise to 3' tall in good soil. We are currently selling the cultivar 'Whitewater', although I do not know if it is the species spinosus or a hybrid. This perennial is best sited with afternoon shade, as some leaves can emerge pure white...which then burn when we reach 100 degrees F.

Bergenia cordifolia 'Winterglut'

Bergenia 'Pink Dragonfly'

Bergenia 'Lunar Glow'

Bergenia is a semi-evergreen perennial from Asia, and I have seen it in the wild at 8,000 ft. in northern India, thriving on a water-drenched cliff face. Some species are hardy to -30 degrees F, USDA zone 4. 'Winterglut' and 'Pink Dragonfly' are two exciting cultivars that thrive in our garden. The new cultivar 'Lunar Glow' shows much promise as the dark pink flowers contrast dramatically with creamy-yellow leaves. It can be grown in full sun with adequate water, but is probably best in afternoon shade. Leaves on all of the Bergenia can turn a rich burgundy-red in winter.

Daphne genkwa
Daphne genkwa Hackenberry Group

Daphnes consist of 50 or so species, and are most famous for their heady odor in early spring. We grow quite a number of species and cultivars, but I'll only mention a few. Daphne genkwa, an Asian species, is sparsely branched and tends to flop if not supported, but produces lightly fragrant flowers in April. It is listed as hardy to USDA zone 5, but can be frosted into submission in either fall or late spring. It is known as the "Lilac Daphne," while the "Hackenberry Group" is a clone or clones with lighter-colored flowers than the type, at least in our nursery. This (or these) arose as seedlings raised by Don Hackenberry from seed originating in the wild in China, collected by the Beijing Botanic Garden.

Daphne bholua

Paper making in Nepal with Daphne bholua

Daphne bholua is from the eastern Himalaya, and I have seen it in the wild. It flowers in late winter with soft pink blooms which are immensely fragrant. The odor in our GH20 begins at Christmas, and some find it unpleasantly overwhelming. I have seen this species harvested in Nepal to make high-quality paper, and fortunately the plant resprouts so it is sustainable. All important Nepalese documents, such as marriage certificates, wills and governmental decrees are printed on bholua, or at least they used to be twenty years ago. As ornamentals, their main limitation is the fact that they have finished blooming before the casual gardener ventures to his retail garden center.

Daphne cneorum 'Alba'

Daphne cneorum 'Exima'

Daphne cneorum 'Lela Haines'

Daphne cneorum, the "Garland Flower" or "Rose Daphne," is a low-growing evergreen species from southern Europe. This species loves the sun, but must be placed in moist well-drained soil. They do well in our rock gardens, but we're not so successful to grow them in containers. Cultivar 'Alba' produces white flowers, 'Exima' is a more prostrate form with larger leaves and flowers than the type, while 'Lela Haines' features lavender-pink blossoms that can entirely cover the plant.

Daphne jezoensis

Daphne rosettii

Daphne jezoensis is a Japanese species with yellow flowers, and while it looks nice when blooming, the plant defoliates in summer, so I must be diligent to keep the work crew from dumping the plants every year. Daphne rosettii should probably be spelled with a capital "R," for it is a natural hybrid between cneorum and laureola philippii and was originally found in the Pyrenees. Flowers are said (Hillier) to be red but on my stock plants they are cream white. The foliage is a handsome olive green. For what it's worth, Hillier's spells the hybrid slightly different: Rossetii.

Daphne mezereum

Daphne tangutica

Daphne retusa

The species Daphne mezereum is an upright deciduous shrub, but one we've never propagated. In fact it popped up in our original display garden, and no one claims to have planted it, so we accuse the birds. The Chinese Daphne retusa blooms in May and June, later than most, and Daphne tangutica is also Chinese, but differs from retusa with longer leaves and an earlier bloom. Tangutica was introduced by E.H. "Chinese" Wilson in the early 1900's.

Daphne x burkwoodii 'Brigg's Moonlight'

Daphne x burkwoodii 'Brigg's Moonlight'

The most spectacular Daphne cultivar is likely x burkwoodii (caucasica x cneorum) 'Brigg's Moonlight'. This selection features white leaves with green margins, and surprisingly can take full sun for us. The plant forms an upright shrub and can be completely smothered with white flowers in May. The caucasica influence is important, for 'Brigg's Moonlight' is considered fairly easy to grow, at least compared to the cneorums.

"Daphne" is a nice name for a flowering shrub with intense fragrance. It is of Greek origin, meaning "Laurel Tree." As a desirable nymph, Daphne was changed into a laurel tree to protect her from the advances of Apollo. As a response Apollo made a crown out of her branches and leaves to be near her, and so he could spend his days resting under her laurels.

Zelkova serrata

Zelkova serrata

Zelkova serrata 'Goshiki'

Zelkova serrata 'Aurea'

Zelkova serrata is a medium-size to large deciduous tree with a broad canopy. It is an excellent Asian species for parks and large arboreta. The flaking bark is most ornamental, especially in winter, with hues of gray, green and orange on larger specimens. The cultivar 'Aurea' features beautiful pinnate lemon-yellow leaves, while 'Goshiki' has small green leaves delightfully specked with white.

Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Ron's Variegated'
Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Kembu'

Osmanthus is a holly-like evergreen shrub which produces small but fragrant white or cream-white flowers. Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Kembu' is a dense upright shrub with yellow-edged leaves, while 'Ron's Variegated' has green and white-variegated leaves. For us, both bloom in November.

Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Sasaba'

Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Aureomarginatus'

Osmanthus heterophyllus (yes, the leaves are opposite) 'Sasaba' is a form with curious dark-green triangular lobes. I first encountered 'Aureomarginatus' in Holland at Rotterdam's Arboretum Trompenburg, and it glowed brilliantly in the gloomy rain.

Osmanthus decorus 'Baki Kasapligil'

All Osmanthus are in the olive family, Oleaceae. A little known species decorus, with a cultivar name of 'Baki Kasapligil', was obtained from Dan Hinkley of old Heronswood fame. I don't recall it ever blooming; in fact, where is the plant now anyway? Dan claims it was from the Pontic Alps of northeast Turkey, and hardy to USDA zone 6. All I remember were the long, linear evergreen leaves. Baki Kasapligil was a botanist from Turkey who later taught in America.

Osmanthus delavayi

Osmanthus delavayi

My favorite Osmanthus species is delavayi, and the specimen shown above was from the Bishop's Close garden in south Portland, Oregon. Branches are willowy with small green leaves. Fragrant jasmine-like flowers cover the shrub in April to the delight of bees and garden visitors. It was introduced by the Abbe Delavay from Yunnan, China in 1890, and though I seldom see it in modern landscapes, I wouldn't be without it.

Nandina domestica 'Firepower'

Nandina domestica 'Wood's Dwarf'

Nandina domestica 'Moon Bay'

Nandina domestica 'Chirimen'

Nandina domestica 'Senbazuru'

Nandina domestica 'Senbazuru'

We have a number of Nandina domestica ("Heavenly Bamboo") cultivars in our garden, and they are best I think in winter with their red foliage. 'Firepower', 'Moon Bay' and 'Wood's Dwarf' form compact dwarf balls. However, we have only two cultivars in production at this time: 'Chirimen' and 'Senbazuru'. 'Chirimen' is the larger of the two, and my oldest specimen is two feet tall by five feet wide at about twenty years of age. Yellow-green thread-like leaves appear on slender stems, then turn to orange-red in winter. 'Senbazuru' is a miniature, growing to only 1 1/2 feet tall and wide in twenty years. Both cultivars will flower, but we cut off the blooms as they are not as attractive as the foliage.

Quercus dentata 'C. F. Miller'

Quercus dentata 'Pinnatifida'

Quercus dentata 'Pinnatifida'

No one really thinks of Buchholz Nursery as purveyors of oaks, but we actually do have a fair number of Quercus selections. Quercus dentata 'C. F. Miller' is an upright tree with large glossy-green leaves. This form of the "Emperor Oak" is equally attractive in fall and winter as the rich brown leaves persist. 'Pinnatifida' is the "Cut Leaf Daimyo Oak" and is famous for its bizarre foliage.

Quercus robur 'Concordia'

Quercus robur 'General Polaski'

Quercus robur ("English Oak") 'Concordia' is a tree that thrives in full Oregon sun, and it is surprising that the rich butter-yellow leaves can take the heat. 'General Polaski' is a crinkled, mutant form of English oak with blue-green leaves. Despite its problematic appearance ("Gee, what didya spray it with? Ha. Ha.") we always sell out quickly when we do have a few available. It is proof that even an ugly tree can have a market.

Remember the theme of today's web log, that we grow three categories of plants: maples, conifers and everything else. In many respects, the "everything else" group is the most fun, and certainly contains the most diversity. The group of "Alpine Plants" doesn't necessarily mean that they come from true alpine zones, but rather that they look good in an alpine-like garden.

Dianthus arvernensis

Dianthus arvernensis

Dianthus 'Blue Hills'

Dianthus 'Blue Hills'

Dianthus arvernensis forms a miniature bun of blue-green foliage. Light pink flowers appear on wiry 2" stems, and as with all Dianthus (carnations, pinks) it performs best in full sun in well-drained soil. Dianthus 'Blue Hills' features eye-catching blue foliage with magenta-pink flowers on 6" stems. Both of these plants are wonderful in the rock garden, or along a border, and we occasionally add them to our alpine troughs.

Arabis x suendermannii

Arabis x suendermannii

Draba brunifolia

Aubrieta gracilis ssp. scardica

Aubrieta gracilis ssp. scardica

We also add an Arabis hybrid, x suendermannii, to our alpine troughs. It is a miniature with pretty white flowers. Draba brunifolia is a dense green mound with bright yellow flowers in spring. Aubrieta gracilis ssp. scardica is a slowly spreading groundcover, only growing to 3-4" tall. Soft-lavender four petaled flowers adorn the plant in spring.

As you see, our "everything else" has ranged from alpines to mighty oaks. Next week I'll continue with this diverse group.

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