Friday, January 4, 2013

Buchholz in the Old Days

We were clearing out the office storage room the other day, dumping what was unnecessary, as everyone should do periodically. As I pondered the archives I could only chuckle when reminiscing about past office employees and their general disorganized and costly activities. Here was  the evidence, and in hindsight they had little clue about what they were doing; but since I wasn't computer literate then, I couldn't tell just how bad it actually was. I must give a lot of credit to the current office administration, Seth and Eric, for they have put the past into its proper, if deplorable context, and apologies to those who had to deal with us at that time.

Anyway, I came across a storage box, with annual notebooks filled with hand-written (mine) grafting tabulations from the 1980's. We dumped most of the notebooks, but I kept one from 26 years ago, and I found the entries to be amusing, interesting…historic even. For it was a far different world even one year ago, let alone 26 years ago! The records reveal what "was going on in horticulture" in the eighties.

Well, let me restate that, for I shouldn't say, "what was going on in horticulture," but rather: what was working for me in horticulture. Buchholz Nursery and the Flora Wonder Arboretum were in the beginning stages, and I was surprised that I could succeed in spite of limited experience and knowledge. Yeah, then, for sure the employees were dumb, but so was I. But we rooted and grafted a bunch of stuff and sold most of it; and now, after 32 years, I conclude that we actually did make a significant contribution to the overall vitality of the American nursery industry, and to gardening in general.

If I calculate our actual impact on the "green-goods" economy, the estimated dollar figure strikes me as astounding. We focused on the "new," the "different" and the "rare" in horticulture, for whatever that was worth. But if all that we propagated was tabulated in final retail dollar sales, I think the figure would shock you, as it does me. This little "accidental" Gaston business generated perhaps half a billion dollars­­­­ in eventual retail sales. Yes, after 32 years I estimate it to be so. And besides, we also introduced new cultivars of maples, conifers and other trees and shrubs that have added to the exciting palette of horticulture. BUT!, as my six-year-old daughter, Saya, says, "you shouldn't brag about yourself." So, sorry then.

Abies koreana 'Silberlocke'

Now, back to the propagation records. An entry indicated that we grafted two scions of Abies koreana 'Silberlocke', which was originally 'Horstmann's Silberlocke'. These two scions were kindly given to me by Don Howse, of Porterhowse Farms, and were undoubtedly among the very first in America. 'Silberlocke' generated instant sales in the early years, and rightfully so, as the shiny needles curved around the shoots, delivering glittery amazement. We all considered it a "dwarf," but not so, for I have seen twenty-foot-tall specimens now. We also learned that it should be placed in full sun for best color.

But alas, the party is mostly over for 'Silberlocke'. It is fairly easy to propagate, and a ten-year-old tree can produce a couple hundred scions, so that now you'll find 'Silberlocke' in the most plebian of nurseries. A well-grown specimen of large size is still easy for us to sell, but smaller plants arouse very little interest.

Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'

In fact, we have substituted 'Silberlocke' production with Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker', which originated as a 'Silberlocke' witch's broom. 'Ice Breaker' was discovered and introduced by G. Kohout from East Germany, and it is far more garden-worthy for its low, compact size and dazzling silvery needles. It is a true dwarf that you always look down at, rather than up at.

Abies squamata

Abies squamata 'Flaky'
Acer griseum

The mid-eighties was a time where I cut every scion and grafted most of them. And then most of the successful grafts were sold at the liner stage; quick cash for a tiny start-up company was essential. My notebook also revealed that I grafted 13 Abies squamata, where my source was the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. Unfortunately these proved to not be true-to-name, and were eventually dumped. Another source for squamata was the nursery of the (very) late Henry Hohman of Kingsville, Maryland, and it proved to be correct. I called it 'Flaky' to keep it separate from the wrong source, and I have been rewarded for years with this Chinese species' very handsome foliage and its flaking bark that rivals Acer griseum even.

Abies pindrow

Dr. Lewis (L) and Dr. Bump (R) with Tsuga mertensiana 'Bump's Blue' at Porterhowse Farms

Tsuga mertensiana 'Bump's Blue'

Acer palmatum 'Tiger Rose'

I was also very taken with Abies pindrow in those days, and still am. I have a group in the Flora Wonder Arboretum that probably are as large as any in Oregon, and I was pleased fifteen years ago to see it in the wild in the western Himalaya. Pindrow is hardy to at least USDA zone 7, except that new growth is damaged by hard spring frosts, every decade or so. Older trees easily recover, however. This "true fir" species ultimately grows into a straight narrow spire, except that it is very slow to get one into a sizable tree-form. Rounded resinous buds swell to large size in early spring, followed by luxuriantly drooping light-green foliage which contrasts with the older dark-green needles. My start of pindrow came from the estate of Otto Solburger, a nearby Christmas tree grower, who devoted a couple of acres to a world-wide collection of conifers. He passed away before I could meet him, but his widow was generous, and delighted that I showed interest in the collection, and was more than happy to allow me to cut scions. Solburger's pindrow was eventually cut down by his logger son, who was in the collection "thinning stuff out," for he deemed a nearby "Norway Spruce" to be the more desirable of the two crowded trees. I was turned onto the Solburger collection by Dr. Forrest Bump (what a great name for a plantsman!) of nearby Forest Grove. As you can see, I had many positive influences and helping hands in my early years. Dr. Bump (besides fixing my broken ankle when I was sixteen) discovered, and gave me starts of Tsuga mertensiana 'Bump's Blue' and Acer palmatum 'Tiger Rose'.

Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Skyline'

Back to Solburger's fabulous conifers. He also grew a bizarre snake-branch form of "Douglas Fir," Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Skyline' possibly named for Skyline Blvd. in Portland, Oregon's west hills. The only problem with that theory is that 'Skyline's needles are bluish, and the native Douglas Firs are green. So I don't know if it originated as a seedling or a mutation, or even in Oregon at all, but I always drive slow when I'm on Skyline Blvd. in hopes that I can spot the original. Another memory of this tree was hearing an impressed Dick van Hoey Smith (of Arboretum Trompenburg in Rotterdam) pronouncing 'Skyline' to be "absolutely fantastic!" A photo can be seen in van Hoey Smith's Conifers, The Illustrated Encyclopedia, volume 2, on page 590; or note my photo above from our original Display Garden.

Abies concolor 'Candicans'

Abies concolor 'Glauca Compacta'

Abies koreana 'Nanaimo'

Abies koreana 'Nanaimo'

Abies koreana 'Nanaimo'

Again, in my early days, I was a seller of grafts, My notebook indicates we grafted 300 Abies pinsapo 'Glauca' (the "Blue Spanish Pin Fir"), over 700 Abies concolor 'Candicans' ("Candicans White Fir"), 300 Abies concolor 'Glauca Compacta' ("Compact White Fir") and 300 Abies koreana 'Nanaimo' ("Nanaimo Korean Fir"). My start of 'Nanaimo' came from a German nurseryman who relocated to the town of Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, Canada, one who took an interest in me because of my German surname I guess. So these four Abies cultivars were our bread and butter in those days.

Abies cilicica

I'll mention one final Abies that we produced that year, Abies cilicica, which I misspelled as "cilicia" then. It was also growing in the Solburger collection, and I assumed that the species was of Sicilian origin. It is not (Abies nebrodensis is, though) as the "Cilician Fir" hails from the Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey. Our original, thirty-year-old specimen resides in the Blue Forest, and annually produces an abundance of cones, which are the longest in the genus. Abies cilicica is hardy to USDA zone 6 on its own roots; however we graft it onto more hardy rootstock.

Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis

I was able to sell a lot of "Birch" in the mid-eighties, and cranked out over 400 Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis, all of which were grafted on Betula pendula. This Chinese species is famous for its pinkish cream-orange exfoliating bark, and I've never seen a true plant-snob's garden that didn't have at least one. "Septentrionalis" is a fancy way to indicate that it comes from the northern range of the species (from Latin septen triones, meaning "seven plough oxen," referring to the seven stars of Ursa Major, a constellation dominated by the "Big Dipper," or the "Plough" in the U.K., which is a useful pointer toward north).

Betula utilis in the Himalaya

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii

Naturally, we also produced Betula jacquemontii, which is more properly classified as Betula utilis var. jacquemontii. This species is from the Himalaya, and is perhaps the most white of any tree trunk. Its name honors Victor Jacquemont, a French botanist who travelled in the Himalaya in the early 1800's. Sadly he died of disease at age 31 in Bombay, a city that has certainly taken its toll. The species name utilis is Latin Ε«tor for "useful," as the wood serves many purposes to the native mountain dwellers, in particular for firewood.

Betula pendula 'Filigree Lace'

Betula pendula 'Trost's Dwarf'

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair'

We grew almost 600 Betula pendula 'Trost's Dwarf', which was fairly new at the time, but one that you don't see in the trade much anymore. 'Trost's Dwarf' grows well in Oregon, in my garden at least, but it tends to defoliate by July in other parts of the country. The cultivar was named for a Mr. Trost of Medford, Oregon, I've been told, who discovered it as a "sport" mutation on an otherwise normal "European Birch." 'Trost's' Dwarf' is often said to resemble a delicate green-leaf Japanese Maple, and overall it does provide the same type of landscape presence as our own Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair'. A cultivar similar to 'Trost's Dwarf' is Betula pendula 'Filigree Lace', a cultivar discovered as a seedling (I think) by Terra Nova Nursery in Oregon.

Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca'

Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca Pendula'

Enough of birches, and onto "True Cedars." They were very popular a quarter-century ago, especially the "Blue Atlas Cedar," Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca' and the "Weeping Atlas Cedar," Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca Pendula'. We grafted a thousand of the former and nearly two thousand of the latter. This past year we sold our final dozen of the 'Glauca Pendulas', and we'll dump the handful of 'Glaucas' that are left, as nobody wants them (from me) anymore. I'm sure that between the two cultivars Buchholz Nursery sold over 100,000 in the past 32 years. But we're the "pregnant widow" now, a term I copied from Martin Amis's novel of the same name, which refers to the end of an era, but the beginning of a new era.

Cedrus libani 'Green Prince'

A 40-year-old Cedrus libani 'Green Prince' at the Pond House

One Cedrus that is not a pregnant widow is libani 'Green Prince'. They still sell well for us, except that there's very little profit as they are so slow-growing. There are a number of stories about the origin of 'Green Prince', but stories from plantsmen who are otherwise sketchy must be suspect. One story has it that it was originally considered to be a "Mountain Hemlock," Tsuga mertensiana. Clearly it's not; but whether it truly is a species of libani I cannot say, for the botanists still quibble about Cedrus classification at the species level, let alone at the cultivar level. Apparently there were two original seedlings anyway, and the second one, the smaller of the two, was dubbed 'Green Knight'…or was it the other way around? The largest 'Green Prince' that I've seen, on earth, grows by our Pond House. I estimate it to be forty years old, and most conifer experts are surprised to learn that it's really a 'Green Prince'; in fact I had to detour the road past it because it had grown so much.

I'll conclude with Cupressus, the true cypress genus. Cupressus glabra 'Blue Pyramid' was imported from New Zealand in 1979 by a large Oregon nursery I used to work for. I commented on them, as they were completely new to American horticulture, and I liked their glittery-blue skeletal appearance, so I bought the lot. I can't remember if they were on their own roots or grafted onto something, but they grew well in the field. I took one to the Far West nursery show and it was a hit, and was absolutely the best-looking new plant that was seen for years.

Cupressus arizonica 'Blue Column'

The only problem with 'Blue Pyramid' was that the tops grew fast, but the roots couldn't keep up, and after a strong winter wind, the crop would be leaning sideways. My records from the mid-eighties show that we used Cupressocyparis leylandii 'Castlewellan', Thuja orientalis and Juniperus scopulorum 'Skyrocket', and, when planted out, the tops all grew equally, except that the graft unions were never smooth on any rootstock. Probably the best rootstock of all is Cupressus arizonica (many botanists now consider glabra to be a subspecies of arizonica), but even that rootstock can't keep up with its top. One of the arizonica seedlings impressed me with its striking blue foliage, and eventually it grew into a compact spire, and was introduced as 'Blue Column'.

My notebook indicates that we grafted over 2,000 'Blue Pyramids' that year, and another entry indicates that we grafted nearly 500 Cupressus glabra 'Blue Ice', which we carefully kept separate. Someone suggested that 'Blue Ice' was just a renaming of 'Blue Pyramid', and they both came (to me) from the same New Zealand company. Since I couldn't see any difference anyway, I eventually chose 'Blue Ice' as the source of all scions. Sales of new grafts went from strong to poor by the mid-nineties, and today we don't produce 'Blue Ice' at all, and nobody's crying about it either. I don't even own one anymore, but I know of at least two places in little nearby Forest Grove, Oregon, which display good-looking healthy large specimens which only could have come from my grafting bench; and so I "own" them instead, and fondly recall that I had a small part in the evolution of horticulture.

Cupressus cashmeriana

One final Cupressus is cashmeriana, so named because it was once spotted at a temple in Kashmir, India (or Kashmir, Pakistan, if you belong to the Muslim Brotherhood). But no one had seen them in the wild, and it was speculated to perhaps be a juvenile form of Cupressus torulosa. Recent literature (Debreczy, Racz in Conifers from Around the World) reveals that Bhutan is its country of origin, with newly discovered stands and a single tree that is reported to be over 300' tall, which would make it the tallest tree in Asia.

The fuss about Cupressus cashmeriana is because it's a singularly beautiful conifer. Fine blue foliage gracefully droops, all supported by a reddish-brown trunk. Sadly it is only hardy to about USDA zone 8.

Now, what would be a suitable rootstock for Cupressus cashmeriana? I had acquired a stock tree from a British Columbia plantsman, and nobody was growing it in the USA at that time, I supposed. Well, like the Cupressus glabra 'Blue Pyramid', I tried a number of rootstocks for a number of years, and the best by far was Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd' – not just any Thuja occidentalis, but the cultivar 'Smaragd'. The graft union on a mature tree is barely noticeable. We only grafted a few that year, and we've never grown too many because of the hardiness issue, but the trial-and-error effort by Buchholz Nursery is one thing that distinguished us in that period: that we endeavored to find a way to make rare species available. Of course it could be said that I squandered my retirement funds on too many experiments, many of which ultimately failed.

Buchholz in the Himalayan foothills

So there you have it: a little slice from my early career. I've worked in horticulture for 39 years now, which is odd, because most people estimate me to be only 39 years old.


  1. I'm sad to read you will be dumping the Blue Atlas Cedars. Just this past year one local nursery has started offering them here in the South. I think they absolutely stunning!
    Kindest regards,

  2. awesome in love withyour trees