Friday, February 1, 2013

Fun in the Winter Landscape

Today was cold, raining, and the fog seeped through my layers and boned me to the core. I know, I know: many of you have it worse. But at least the crew here is motivated – they have to be – and we've winnowed the workers down to the very best; and they accomplish vast amounts of work in the relentless winter weather, including the two office wimps, Eric and Seth.


Our lead grower and Director Of Most Operations (DOMO) is Phil, indeed our Majordomo. He spends countless hours bent low to the ground, collecting thousands of scions and cuttings, probably a couple of million in his career here. Not many of you could do that, and label and count accurately besides. I'd love to see if Obama or my spendthrift congressmen could come close to keeping up. Of course not, the profligate wastrels!

In addition to the industrious crew and the hum of their production, I find many visual plant treats this beginning of February. One is not overwhelmed with impressive sights now, as compared to the extravagant over-presentation of spring, but many goodies await me as I walk through the nursery.

The "Witch Hazels" are beginning to bloom, especially in the greenhouses where I take shelter when the rain comes down too hard. The hybrid x intermedia is a cross of Hamamelis japonica, from Japan of course, and Hamamelis mollis of China. I grow a few other species such as vernalis and virginiana, but the intermediate cross makes up most of our production.

Hamamelis intermedia 'Arnold's Promise'

The first, or one of the first of the hybrids to be selected, was developed at Boston's Arnold Arboretum, and eventually given the name 'Arnold's Promise'. This was in the 1920's. The best feature is its compact, vase-shaped form. We do not produce it anymore, because some of the other cultivars display larger and more clear flowers – 'Arnold's Promise' is a rather "dirty" yellow in comparison. But still!, not bad.

Hamamelis intermedia 'Arnold's Promise' on Parrotia rootstock

Parrotia persica
Fothergilla monticola

The photo of the tree (above) has an interesting story, for it was created with a half a dozen scions grafted onto Parrotia persica, about thirty years ago. The graft unions are evenly matched, plus there is less propensity to sucker as compared to grafts on Hamamelis virginiana, the common rootstock in the trade. An added bonus is that the Parrotia trunk colors marvelously with age. I've also grafted Fothergilla species, such as monticola, onto Parrotia, and an old specimen in our Display Garden looked very nice last fall.

Hamamelis intermedia 'Sunburst'
Hamamelis intermedia 'Angelly'

Hamamelis intermedia 'Angelly'

There are two cultivars of x intermedia that have surpassed 'Arnold's Promise', 'Sunburst' and 'Angelly', at least for me, for now, but new selections are constantly appearing. 'Sunburst' usually blooms before 'Angelly', so it's nice to have both cultivars, so as to prolong the flowering season. 'Angelly' was selected and named in Holland in 1985, and was an Award of Garden Merit winner by Britain's Royal Horticultural Society. And rightly so, as it is relatively slow-growing and compact, and loaded with numerous flowers even at a young age. 'Angelly' is just beginning to show blossoms now, in other years it flowers a month later, the first of March.

Hamamelis intermedia 'Ruby Glow'

Hamamelis intermedia 'Diane'

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Ruby Glow' and 'Diane' are two proven red-flowering cultivars. 'Ruby Glow' has the better form of the two, growing compact and vase-shaped, while 'Diane' can sprawl laterally. Of course one can prune to keep it in bounds, but old specimens "left to go," such as seen at Kalmthout in Belgium, where it was discovered, are now pushing into other plant specimens.

Hamamelis intermedia 'Orange Peel'

I first saw Hamamelis x intermedia 'Orange Peel' in the fall at RBG Wisley in England, and it was just beginning to display fall color, where the leaf margins were turning orange. Eventually I acquired the plant, and now I'm rewarded with bright orange flowers. If you sneak out at night, or in the morning on a cold winter's day, the witch hazel blossoms are small and curled up in a fetal position, and you might assume they're done for, that the flowering season is over. But when it warms during the day, especially if the sun appears, the flowers fully open, and completely survive the freeze.

Prunus 'Ume kyushu'

Taj Mahal

Most of these Hamamelis hybrids bloom on young plants, so the fun arrives early, and I have a habit of planting them next to our roads so that my wife can enjoy them when taking the children to school. In fact, a lot of plants are sited for her. I couldn't afford to build her a Taj Mahal, but I can impress her with my plant treasures. One such delight is Prunus 'Ume kyushu', from Japan's most southern island, but she'll have to wait a few months for that to bloom.

Mahonia x 'Arthur Menzies'

Mahonia x 'Arthur Menzies'

Mahonia x 'Arthur Menzies'

Mahonia x 'Charity'

A couple of weeks ago I boasted that our Mahonia collection featured very colorful oranges, yellows and reds on some of the foliage. Now they are in full flower, and the hummingbirds have something to be cheerful about. Mahonia x 'Arthur Menzies' and x 'Charity' are two in full bloom. 'Arthur Menzies' was selected at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, as the cross (between the tender M. lomariifolia and hardy M. bealei) survived a particularly cold winter in 1962. 'Charity' is a cross between M. japonica and M. lomariifolia, and originated at Donard Nursery in Northern Ireland.

Mahonia napaulensis 'Maharajah'

Mahonia aquifolium

Polypodium glycyrrhiza

Mahonia napaulensis 'Maharajah' is a beauty, but I keep it indoors, afraid to plant out this (perhaps) tender Asian species. It is commonly known as the "Nepal Mahonia" and also the "Indian Barberry." The berries can be used as a diuretic, or used in the treatment of dysentery. My grandmother used to make jelly out of Mahonia aquifolium, which – with enough sugar – was tartly delicious. Indeed, when hiking through the Oregon woods in fall, I frequently will pop a berry into my mouth. Not to eat, but to play around with and savor. I do the same with roots of the "Licorice Fern," Polypodium glycyrrhiza for a cheap thrill.

Daphne bholua

Ah, raining heavily now. Let's step into our warm GH20, for there's always something happening in there. Immediately slamming into my senses is Daphne bholua. It's native to the same Himalayan range as Mahonia napaulensis, and is known as the "Nepalese Paper Plant." We grow a form from a Portland-area garden that has survived outdoors for a number of years...but I'm afraid to ask if it is still alive. In GH20 it retains most of its leaves through winter, but outdoors it will not. The perfume is heady, and you could be excused for not liking it, but the hummingbirds do, as they dart dangerously from plant to plant, the possessive little brats.

Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Gold Rush'

Edgeworthia chrysantha at Elk Rock

Further into the greenhouse are the Edgeworthias, and chrysantha 'Gold Rush' is showing yellow blooms. It differs a little from the type with sturdy branches and robust growth. Edgeworthias can survive Oregon's winters outside; in fact one venerable old specimen has survived in Portland's Elk Rock garden for years.

Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Akabana'

Rhododendron edgeworthia

Edgeworthia 'Akabana' is showing its orange-red blossoms. I have seen it listed as the papyrifera species, and sometimes as chrysantha, but I'm not sure exactly which one it is. What I do know is that the cultivar name – 'Akabana' – is correct, not 'Akebono' like you often see in the trade. I have no photos of the cultivar 'Red Dragon', and that's because my source has never produced red flowers. Edgeworthia was named for the Irishman Michael Pakenham Edgeworth, an amateur botanist and police chief, who was stationed in Northern India. He is also honored with the species Rhododendron edgeworthia, a highly fragrant tree that will be blooming in a couple of months. I was kindly given the Rhododendron as a gift from Far Reaches Farm in northern Washington state, when what I really was asking about was the red-flowering form of the genus Edgeworthia; but I took my prize home, and overall I have been happily rewarded since.

Gunnera manicata

Gunnera manicata

Gunnera manicata

Gunnera tinctoria

Gunnera tinctoria

GH20 visitors, and even employees, are amazed by the next sight – it's the bizarre flower mounds of Gunnera manicata. These weird protrusions, no two alike, will flower later, as well as produce some leaves. Of course Gunnera, at least some species, are famous for their enormous mature leaves, and English gardeners have been known to hunker down under them, to wait out a summer shower and smoke a fag. The genus was named after Johan E. Gunnerus. Gunnera tinctoria has huge leaves as well. The species manicata comes from southern Brazil, while tinctoria is from southern Chile and Argentina.

Gunnera at Holehird

The Gunnera photo above could be from either species, but I couldn't find a label. It was growing in the wonderful garden of the English estate, Holehird in the beautiful Lake District.

Back outside, the rain has paused. Clouds and fog still swirl about, but occasionally the sun breaks through. The wet road has exotic-looking puddles, and the gleam of jewel-like gravel is so sparkling that it's hard to focus. Low-sun shadows are creeping about, but up on the surrounding hills I see the snow, and no wonder it's cold.

Abies concolor 'Wintergold'

Abies concolor 'Wintergold'

Abies concolor 'Wintergold' in spring

I'm proud to grow two fantastic specimens of Abies concolor 'Wintergold'. Left naturally, one attained a pyramidal form, and is now eight feet tall; the other never put up a leader, and is now only two feet tall by eight feet wide. Both display rich-yellow foliage in winter, but are equally choice in spring, when chartreuse new growth contrasts with the older golden needles. 'Wintergold' should be grown in full sun for best color and density. It was selected in Germany in 1959 at the Gunter Horstmann Nursery of Schneverdingen, but is still uncommon in American landscapes.

Abies nordmanniana 'Golden Spreader'

Abies nordmanniana 'Golden Spreader'

Abies nordmanniana 'Golden Spreader' was selected at the Shoots Nursery in The Netherlands at about the same time. Like concolor' Wintergold', some grow into a spreading form, but many eventually assume a leader. 'Golden Spreader' is the slower of the two, and although a fantastic cultivar, it takes forever to get one to decent size.

Pinus mugo 'Carsten's Winter Gold'

Pinus mugo 'Carsten's Winter Gold'

Pinus mugo 'Carsten's Winter Gold'

Pinus mugo 'Ophir'

One final golden conifer is Pinus mugo 'Carsten's Winter Gold', and this has been the winter when it has shown the strongest gold color. Ok, one more golden mugo: 'Ophir', which is an old Dutch selection, and particularly attractive for its softer yellow winter foliage.

Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'


Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'

I hope to not bore you with my constant hyping of Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker', growing low and dense, but it commands attention. I planted a dozen on a mini-mound, and some day they'll grow together and look like one huge specimen.

The mutation on Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Green Globe'

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Phil's Flurries'

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Phil's Flurries'

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Drath Hexe'

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Imbricata Pendula'

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Imbricata Pendula'

We have begun propagating our "Lawson Cypress" cultivars, all on disease resistant rootstock (DR™). An attractive new selection is 'Phil's Flurries', which originated as a colorful mutation from the very dwarf 'Green Globe'. If grown in the greenhouse, or in shade, the variegation is cream-white; if grown in sun it is more yellow. 'Drath Hexe' was originally thought to be an obtusa cultivar, but it would always die on its own roots. Of course we now know that it is a lawsoniana, so we graft to good success on DR™. 'Imbricata Pendula' is fast-growing with long, slender whipcord foliage, and I think one of the most graceful of the conifers.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Rigid Dwarf'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Contorta'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Green Cushion'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Stoneham'

The Chamaecyparis obtusas, or "Hinokis," are richly green and actually glow in the winter scape. One specimen of 'Rigid Dwarf' featured little pea-size cones, one of the momentary delights when the winter sun shined upon it. 'Contorta' did the same thing last year. The bun forms, like 'Green Cushion', and 'Stoneham' don't produce cones, even after thirty years, but they are attractive little gumdrops in the rock garden and in troughs.

 Acer palmatum 'Bihou'

Acer circinatum 'Pacific Fire'

The sun was toying with me, coming and going. One minute the wind and rain would slap me sideways, then the next everything was clear and sparkling, and tolerably warm. Two final plants impressed me with their colorful bark: Acer palmatum 'Bihou' and Acer circinatum 'Pacific Fire'. These two trees will allow you to enjoy being outdoors in the middle of winter, as long as you are dressed properly.


  1. Questo blog è veramente splendido! Lo seguirò con piacere :D

    Un saluto.

  2. Is there a particular cultivar of Parrotia that is favored for rootstock when grafting smaller plants such as Fothergilla or Hamamelis? I came across this post as I purchased a grafted witch hazel in winter a couple of years ago, and discovered in the spring that it was not the witch hazel I had purchased—I had not noticed at the time that the scion had died. It took me a couple years to identify that the rootstock was Parrotia persica, but in the meantime I left the tree where I had planted it as I still loved the glossy leaves and fine form. The only problem is that it was planted in a location that would have worked fine for a witch hazel, but not for a full-size tree—three feet from my house, ten feet below a window. The standard Parrotia would surely outgrow the space, but I am reluctant to move it as I have read it dislikes transplanting. Thanks in advance for any information! I have no idea which nursery propagated it, so I am asking around.