Friday, April 19, 2013

Freak Show



I have been practicing horticulture (from Latin hortus, "garden" and cultura, "cultivation") for thousands of years, ever since my fellow hunter-gatherers and I transitioned into sedentary life. My peers found it necessary to grow food crops, as survival was the primary motivation, and procreation was the preferred pastime. Fortunately in our present society, many of us have extra time on our hands to draw in caves and carve out objects, to please ourselves with the unnecessary. Some of us went beyond food, then medicine, as the reason to cultivate, and grew plants only to impress ourselves and others with nature's beauty and bounty. We supply ornamentals (from Latin ornare, "adorn"), which we trade for our essentials, so that we too can survive and procreate.

We didn't invent anything. We took what nature had to offer, then selected or bred what we supposed would be the most appealing. We found that we could impress you with what was abnormal, unnatural, what was different from what you usually see. You are intrigued with the freaks: the miniature, the extra-large, the non-green, the plants with unusual shapes. Some of you fall for the exotic, for its own sake.

Colobanthus quitensis

Speaking of exotic, I grow Colobanthus quitensis, a flowering plant that survives in Antarctica – one of only two – and a few of you are impressed enough with that novelty that you're willing to give me money to have one. Weeds are the bane of my nursery, but if an oxalis, liverwort or pearlwort was discovered on the moon, I would be among the first to propagate it, and every one of you readers would buy it from me. But we'll stay down on Earth, for there is plenty amazing right here.


Quercus dentata 'Pinnatifida'



























Quercus dentata 'Pinnatifida'


One of the most bizarre plants we grow is Quercus dentata 'Pinnatifida'. It looks for all the world like an Amazonian tropical, but it is very hardy. Normally the dentata species, the Asian "Daimyo Oak," is a handsome medium-size tree with large rich-green leaves. It is also attractive in fall and winter, for the leaves change to orange, then brown, and they persist throughout the winter. They don't at all look like dead leaves, but rather alive and glowing-brown. The cultivar 'Pinnatifida' (from Latin pinnatus "feathered") features large leaves with deeply cut narrow lobes, indented nearly to the mid vein, almost like a Philodendron bipinnatifidum. By the way, the Philodendron name is derived from two Greek words, phil, "love" and dendron, "tree," presumably because they love to twine up and around trees.



























Quercus robur 'General Pulaski'


Quercus robur, the "English Oak," has a cultivar, 'General Pulaski', with disturbing, crinkled dark-green leaves. It is ugly, don't you think? But it is so ugly, so weird that we never have trouble to sell them. It grows slowly upright and narrow, so it can become a conversation piece in a small garden. And you can suppose that your neighbors and friends will probably never acquire one. This cultivar was named to honor General Casimir Pulaski, a Polish noble who met Benjamin Franklin in Paris. Franklin encouraged him to support the colonies against England in the American Revolution. He distinguished himself in the War and became known as the Father of the American Cavalry. Sadly a cannon ball ended his life at the age of 34, just when George Washington had great plans for him.




























Quercus robur 'Concordia'



 
 




















Quercus robur 'Purpurea'


Nobody would ever buy a regular English Oak from me, but I always sell out of the golden form, 'Concordia', and the purple form, 'Purpurea'. Both can be grown in full sun in Oregon without scorching, or without "being stained by the sun," as the Dutch say. 'Concordia' grows into a small rounded tree, and the leaves stay yellow all spring and summer. It is not a new cultivar; it was selected in the 1840's at Van Geert's Nursery in Ghent, Belgium.

The word purple comes from Old English purpul, that from Latin purpura, and that from Greek porphura. Quercus robur 'Purpurea' is deep purple in spring, and by the end of summer it evolves to greenish-purple. For us it grows at the same rate as the golden 'Concordia', forming a rounded crown also, and the two look fantastic planted next to each other. The robur species is named "English Oak" if you're in England, but "French Oak" if you're from France. Imagine that. Quercus is Latin for "oak" and robur is Latin for "strength," or "hard timber."

Ginkgo biloba 'Marieken'

Ginkgo biloba 'Marieken'



























Ginkgo biloba 'Troll'


Ginkgo biloba 'Troll'


























Ginkgo biloba 'Munchkin'


Ginkgo biloba 'Spring Grove'

Everybody loves Ginkgoes, and my daughter Harumi could identify a Ginkgo by sight anywhere when she was two years old. I'm partial to the dwarf forms, and their fall color is equal to any of the larger cultivars. 'Marieken' and 'Troll' from Europe, and 'Munchkin' and 'Spring Grove' from America are some of my favorites. The variegated selections are always enticing, but they too often revert back to green in our growing conditions. We once had a variegated seedling arise at Buchholz Nursery, but it too reverted, thankfully before I named and sold it.

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba "breasts"

The Ginkgo appeal is for a number of reasons. The tree can live to very old age, possibly to 1,500 years. Also, fossils date back to 270 million years ago, so the Ginkgoes (ichou in Japanese) are considered "living fossils." The closest tree to ground zero to survive the atomic blast in Hiroshima was a Ginkgo.

Some suggest that as a dietary supplement, Ginkgo increases circulation to the brain, which might enhance mental activity, and might even ward off illness such as Alzheimer's disease. I thought mental enhancement was a brilliant idea, a no-brainer if you will, so I diligently took the supplements for three months...but ultimately I quit, as I remained as dumb as ever. Grilled Ginkgo nuts are often eaten in Japan when drinking sake, so that would be my preference. The Japanese have a saying, that if you ingest a small amount of nuts, it will increase your intelligence, but if you eat too many, you will go crazy.


The male clone 'Autumn Gold' now produces fruit

Fruit from Ginkgo biloba 'Autumn Gold'


According to Keith Rushforth in Conifers, Ginkgo in the wild survives in two remote areas in China; and if true, I would like National Geographic or some other scientific institution do a story about it. Also, please explore the phenomena of male Ginkgo trees changing their sex, or at least adding the female function of bearing fruit (and that is not a pun), as has happened at my nursery and elsewhere. Yes, Ginkgoes are trending modern.

Long ago, I met a girl in college named Mia Hayes. She didn't impress me as being very smart, but that was the least of my concerns at age eighteen, as I was more fascinated with her torso. But my fascination never led to anything, and I suppose that now she is a grandmother with dentures and unappreciative children, and the grandkids never write thank-yous for her dumb birthday cards filled with five-dollar bills. Mia has faded, and my memory of her also...until I consider the corn plant. What? The corn plant? Yes, the botanical name of corn is Zea mays. Mia Hayes – Zea mays – Willie Mays: "Say Hey."

Zea mays
























Zea mays 'Tricolor'


I visited a depressing retail nursery in Idaho five years ago, and most of the plants were on their last leg, and I felt deep concern for the floundering operation. However, they had a table filled with variegated corn, Zea mays 'Tricolor'. The beautifully-colored blades looked especially vibrant when back-lit with the sun, so I just had to buy one at $7.95. At the end of summer it produced an ear with glossy black kernels, which I dried and planted the following spring...and so on. My daughter Saya tended one as well, and watered it every chance she could get, and we analyzed it every day throughout the summer. She was bitter-sweetly sad at the end of summer, when the stalks withered and the magic ended.



I considered telling you a whole bunch of facts about corn, but I would only be plagiarizing Anthony Boutard in Beautiful Corn, and his story about America's original grain from seed to plate, a book I have just finished reading. I highly recommend this fascinating account, and it turns out Mr. Boutard lives and farms just a mile down the road from me. (Ayers Creek Farm – Google it!, but first finish this blog)




























Larix kaempferi 'Diana'

Larix kaempferi 'Diana'

The larches are fairly boring trees in general, although they can be pretty in nature with fresh green spring growth and blazing fall color, but then they're dead in winter for five months. There are some freaky garden forms, however. Larix kaempferi 'Diana' was found in a German forest, and is known for twisted, spiraling branchlets, and so it is very interesting in winter. But wait a minute; what's the Japanese species kaempferi doing in a German forest? It turns out that Larix kaempferi outperforms the European native, Larix decidua, and is the preferred species for reforestation.

Larix decidua 'Horstmann's Recurved'

We've recently switch production, for the most part, from Larix kaempferi 'Diana' to Larix decidua 'Horstmann's Recurved' because the latter is even more bizarrely twisted, and some branchlets even rival a pretzel and form circles. It's another example where I could never sell the species itself, but if a cultivar is weird enough I have a market for it.





























Larix decidua 'Pendula'





























Larix decidua 'Pendula'




























Larix decidua 'Pendula'

Larix laricina 'Nash Pendula'
Larix decidua 'Puli'





























Larix decidua 'Puli'

Some of the weeping cultivars of Larix make choice garden plants. The old standby, Larix decidua 'Pendula', has been known since 1836. Larix decidua 'Puli' will hug the ground if not staked, and is wonderful in a rock garden. If staked, it will grow as tall as you keep training it, all the while remaining narrow. The name Puli is derived from a Hungarian breed of dog which has curly hair that drops straight down. Larix laricina 'Nash Pendula' is similar to 'Puli'.

Larix laricina 'Newport Beauty'

Larix laricina 'Newport Beauty'

Larix laricina 'Blue Sparkler'

Larix laricina 'Blue Sparkler'

While the larches are normally green, there are some cultivars selected for blue foliage. Larix laricina 'Newport Beauty' goes back to the beginning of my career. It would be considered a "miniature" cultivar, and will form a round shape when young, but now my original thirty-year-old specimen is only one foot tall by six feet wide, and looks rather bedraggled frankly. A more vigorous plant is the dwarf laricina 'Blue Sparkler', which is perfectly named I think, and we sell the heck out of it.

Larix gmelini 'Tharandt Dwarf'

Larix gmelini 'Tharandt Dwarf'

Larix gmelini 'Tharandt Dwarf'

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Tharandtensis Caesia'

Finally, there are many dwarf green Larix, most of which originated as witch's broom mutations. Larix gmelinii, the "Dahurian Larch," comes from the mountainous region east of Lake Baikal in Siberia; an area named for the Daur people. The species was named for Johann Gmelin, a German naturalist and botanist who lived from 1748 to 1804. Anyway, a dwarf selection of gmelinii is 'Tharandt Dwarf', which forms a low dense bun, and is the first Larix to leaf out in the spring. I assume it was selected in Germany, for Tharandt is a town near Dresden in East Germany. We also grow a dwarf "Lawson Cypress," Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Tharandtensis Caesia', which used to be known as 'Tharandtensis', and has been grown since 1890.

Sequoiadendron giganteum








Nelis Kools with his discovery, Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Little Stan'

Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Julian'

I've never shied away from miniature plants, as there are lots of plant geeks in the gardening world who delight in the very tiny. Sequoiadendron giganteum, the "Giant Redwood," is the most massive tree on earth, so how could you not fall for a dwarf form of it? 'Little Stan' was raised from a seedling by Nelis Kools of Deurne, Netherlands, and I think named for a nephew. It can be propagated by grafting onto Sequoiadendron rootstock, or as we prefer, we produce them via rooted cuttings. It's funny to include the species name giganteum when considering 'Little Stan', as it only grows to about 18" tall in ten years. Even more dwarf than 'Little Stan' is 'Julian', another Kools seedling discovery. I have received 'Julian' two different times from Nelis, but each time it took forever to received them and nothing ever survived. I told Nelis to forget it, that I'm just not meant to have it.

Sequoia sempervirens 'Kelly's Prostrate'

Sequoia sempervirens 'Kelly's Prostrate'

Sequoia sempervirens at the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection

While Sequoiadendron giganteum is the largest of all trees, the tallest is Sequoia sempervirens, the "Coast Redwood." A fascinating spreading bush is 'Kelly's Prostrate', and my oldest plants are only one foot tall by five feet wide, and the cultivar shows no inclination to produce a leader. Also, imagine the world's tallest tree reduced in size by the art of bonsai. The photo above was taken at the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection in Federal Way, Washington. You are invited to revisit the blog The Rhododendron Species Garden to see the entire collection, but you know the rules. Ordering a cup of coffee with "a little cream, no sugar" is not awesome, as the coffee girl said, but the Pacific Rim collection truly is.

The spouse of a former employee toured The Flora Wonder™ Collection for two hours on a weekend. He pronounced at the end that "nothing was normal." He would have preferred to just see regular green trees instead of Buchholz's freak show. I like green trees too, but my preposterous collection extends the range of nature, and illustrates that Flora is up to all kinds of tricks.


Flora dispensing her favours on Buchholz Nursery


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