Friday, July 19, 2013

To Propagate, Or Not To Propagate

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Every year I finger down my MPL – my Master Plant List – and consider what to root or graft. Every plant (about 5,000), no matter how new or old, is on this list, and every one of them deserves consideration, although I'll only choose to propagate about 10% of them. So why are the other 90% even here then, if they have no prospect for future sales? I have no simple answer to that question, which also might explain why I am plant rich, but money poor.

Yogi Berra, the great New York Yankee catcher, said that "when you come to a fork in the road, take it." So I could produce two blogs at this point: one being the plants I intend to propagate, or an interesting list of those I do not. A long-time customer said that my blogs were a great marketing "ploy," a means whereby I can generate interest in what I want to sell. Actually the blogs have no real purpose, other than for me to keep mentally sharp;* and I present themes based upon plants, for that is my chosen profession, my calling. So...ooo...ooo I choose to waste a good sales opportunity, and today I'll feature plants that are not on Buchholz Nursery's propagation list.

*Actually, not to "keep mentally sharp," for that implies that I am or have been sharp. Perhaps I should say "to sharpen myself;" that is more the goal, and I do learn a lot when I research the various topics.


























Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Strawberry'

Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Strawberry'

Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Raspberry'







Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Raspberry'




























Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Red Fox'



























Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Red Fox' in autumn



























Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Pendula'


This will not be a negative blog, as there are no crappy plants to discuss. Sometimes the discontinuation is because you have stopped buying them. I have not scheduled Cercidiphyllum for the first time in 33 years, though I have a few older ones left to grow and hopefully sell. There was a time when two thousand grafts was our norm. I used to produce 'Raspberries' and 'Strawberries', various weepers and the purple-leaf upright 'Red Fox', or 'Rot Fuchs', as the Germans would say.























Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Heronswood Globe'




Also, we used to propagate a compact form, 'Heronswood Globe', which was not at all dwarf, but certainly had a place in a larger garden. The original tree, pictured above, has sadly expired; it was burped upon by Atlee Burpee, one could say, the company that owned Heronswood Nursery at its demise.


So, no Cercidiphyllum in the foreseeable future, which will not make the world a better place. The scientific name of Cercidiphyllum is due to rounded leaves that are similar to "Redbud," or Cercis, but they come from very different families. "Katsura" is the Japanese name for the tree, and it forms one of the tallest hardwoods (150') in Asia, when most landscapers think of it as a light, dainty little tree. An unforgettable sight is to drive from Portland up to Seattle, where the highway landscape receives no irrigation. By the end of August the Katsuras turn a pinkish-orange, a soft pastel that glows amongst the monotonous green backdrop of the "Evergreen state."

Styrax japonicus 'Momo shidare'

We will not propagate Styrax japonicus anymore, either by rooted cuttings or by grafting. Our difficulty is to overwinter the little starts, where as many as half of the propagules can die, even when they're placed in a cozy heated greenhouse. I sold my stock of 'Momo shidare', the pink-flowered weeper from Japan. Momo is "pink" in Japanese, and shidare refers to pendulous branches. It came to me under the name 'Pink Pendula', which is invalid; and I think the Japanese sender was just trying to be helpful. The new propagator is now marketing it as 'Marley's Pink Parasol', and since he does a good job of raising the plant to advanced liner size, I will continue to grow it, but not propagate it, and sell under the new name.


























Styrax japonicus 'Pink Chimes'

Styrax japonicus 'Pink Chimes'

Styrax japonicus 'Pink Chimes'
























Styrax japonicus 'Frosted Emerald'


Of course we've had the pink-flowered upright, Styrax japonicus 'Pink Chimes' since the beginning of my career. Once the plant is established it can survive anything, and my sister's garden features an enormous 'Pink Chimes' that I am envious of. Even more interesting is 'Pink Compacta' from Japan, which grows into a small-rounded bush, and is only three feet tall by three feet wide in ten years. 'Frosted Emerald' can look nice, or it can revert, or it can burn, so it is a flash in the pan in my experience.

Styrax japonicus 'Carillon'

Styrax japonicus 'Carillon'
Styrax japonicus 'Crystal'



























We also received from Japan a white-flowered form of Styrax japonicus, called 'Dwarf'. It grows the same as the 'Pink Compact', which means it is difficult to generate any profit. 'Carillon' and 'Crystal' are two weeping cultivars that we'll also drop, unless I can find someone to propagate a three-year-old size for me. I'm happy that all of the cultivars are in the gardens, and if I keep Styrax on that level primarily, I can save myself a lot of frustration. So, all are great plants, but they just weren't meant for me.


Berberis x 'Red Jewel'

Berberis x 'Red Jewel'

Berberis x 'Red Jewel'


As I have admitted in the past, I used to be burdened with the "Noah's Ark Syndrome," where I had to keep at least one of every species and cultivar. I came to realize that folly, but still it's tough to see the last one sold or dead. Though we have a few in gardens, and they can look great, especially in fall, the chapter will be closed on Berberis. I had quite a collection of species, with many of them coming from exotic Asian locations. The propagating crew is happy about the decision, as no one wants to spend a day dealing with thorns. A wonderful cultivar is Berberis x 'Red Jewel', and I have it in a number of garden situations, including along the driveway to my home. It is very showy with glossy bronze-red leaves, and it keeps a compact shape. Fall color includes spectacular oranges, reds and purples which hold well into winter before the leaves finally drop. I still have some liners or one-gallons for sale, but there will be no more coming on behind them.

Berberis linearifolia 'Orange King'

Berberis linearifolia 'Orange King' is an attraction in early spring, and the bright orange-red flowers can be seen from far away. They are an unusual color for the plant world, especially for blooming so early, but the hummingbirds never fail to find them. The species is an erect medium-sized shrub which can tend to flop and sprawl at maturity. It comes from Argentina and Chile, and when the heater failed in one greenhouse on a particularly cold winter night, our stock gave up the ghost. I never tried to recuperate 'Orange King', but I did enjoy it for a few years.





















Berberis darwinii























Berberis x stenophylla 'Corallina Compacta'


Berberis x stenophylla is a hybrid of B. darwinii from Chile and Argentina, and another South American species, B. empetrifolia. The darwinii species, of course, honors Charles Darwin who no doubt saw it on his voyage aboard the Beagle (1831-1836). B. darwinii can grow large and eventually dominate many garden situations, but the specimen(s) at Elk Rock in Portland, Oregon are quite dramatic in spring. Better yet is the hybrid x stenophylla, in particular the dwarf, evergreen selection 'Corallina Compacta'. It is only hardy to USDA zone 8, I suppose, and on our coldest of winters we have experienced some die-back. Then a couple of years later the plant will have prospered, and you choose to forget about the hardiness issue. Even though we sell to a number of zone 8 locales, the cute plant can easily be grown by the large plant factories, and they can offer them for half my price. So the Berberis Force will not be with me in the future.


























Franklinia alatamaha 'Wintonbury'


Franklinia alatamaha 'Wintonbury'

A tree that has fascinated me for years is Franklinia alatamaha, mainly because it was once collected in the wild, along the Alatamaha River in Georgia, and named for Benjamin Franklin, but subsequently was never seen again. I was in South Carolina one fall, and dreamed of spotting a stand, but that was just fantasy. This species is hardy at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, but can die-back, so their original specimens are low and spreading, and it takes root wherever their branches touch the ground. I have a nice specimen at the nursery that has survived many winters, but not near the 108 years as at the Arnold. Our problem, which could kill a four-year-old whip, was early autumn or late spring frosts, not by how cold it got. After a few years of disappointment, I gave up on growing them in the field, but greenhouse produced plants can be quite leggy. It's a shame to give up on Franklinia, especially the cultivar Wintonbury, which supposedly featured additional hardiness over the type. The camellia-like flowers appear in early autumn in Oregon, and they come and go for a month, even when the foliage has turned burgundy-red. But I could seldom grow a nice-shaped tree, so goodbye to "Ben Franklin's Tree" at Buchholz Nursery.

Pseudolarix amabilis

Pseudolarix amabilis

Pseudolarix amabilis

One of my favorite conifers is Pseudolarix amabilis, a fascinating monotypic species from China that is different from a true Larix or "larch," by some small botanical characteristics. The "Golden Larch," previously known as fortunei – as it was introduced by Robert Fortune in 1852 – can be found in the world's best gardens and arboreta, but you'll seldom see one in a typical American landscape. Who doesn't love the lush green spring and summer foliage, then the startling gold of autumn? An added bonus are the artichoke-like cones which are much more large than the true Larix.  The species name, amabilis, is derived from Latin for "lovable," and there are many other species with the epithet, such as Abies amabilis, Kolkwitzia amabilis, Sorbus amabilis etc. But alas, I suspect that the Pseudolarix is perceived as a huge-growing timber tree (it is not), and being deciduous, it will look dead for half the year. Such a shame that it was a tough species to sell, for it really is an excellent connoisseur tree.

Thuja standishii

Thuja standishii is an attractive species from the mountains of central Japan. It was once known as Thuja japonica and also Thujopsis standishii. I use it as a hedge so my neighbors can't see when I skinny-dip in the pond. The species name occurred when Robert Fortune sent seed from Japan to the Standish Nursery in Bagshot, England in 1860. This Thuja can be rooted, or grafted onto other Thuja species, and it makes an attractive small tree with dropping branches, in the same manner of Cedrus deodara. Our reason to discontinue propagation is due to the fact that – face it – it is an arborvitae, a genus where garden centers are used to paying $10-$15 only for a six-to-ten-year-old-tree, and we can't afford that. I used to enjoy promoting this type of species, even though sales were never great, but times have changed. I am older, and certainly no sales guru, so I throw in the towel, and will let a future generation try to attempt a revival.


























Taxus baccata 'Standishii'



























Taxus baccata 'Golden Dwarf'

Taxus baccata 'David'

We also stopped propagating Taxus baccata 'Standishii', an old selection from the same Standish Nursery, in favor of some better golden cultivars. Taxus baccata 'Golden Dwarf' or 'Goldener Zwerg' in Europe, offers a little more excitement than the old 'Standishii', and so does Taxus baccata 'David', a narrow golden dwarf upright. Still, I enjoy my 'Standishii' specimens, for they represent a time of gardening prosperity when the very notion of planting cultivars (cultivated variants) arose as a worthwhile endeavor. The ravages of World War I ended the fun for many nurseries, such as the famous Veitch Nurseries; and who can predict what might ravage my nursery at any point? But even with our current economic constipation, many nurseries are experiencing "good" years, good meaning that we are still afloat, and that we continue to offer new and exciting cultivars.

So, though this blog discusses plants that we have discontinued, none of them are poor garden choices, really. So imagine, then, the ones that we will be propagating this season, how fantastic they must be. It is still a great career to be a nurseryman!

The propagation house, where it all begins

1 comment:

  1. my taxus b. golden dwarf was planted in mid Jan, full sun, well amended soil, Houston area z9a. In about two months it has turned a rust color and I don't know if its suffering from a wet winter or if it is winter damage. could you pls comment on possibilities. The new plant looked as beautiful as the one shown in your pic above. can send you a pic

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