Friday, August 23, 2013

Flora's Freak Show



The essence of horticulture is the human whim to tend and nurture Flora's freaks, the plants which are abnormal. I have made a living from this geeky trade of managing the mutants, and in my world the dwarf, the weeping, the extra-narrow, the variegated etc. are what I water and prune every day. An outdoorsy-type man once visited the nursery, and afterwards declared that the experience was like attending a freak show, for he "never did encounter one normal tree." Well, there are many here; I could point out dozens, but I get his point. Mr. Outdoors would be even further baffled had he realized that 99% of my nursery is exotic, with the hundreds of species coming from elsewhere on earth. My floral collection and the business of growing and selling abnormal trees is certainly a strange pursuit, from some points of view, but I'm still capable of supposing that I make the world a better place, or at least more beautiful.

Abies koreana

Abies koreana

Abies koreana


























Abies koreana 'Silberlocke'























Abies koreana 'Silberlocke'


Let's investigate this zany company then, and with only one step into the garden we are already into the land of the weird. The "Korean Fir," Abies koreana is an excellent slow-growing species with fresh green needles. The undersides of the needles, however, flash with silver-white due to the stomatal bands. The late Gunter Horstmann from Schneverdingen, Germany discovered a freak where the needles wrap around the stems, and he named it 'Horstmann's Silberlocke' (now just 'Silberlocke'). At one point, early in my career, 'Silberlocke' was the most sought-after conifer of all, and I made gobs of money by rooting and grafting thousands.

Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'

Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'

Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'

We eventually learned that 'Silberlockes' weren't as dwarf as we first imagined. Also that they could lose their curl if planted in too much shade. And finally, that they weren't so easy to sell when everyone was growing them, as they are quite easy to propagate. We still sell a few, especially when we allow them to grow to a large size. The recent discovery of a congested witch's broom in a 'Silberlocke', by G. Kohout of East Germany, has set the conifer world on fire again, and everyone who sees his Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker' wants to have one. Thus far our plants remain low and spreading and are very dense. The silver needles are even more intense than on 'Silberlocke', in part because you always look down upon 'Ice Breaker', and the plant reveals more dazzling curled stems per area than any other conifer I think. I planted a mound with seven 'Ice Breakers', with about two feet of space between. I look forward to the day when they grow together and form the largest-looking 'Ice Breaker' on earth. I must confess that no one should be growing it at all, for Abies are prohibited to enter the United States from Europe. But I'll continue to propagate my contraband, as my start came from an East-Coast collector. Certainly someday I will back off 'Ice Breaker', for eventually it will become plentiful, and perhaps troubled or bankrupt nurseries will be offering them at a loss, like they are doing with other plants today.

Abies concolor 'Wintergold'


























Abies concolor 'Wintergold'


Close to the 'Ice Breakers' is a dense nine-foot pyramidal specimen of Abies concolor 'Wintergold', and the cultivar name reveals why it is nature's abnormality, for the species is usually blue-green (and on some occasions, intensely blue). I can see my 'Wintergold' from out the office window, and from a distance it looks light-green today. By October the needles begin to turn gold, and by mid-winter it is a fantastic light-show in the landscape. For us 'Wintergold' does not burn, or have other issues in full sun and we find it to be rather easy to grow, albeit slow. Thirty steps from my pyramidal specimen is another of the same age (16 years) except that it has a spreading form, and is now 3' tall by 8' wide. The pyramidal tree assumed its leader without any staking by me, while the flat one has always been that way. I like them both, but our current growing practice is to stake. Generally speaking, taller is worth more than wide.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Green Cushion'

In the same area is a grouping of miniatures, Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Green Cushion', with dense bun shapes and foliage of incredibly rich-green color. I don't know the origin of 'Green Cushion', but I like the name. There are many similar hinoki buns, such as 'Stoneham', 'Hage', 'Leprechaun', 'Juniperoides', 'Nana (True)', 'Densa', and probably many more. You usually need about twenty years to tell them apart, so don't be casual with the labeling at any point. Their differences will be subtle at best, but remember that all plants of each cultivar vary to some degree too, even if cuttings are all taken off the same mother plant. That's why I love the Chamaecyparis obtusas, because a lot of variation can occur, with some of it good, and some of it bad. My affair with hinokies is a lot like that of living with a woman from day to day, or from moment to moment actually.

Thuja orientalis 'Franky Boy'



























Thuja orientalis 'Franky Boy'


Thuja orientalis 'Balaton' at Arboretum Trompenburg

In the same garden as those mentioned above is Thuja orientalis 'Franky Boy'. I first saw the plant in Deurne, Holland at the Nelis Kools Nursery, but I don't know if it is of Dutch origin, or even who "Franky Boy" is. It is a cheerful selection with a plump upright shape, and the pretty foliage is yellow-green in spring and summer, then bronze-orange in winter. Interestingly, the fine thread-like shoots ascend; well, at least until a record snow storm occurs. 'Franky Boy' reminds me of a plant that we used to grow many years ago, Thuja occidentalis 'Filiformis', which we purchased originally from Monrovia Nursery. Besides not looking as good as 'Franky Boy', 'Filiformis' was never a Thuja occidentalis anyway, which I could prove when an orientalis cone appeared. I informed Monrovia, and the company horticulturalist insisted that it must be an occidentalis because it proved hardy in areas that only an occidentalis could. End of discussion. So even "horticultural craftsmen" for over 100 years will knowingly slime on the botanical facts in their grab for the dollar. Think about that when you're in Box-store-Lowe's garden center next time. There does exist a Thuja occidentalis 'Filifera' – not 'Filiformis' – that I also used to grow, but that's not what Monrovia was peddling. I looked to Krussmann in Manual of Cultivated Conifers for clarification, but came away even more confused with the old Euro information, but he did explain that it's not uncommon to find thread-leaf forms in Thuja seedbeds. I remember seeing a Thuja orientalis 'Balaton' at the Arboretum Trompenburg in Rotterdam, which I think was about ten feet tall with drooping green threads


Thuja plicata 'Filifera Nana' in summer

Thuja plicata 'Filifera Nana' in winter



And, speaking of drooping threads, the Thuja plicata species has a couple of similar cultivars. We used to grow Thuja plicata 'Filifera Nana' which originated as a witch's broom mutation in British Columbia. My oldest in the Blue Forest is now about 38 years old, and I've seen one even older at the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden. A creased-slacks and loafer administrator (I think he was) was leading a Conifer Society tour about twenty years ago, and he pronounced the label-less plant to be Thuja occidentalis 'Filifera Nana', "which originated in B.C." I said that I thought it was actually a plicata, but "No, it's an occidentalis." Occidentalis means "west," and after all Thuja plicata is the "Western Red Cedar." There you go.























Thuja plicata 'Whipcord'


I don't want to come across as a know-it-all, for I have been wrong many times too, and it is usually wise to adopt a self-deprecating attitude about yourself and what you think you know. In hindsight the arboretum expert, who was not, does not matter anyway. We no longer propagate Thuja plicata 'Filifera Nana', and leave the old specimen – about 5' tall by 12' wide – to the squirrels who live beneath. Instead we currently grow Thuja plicata 'Whipcord', and I think that overall it is a much better selection. 'Whipcord' makes a neater mound and the foliage is darker green than 'Filifera Nana'. Besides I weary of all the Latin cultivar names, which were supposed to have ended in the 1950's. I have seen the original seedling of 'Whipcord' at Drakes Crossing Nursery in Oregon, and while the selection makes attractive container and garden plants, the original is large and rangy and not attractive at all.


Acer palmatum 'Hupp's Dwarf'



























Acer palmatum 'Hupp's Dwarf'




























Acer palmatum 'Hubbs Red Willow'


Acer palmatum 'Hubbs Red Willow' in autumn

At the same Drakes Crossing Nursery a tiny maple seedling was discovered and eventually named for the owners as Acer palmatum 'Hupp's Dwarf'. It is green and stocky and makes a perfect rock garden or bonsai subject. One suspects that without the nurturing hand of horticulture, these types of seedling freaks would die on their own...naturally. But when you graft onto vigorous rootstock, 'Hupp's Dwarf' will grow to about 2' tall and wide in 10 years. It will also root reasonably well, and occasionally we offer them in our QT pot program. They are clearly a loss leader for us when grown on their own roots, but they sure look nice that way. Also, while I'm on the subject of a Hupp plant, I'll say again that Acer palmatum 'Hupp's Red Willow' is incorrect, and has absolutely nothing to do with the Hupps' Drakes Crossing Nursery. That maple should be 'Hubbs Red Willow', dammit, in spite of the Vertrees/Gregory Japanese Maple Hupps listing, and was named after Elwood Hubbs of Riverton, New Jersey, and introduced by Red Maple Nursery in Pennsylvania.

Picea glauca 'Daisy's White'


























Picea glauca 'Daisy's White'


We were one of the first companies in America to grow Picea glauca Daisy's White, a (spring) cream white mutant that originated on a Picea glauca 'Albertiana Conica', the common "Dwarf Alberta Spruce." 'Daisy's White' was found in Belgium and was originally known as 'J.W. Daisy's White' for Mr. Jeurissen-Wijnen, and named for his granddaughter, but thankfully the J.W. part of the name was dropped. I especially like the description of 'Daisy's White' given in the Dutch Conifer Society's publication of Promising Conifers, Part I, "This newcomer is a spectacular gain in the coniferous sector." Also that "This pearl should be placed somewhere in the half-shadow." I don't know, for I grow some in the garden in full sun, and no Dutch nurseryman has ever experienced the Oregon kind of heat and light in summer.


























Picea glauca 'Rita'

 
I found a similar mutation as well years ago before I had 'Daisy's White', and planted the 99% green tree in our conifer field. I wanted the white part to develop before I would try some cuttings. Three years later the white had totally disappeared, or was swallowed up by the green. I suppose Picea glauca 'Rita' originated as a mutation, and is nearly as colorful as 'Daisy's White', although growing more narrow for us. Note in one of the photos above of 'Rita' that the left side is facing south, and the cream white develops on this sunny side a week before the north side. I pity owners of nurseries who spend the vast majority of their time in an office with clean hands, as they often miss the little idiosyncrasies of nature.



























Acer palmatum 'Bihou'


























Acer palmatum 'Bihou'


Acer palmatum 'Bihou' (pronounced Bee Ho) is a fun little tree with yellow-green leaves in spring and summer, then turns to shocking yellow in autumn. The name means "beautiful mountain range" in Japanese, but for reasons I can't fathom. The "fun" thing about 'Bihou' is that the bark changes to yellow-orange in winter, and the stems look like sticks on fire. Because it forms a small tree, there is a perception that 'Bihou' is slow-growing, but we find the opposite to be true. Those gardening in USDA zone 5 or colder will want to try 'Bihou' because it is so unique, but just how cold hardy it is I don't know. So often it's not a matter of how cold it got, but rather how it got cold. But I have a large 12' tree in the landscape that has happily survived our zone 7 winters, for what that's worth.


Abies procera 'Glauca Prostrata'

I'll mention one last tree, mainly because I'm staring at it out the office window: Abies procera 'Glauca Prostrata'. My start came from an old Dutch nurseryman's garden, and he was amused that I thought I could grow and sell anything like it. His specimen was less than a foot tall by ten feet wide, and he explained that over time it had never once tried to form a leader. There were no ascending shoots, so I gathered my scionwood from horizontal pieces at ground level. A few years later a vigorous leader shot upwards, and it has continued its ascension for nearly thirty years. It is absolutely beautiful, and easily could become the national Christmas tree. Finally I changed the label to Abies procera 'Glauca' because visitors would chortle over my mis-named cultivar.

All of the plants described in this blog are aberrations, and I like them all. They all reside in the original Display Garden which is only a quarter acre, and they are joined by hundreds of other freaks as well. What a way to spend a life!

I am happy Talon that you enjoy my diversity,
but stop calling my plants "freaks."

1 comment:

  1. Freak indeed! I have never seen cones and leaves of these plants before. It must have been an amazing to see the plant closeup. I wish I am there Talon Buchholz! Cheers, Stephanie

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