Friday, August 9, 2013

The Specimen Plant Frenzy

I can't accurately predict which plants to grow and how many of each plant. I've never been able to, even though I operate with empirical reports from past years, and gut feelings about the future. You people aren't predictable, and none of you feel that it is your responsibility to assist me. If you want something this year, then you'll order it at your whim, and some of you even have the nerve to whine and whimper when we quickly sell out and you don't get any. Perhaps your order was in your shopping cart (on our website), where it remained for a week, but you didn't get around to pressing the submit button. You intended to order the item, thought probably you had done so, but how are we to know that? So the plants are subsequently purchased by someone more savvy, by someone more committed to the process.

Let's face it: we're already sold out of half of our offerings. While this blog has no intention to brag, still realize that within the first ten days of releasing our specimen availability, and the spring liner availability too, we chalk up over 50% of sales for the year. Upon release there is an incredible frenzy of activity, which frankly bewilders (but pleases) all of us here.

Cornus kousa 'Summer Fun'

Cornus kousa 'Summer Fun' in spring and fall

I just reviewed what remains on our availability – it took two fully-absorbed hours – and we still have plants equally as wonderful as those which have sold out. Sorry that the Cornus kousa 'Summer Fun' are long gone, as we offered quite a few. How was I to know how many to grow?; I once thought that I had far too many. But essentially I subscribe to the same strategy today as I did thirty years ago: just grow small numbers each of a huge number of cultivars. This strategy leads to less profit in good times, but it assures that I don't go bankrupt either. Back to 'Summer Fun', I have a good supply of 3-4' trees that we were going to field plant this fall. Instead, I'll put some into 12" cedar boxes – they still have time to root in – and I'll be able to make some of you happy next spring.

Acer campestre 'Carnival'

Acer campestre 'Carnival'

I always sell out of Acer campestre 'Carnival', and I wonder why I don't just grow more. Then I remember that some years we achieve nearly 100% propagation success, and the next year we fail pitifully. Besides that problem, I'm wary of oversupply, as the variegated "hedge maple" or "field maple" kind of reminds me of those cheap Cornus cultivars you see planted along the freeway, those Cornus albas or whatever they are.

 Acer saccharum 'Monumentale' in spring and fall

Acer saccharum 'Monumentale'

We also quickly sell out of Acer saccharum 'Monumentale', and that's because we only have a handful per year to begin with, which is due to the difficulty (we have) in propagation. Apparently we're not the only ones with propagation difficulties, otherwise you would see the tree commonly used, for it was selected as long ago as 1887 by F.L. Temple. Krussmann in Cultivated Broad-Leaves Trees and Shrubs says (in 1976) that 'Monumentale' and 'Temple's Upright' are one and the same, but he also goes on to say that it is "often used as a street tree in the USA." I've travelled to many locations in the USA, and I've never seen one in a city planting. Krussmann also claims that 'Temple's Upright' is columnar and without a main stem. Our 'Monumentale' are single-stemmed with short side spurs up the trunk, and the scionwood might be two-year-old wood only an inch long. Are we still talking about the same tree? Well, F.L. Temple is dead, Krussmann is dead; I'm still alive, but I don't expect a definitive answer in the few years I have remaining. I would like to know, but I don't need to know. I should look at life more like my dog. For him all is good, whether I pet him or my wife pets him, whether we take a walk to the north, or to the's always a good walk.

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa nishiki'

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa nishiki'

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa nishiki' in fall

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

I don't really know what to make of Acer palmatum 'Mikawa nishiki' except that we're sold out. It is a variegated upright, but when given luxurious conditions, it is mostly green. I don't know if the selection has anything to do with 'Mikawa yatsubusa', but we do occasionally get variegated look-alikes when we germinate seed from 'Mikawa yatsubusa'. Will these seedlings be stable and colorful enough – and unique – to warrant cultivar status? Probably not. As for 'Mikawa nishiki', we are already sold out, and why not when you look at the delicious photos above. But as one plant sleuth accused me, "You just take photos of the plant when it looks best, so we don't know what the plant is really like." Yep, that would be true. So is 'Mikawa nishiki' a "good" cultivar? I'll answer that in eight-to-ten years.

Acer sieboldianum 'Kumoi nishiki'

Acer sieboldianum 'Kumoi nishiki'

Acer palmatum 'Ukigumo'

I'm not surprised that Acer sieboldianum 'Kumoi nishiki' is sold out. The species is similar to Acer japonicum, and well, palmatum too, and we graft 'Kumoi nishiki' onto palmatum rootstock. In some respects the cultivar is similar to Acer palmatum 'Ukigumo', except the leaves are larger on 'Kumoi', and the amount of variegation seems to be more consistent from year to year, compared to the rather more fickle 'Ukigumo'. Did you follow that? Am I saying that 'Kumoi nishiki' is better than 'Ukigumo'? Again, see me in eight-to-ten years.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Butterball'

Everybody who tours the nursery wants to buy our Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Butterball', the diminutive squatty orb with butter-yellow foliage. Of course they do, for 'Butterball' is one of the most cute plants that we grow. The three-gallon size with a diameter of ten-to-twelve inches is a dozen years old, and what would be a fair price? The answer is that there is no fair price, and any way I look at it 'Butterball' will always be a loss leader, a plant that's a great part of our product mix, but one with absolutely no profit. We're sold out now, but for the future you'll probably find them in our pumice planters or alpine troughs.

Pinus bungeana 'Silver Ghost'

On the first day of our specimen plant release, all of the Pinus bungeana 'Silver Ghost' were snapped up, not that I had so many to begin with. This cultivar was selected at the Dawes arboretum in Ohio, and I was fortunate to see it a few years ago. I've never kept one long enough to see a trunk as amazing as the original in the photo above. Perhaps the very same tree would be less impressive if planted in my nursery, or in some other climate or soil type. Maybe if it would have been planted at the other end of the arboretum it would look very different Who knows?, and I'm really just suggesting that the Dawes' 'Silver Ghost' is the right tree in the right place at the right time. It is planted along the main road through the arboretum, and it remains one of the most memorable tree sightings in my life.

The original Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Miss Grace', both left and right

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Miss Grace'

Every last Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Miss Grace' is gone, and like Cornus kousa 'Summer Fun', I find myself short on one of my own introductions. But what a great plant, whether grown low and spreading, or staked into a small weeping tree. We still have two plants left from the four scions I originally received, described as "witch's broom, prostrate form." When my back was turned, the crew had staked them up...which annoyed me because they were supposed to be prostrate. Well, it turned out that the stake job was a fortunate occurrence, for 'Miss Grace' is best presented as a narrow weeping tree in my customers' opinion. Ten years ago a beautiful specimen debuted at the Seattle Flower Show in February, and the plant had been heated in a greenhouse to force new growth. In the Northwest, the gardening public starves for spring in February, and 'Miss Grace' was the "plant hit" at that year's show, and I proudly watched as visitors stood in line to take its photo.

Paeonia lutea var. ludlowii

Paeonia lutea var. ludlowii

Paeonia lutea var. ludlowii

Our Paeonia lutea var. ludlowii have all been purchased, when I wasn't sure that we would sell any. Buchholz customers tend not to think of perennials in our product line, but heck, we're game for anything. Our interests are constantly expanding, and in front of the office we display alpine troughs, a dazzling Leucadendron argenteum and a pot of carnivorous plants, Sarracenia, so the Paeonia easily has a place in our eclectic world. The criteria, the common denominator to Buchholz Nursery is FUN. We want our customers and visitors to have more fun here than anywhere else in the world. Variety ludlowii is more tree-like than the species lutea, and features huge green leaves that look tropical. It was first collected by Kingdon Ward, then later by Ludlow and Sherriff in southeast Tibet.

Picea omorika 'Pendula Bruns'

Picea omorika 'Pendula Bruns'

We are not sold out of Picea omorika 'Pendula Bruns' – we have good supply of this excellent weeping conifer. They should have been purchased as quickly as any plant on our availability, and maybe we'll eventually move all of them. The original seedling was selected at the Bruns Nursery in Germany (I assume) but the current owner of the establishment knows nothing about the tree. I saw a large one later in an arboretum (was that in Hamburg?), which maybe was the original. It snaked its way upward into the sky, with as much "character" as any tree I've ever seen. How could Mr. Bruns, at about my age, know nothing about his father's wonderful tree?

Sciadopitys verticillata

Sciadopitys verticillata 'Gold Rush'

Sciadopitys verticillata 'Mr. Happy'

Sciadopitys verticillata 'Mr. Happy'

Most of the named Sciadopitys cultivars show zero availability, which is what I expected when I put them on the sales list. It used to be that Sciadopitys verticillata itself was hard to come by, and it was considered a snob plant, an esoteric tree that only a chosen few would be able to find and afford. Now we have pretty variegated selections, golden forms, dwarves and narrow pillars, some of them even originating at Buchholz Nursery. Our 'Mr. Happy' was originally a green cutting-produced tree, and at about eight years of age it began developing yellow-variegated shoots throughout the tree. We're careful to propagate the half-and-half wood only, for some branches are solid green and some are solid yellow. The original tree has been retired as a stock tree, and is planted along the driveway to my home. I find it interesting that Mr. Happy developed the variegated growth throughout the tree, rather than from one branch mutation, which is usually the norm. Plants are whimsical creatures, that's for sure.

Sciadopitys verticillata 'Picola'

Sciadopitys verticillata 'Picola' is frequently misspelled as "Picolo" or "Piccolo," but the original was selected as a seedling in the 1970's at the Böhlje Nursery of Westerstede, Germany. It can be grafted or rooted, and we must be quite patient to eventually grow one to a specimen size. I wonder if our current crop will make it to market in my lifetime, as I know that I don't have many decades left to bank on.

Sciadopitys verticillata 'Joe Kozey'

I don't know who Joe Kozey is or was, but it's sad that his wonderful conifer pillar couldn't have been given a more imaginative name. We sold out of a group that were full specimens to eight feet tall, while only two feet in diameter. The lush green foliage was spectacular, and no wonder they went so fast. Sciadopitys is known as maki or koyamaki in its native Japan, and was first introduced to the west by Thomas Lobb in 1853. The genus name comes from Greek sciado meaning "shadow" and pitys meaning "pine." Verticillata refers to the whorl-like needle arrangement, and everyone loves the soft texture of the foliage much more than with a true pine.

Tsuga mertensiana 'Bump's Blue'

Dr. Lewis (Left) and Dr. Bump (Right) with Tsuga mertensiana 'Bump's Blue'

I'll mention one final conifer, one of my very favorites, Tsuga mertensiana 'Bump's Blue'. We recently potted some more into pumice stones, and I think that is an excellent way to show off this slow-growing conifer, to present it as nature would rather than in a black plastic pot. Years ago Dr. Bump of Forest Grove, Oregon pulled a spectacularly blue seedling off of the slope on Mt. Hood and planted it in his garden. Dr. Bump's first name is "Forrest," by the way, and he patched up my broken ankle when I was in high school, and a few years later counseled me about the danger of recreational drugs. When I began the nursery we became good plant friends, and over the years I gleaned much more than 'Bump's Blue' from his garden. He must be over ninety now, but is still as keen for plants as ever.

After you finish this blog, head back to our plant availability and purchase the remainder of this year's offerings. I've still got kids to raise, a dog to feed and employees to maintain. And if you can have more fun in any other wholesale nursery than mine, I'd certainly like to know about it...for I would drop everything to go visit.

1 comment:

  1. Gosh I wish we could have a little corner of our garden center to house such beautiful temperate plants. We are in Zone 10 and have beautiful tropical plants but miss the maples, spruce, fir, dogwoods etc that you enjoy up north. Bruce at Tropical World Nursery in Boynton Beach, Fl