Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Last Hurrah

Fall color in the Flora Wonder Arboretum

I have finished belaboring my North Carolina experience, squeezing four blogs from the one-week October visit. All the while I was anxious to return my attention to home base and report on the fantastic autumn color in the Flora Wonder Arboretum. Let's begin with maples, for two of our fairly-recent introductions impressed me the most: Acer palmatum 'Festival' and japonicum 'Giant Moon'.

Acer palmatum 'Festival'

Acer palmatum 'Festival'

Acer palmatum 'Festival'

'Festival' was a seedling from Acer palmatum 'Amber Ghost', but one of those seedlings that I usually throw out. Summer leaves are green, and it doesn't display any of the reticulation (veining) that I like so much with the "Ghosts." But out of the hundreds of seedling selections, 'Festival' (at five years of age) shocked me with the most fantastic autumn color of the lot. Every leaf colors uniquely, but all leaves glowed with strong yellows and oranges. I can still remember the exact spot it occupied in GH25 on the south side. The next year it was potted up and throbbed fantastically again, and then again this year. We are now propagating 'Festival' and hope to have offspring for sale within two years.

Acer japonicum 'Giant Moon' in spring and autumn

Acer japonicum 'Giant Moon'

Acer japonicum 'Yama kage' in spring and autumn

Acer japonicum 'Aki hi'

Acer japonicum 'Giant Moon' was selected and named about ten years ago, and some have made it into your gardens, but we haven't produced a lot due to scion limitations. It too is autumnally bicolored, with a strong yellow combined with deep maroon. It was not selected for fall color – although most japonicums excel in autumn – but rather for the huge size of the leaves. I didn't know at the time that Oregon's late Jim Schmidt had selected and named Acer japonicum 'Yama kage', and Piet Vergeldt of The Netherlands did the same with Acer japonicum 'Aki hi', both also selected for large leaves. I have never trialed the three side-by-side, but that seems a worthy project. I couldn't care less if another's maple proves superior to my selection, but I'm always pleased if mine receives the attention; and perhaps my catchy English name will prevail over less memorable Japanese names. No doubt one or more growers in Japan can also boast of a 'Giant Moon'-type that would astound us.

Acer palmatum 'Bihou'

Acer palmatum 'Bihou'

Acer palmatum 'Bihou' goes from "plain-jane" for most of summer, to straw-yellow in fall. Sometimes leaves on the vigorous shoots will persist, often turning a glorious orange; but let's face it, autumn color can vary from year to year, even on the same tree. The "real" color of 'Bihou', however, comes when the leaves are out of the way, when the yellow-orange stems are evident. This "fire-glow" intensifies with cold, and my theory is that the color is best when the tree is placed with a good deal of sun. The same could be said for most of the "winter reds," such as Acer x conspicuum 'Phoenix', Acer palmatum 'Japanese Sunrise' etc. 'Bihou' is truly spectacular, so much so that our meth-addict neighbors*, working in cahoots with a nefarious employee from the neighboring nursery, stole a number of them in three-gallon pots. And why not? They were in view in a greenhouse with open doors, just ten steps away from the property line. Ever since, we place them deeper into the nursery where they can't be seen, and we have beefed up security.

*An anonymous blog commentator – we'll call him Mr. A (and I hope his last name isn't Hole) – once reprimanded me for blogging about my rough neighborhood, that I should just stick to plants. But it's a fact of my life, that for the past thirty three years I dwell next to these sleaze-balls, knowing that if I'm just a second off guard, they will strike with felonious intent. Even Ma lives in the trailer complex with her 36-year-old drug son, (who has 33 criminal convictions and counting) plus other hangers on, all of whom glare at me as if to say, "we have itchy trigger fingers." Go back to the theme photo of Flora Wonder Blog, and understand that my idyllic plant collection has a rancid wart on its north side which has caused me great consternation over the years. Like slugs, viruses and plagues, my rural neighbors are a real part of my life, and I'll take no one's advice to ignore them and only write about the "pretty" things. Furthermore, I don't write to please you, any of you, especially you, Mr. A. The weekly blog, like my morning constitutional, is a personal matter that results from a few grunts on my part, and yes, my shit does stink.

Acer x conspicuum 'Phoenix'

Acer x conspicuum 'Phoenix'

Acer davidii
Acer pensylvanicum

Back to maples, Acer x conspicuum 'Phoenix' put on another dazzling autumn show, and of course it would, with Acer davidii and Acer pensylvanicum being the parents. The "conspicuous" hybrid was developed by Esveld Nursery in Boskoop, The Netherlands in 1986. The winter bark is probably the most spectacular of any tree, featuring bright red with white striations. It is surprising to read that 'Phoenix' is "easy to propagate and grows well..." according to de Beaulieu in An Illustrated Guide to Maples, for if that was the case I think you would see them more prevalent in today's landscapes. We graft onto hardy rootstock, preferably Acer tegmentosum (USDA zone 4), and some years we do well, but not always. I would caution against growing 'Phoenix' via tissue culture, as I can't imagine the crop to be as hardy and "well-growing" on its own roots, for after all it is a freak of nature.

Acer palmatum 'Emma'

Acer palmatum 'Heartbeat'

Acer palmatum 'Heartbeat'

For the past few years I have been impressed with Acer palmatum 'Emma'. In summer it is an unassuming laceleaf cultivar with a reddish-green hue, but in autumn the foliage changes to bright orange. It too was selected at the Firma Esveld, and named in 1990 after the finder's daughter. Similar is Acer palmatum 'Heartbeat' from New Zealand, except that the bronze-green summer leaves are replaced by dramatic crimson in autumn. I purchased my starts of 'Heartbeat' a year ago, buying it for the name primarily, but I couldn't fathom just why it was dubbed 'Heartbeat'...until I witnessed the excitement in fall.

Acer palmatum 'Red Pygmy'

Acer palmatum 'Ginshi'

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair' in autumn

Acer palmatum 'Scolopendrifolium'

I've always been hooked on the "linearlobum" cultivars of Acer palmatum. There seems to be no rhyme nor reason to explain how the foliage of spring and summer changes in autumn. 'Red Pygmy' and 'Ginshi' are purple-red in spring, then they evolve to bronze-green by summer. Both then turn to yellow with an orange tinge in fall. Meanwhile the diminutive 'Fairy Hair' reliably changes to crimson-red. I noticed that the green linearlobum, 'Scolopendrifolium', was butter-yellow in the perpetually shady area of a lower greenhouse, next to the woods where the winter sun does not shine. Just thirty steps to the north, in the same greenhouse, the 'Scolopendrifolium' trees received more sun and fall color was more orange. So light availability is a considerable factor in autumn color. Beware of books (or me) that pronounce a definite fall color for a cultivar.

Acer palmatum 'Lemon Lime Lace'

Acer palmatum 'Lemon Lime Lace'

Acer palmatum 'Lemon Lime Lace' in autumn

Acer palmatum 'Lemon Lime Lace' seems to behave variably, depending on what collection it is in. Vertrees/Gregory in Japanese Maples describe the "interesting two-toned dissectum" as possessing light yellow emerging leaves that become lime-green by summer. My experience is that "light-green" is the predominant color throughout spring and summer, with fresh growth being a bit more light yellow, of course. They claim that fall color is orange. But in my nursery the fall color would suggest the cultivar name, for the bulk of the plant turns to straw-yellow, while vigorous late-summer's new growth persists with lime-green. Again, many color descriptions should not be considered as absolutes.

Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream' in spring and autumn

Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream' impressed me this year, and I believe that more red was evident than in past years. As with some cultivars mentioned previously, fall color that is two-toned is more exciting for me than solid colors, especially as you watch them develop on a daily basis over a three-week period.

Acer palmatum 'Peve Multicolor' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Peve Multicolor' in autumn

Acer palmatum 'Peve Multicolor' in autumn

 Acer palmatum 'Satsuki beni' in spring

 Acer palmatum 'Satsuki beni' in autumn

 Acer palmatum 'Satsuki beni' in autumn

  Acer sieboldianum 'Kumoi nishiki' in spring

  Acer sieboldianum 'Kumoi nishiki' in autumn

  Acer sieboldianum 'Kumoi nishiki' in autumn

Frequently, variegated maple selections will produce a dazzling combination of fall colors. Acer palmatum 'Peve Multicolor' can continue with autumn "multi colors." Acer palmatum 'Satsuki beni' particularly caught our visitors' eyes in October. This 'Tsuma gaki'-type displayed yellow, orange and purple, and shined beautifully when the sun provided back light. The variegated Acer sieboldianum 'Kumoi nishiki' is strongly evident throughout the growing season. Autumn color presented us with pale-cream, yellow and purple, a combination I've not seen on any other cultivar. A young plantsperson could certainly devote a long career to the science of autumn coloring in maple cultivars, but maybe it would be a vain attempt to try to cubby-hole them.

Carpinus betulus
Calycanthus 'Venus'

Actinidia kolomikta in spring and autumn

Cercis canadensis 'Ruby Falls'

Cornus florida 'Autumn Gold'

Cornus kousa 'Ohkan'

Of course far more than maples delighted me this year. Broadleaf trees, shrubs and vines called for attention. Carpinus betulus and Calycanthus 'Venus' were predominantly yellow, with spots of green. Actinidia kolomikta, the variegated "Kiwi Vine," was yellow with dabs of purple, as was Cercis canadensis 'Ruby Falls'. Cornus florida 'Autumn Gold' began with some yellow, but ended up mostly purple-red. But understand that these were trees growing in containers in a greenhouse, and perhaps if they were growing outside in the ground they might have lived up to their cultivar name. Another "Dogwood," Cornus kousa 'Ohkan', has never failed to amaze me, whether grown in pot or in soil.

Davidia involucrata 'Sonoma' in spring and autumn

Davidia involucrata 'Shibamichi Variegated'

Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine' in spring and autumn

The "Dove Trees," Davidia involucrata, have brought me years of pleasure. 'Sonoma', selected for a large bract size, also has the habit of blooming at a young age, and this propensity was a secondary discovery. In fall the purple-brown leaves are highlighted with yellow veins, while 'Shibamichi Variegated' is predominantly yellow with brown dots. My favorite of the variegated Davidias has to be 'Lady Sunshine'. It is the most dramatic in spring and summer, and if placed in the correct setting with adequate moisture, it will not burn – at least when established. In autumn the drama softens, and the Lady beacons with subtle grace.

Parrotia persica 'Vanessa'

Zelkova serrata 'Ogon' in spring and autumn

Ginkgo biloba 'Pendula' in summer

Ginkgo biloba 'Pendula' in autumn

Usually Parrotia persica is known for vibrant yellows, oranges, reds and purples in the fall, but our crop of 'Vanessa', the narrow, upright form, was growing in containers in the greenhouse. Due to that culture, they displayed mostly yellow leaves with splotches of various other colors. Zelkova serrata 'Ogon' went from greenish-gold in summer to delicious orange. And as always, the Ginkgo cultivars are the dependable doers in autumn, every autumn. A dubious Ginkgo cultivar, 'Pendula' – dubious in the sense that it does not really weep – still flabbergasts me every year. 'Pendula' is sprawling at best, not weeping, and we prune to keep it low and spreading; but oh, that yellow!

Pinus cembroides 'Piña Nevada'

 Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph'

Larix decidua 'Puli'

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Kools Gold'
Taxodium distichum

Thuja orientalis 'Franky Boy' in summer and autumn

Thuja orientalis 'Van Hoey Smith' in spring and autumn

Cryptomeria japonica 'Dense Jade' in spring and autumn

Sciadopitys verticillata 'Winter Green'

And don't forget the conifers for fall color, as some were selected for just that characteristic. Variegated pines can improve with color intensity when the temperatures cool, such as with Pinus cembroides 'Piña Nevada' and of course Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph' radiates with lustful gold. Deciduous conifers such as Larix, Metasequoia and Taxodium will impress you for a month until they finally go "dead" in December. Evergreen conifers can change from green foliage to a bronze-orange, as with Thuja orientalis 'Franky Boy' and the variegated Thuja orientalis 'Van Hoey Smith'. The Cryptomerias, or "Japanese Cedars," are well-known to change to bronze in winter, and one good example is 'Dense Jade'. The "Japanese Umbrella Pines" are luxuriously green during the growing season, but most bronze somewhat in autumn. One cultivar, 'Winter Green' was selected for keeping good green color throughout the year.

Decaisnea fargesii

Euonymus alatus 'Fireball'

 Euonymus europaeus 'Red Cap'

Euonymus europaeus 'Red Cascade'

Lindera obtusiloba

Lindera obtusiloba

Lindera obtusiloba

Lindera umbellata

Lindera umbellata

Any account of fall color would be remiss if it didn't include fruits and berries. Decaisnea fargesii is a Chinese shrub, known for blue "beans" which dangle amidst golden pinnate leaves. Euonymus alatus cultivars are duly famous as the "fire-bushes" of late summer, early fall, but the europaeus species, the "Spindles," have equally fantastic autumn color, and also display prominent seed capsules. I can't find a market for them at all, but I wouldn't be without 'Red Cap', 'Red Ace' and 'Red Cascade' in my landscape. Also of limited marketing appeal are the Linderas. They are in the Lauraceae family, but I've never been able to find out the origin of the genus name. All species (around 80) are grown primarily for autumn color, with obtusiloba being as bright yellow as any Ginkgo. Lindera umbellata is an Asian species that turns to yellow-orange, and can feature small black fruits. The leaves continue through winter with a mocha color, and only excise with the onset of new growth in spring.

I could go on with dozens more plants that have impressed me this past October and November. "Fall color" does not imply that no hue was visible in the summer, but just indicates that our "normal" green foliage has been transformed – bombastically often – for a few weeks before the dead of winter. Older people like me, with lives in our "autumnal days," particularly appreciate the last hurrah of color at the end of summer. We realize that we don't have many of these titillating events left.

Fall color at the Flora Wonder Arboretum