Friday, November 1, 2013

Carolina in My Mind

North Carolina

Talon & Phil

Phil and I spent a week in North Carolina this past October attending the Maple Society Conference, and it was our first-ever visit to that beautiful state. Now I've got Carolina in my mind, as the popular James Taylor crooned forty-five years ago. I wasn't sure before why the New England wuss would carry on about Carolina, but it turns out that he did indeed live there for a while, as his father was a professor of medicine at Chapel Hill. Taylor appreciated the beauty and tranquility of Carolina, but said "...I feel as though my experience of coming of age there was more a matter of landscape and climate than people." In my mind, the people proved to be a wonderful contribution to the state, as much as the beautiful landscape or climate. Everyone we met was polite and kind, and even if that is fake and all show, it is still pleasant to be around, much more than the surly hillbillies and drug addicts in my nursery's vicinity.

Tim and Matt Nichols

The two young guys who made all the arrangements for the Maple Society tour were brothers Matt and Tim Nichols. My God, it consumed so much of their time that I'm sure they were happy and relieved when we all went home. Known as the "Nichols Boys," they are the rock stars of the maple future, and have already amassed over one thousand cultivars of various maple species.* Tim is twenty six years old and Matt is thirty two, and their business is known as The boys are intelligent and hard-working, and best of all, humble. Their likability has resulted in an extensive network of relationships with the cognoscenti of the maple world, and I'm sure they will parlay that into a successful horticultural career, yet another example where Maple Fever proves to be an excellent addiction. Anyway, I admire them, and wish they were my sons, for surely I would finally have an exit strategy for my predicament: namely the fact that nurseries (like mine) are more easily gotten into, than out of.

*I have about three hundred, I think, and all of the older nurserymen advise that the Nichols' must eventually "narrow their focus," which they delightfully ignore for now.

Our first stop was to the North Carolina State University Horticultural Research Station, located just outside of Asheville. We were told that "wild horticultural stuff" was going on there, but unfortunately we were not permitted to witness most things "due to patent situations." Instead we were led to a hops trial, as in Humulus lupulus strung up on wires, in an attempt to locally support Asheville's aim of vying for the "beer capital of America." Currently Oregon supplies their hops, and so far Asheville lags far behind.

Next we were shown an adelgid trial on hemlocks. I'm not sure what would become of the project, since Tsuga is a bad word on the East Coast due to the sucking woolly bug, originally from eastern Asia, which has affected over 50% of the native range of Tsuga canadensis and Tsuga caroliniana. We do not have the problem in Oregon, thankfully, but it has nearly ended hemlock production at Buchholz Nursery, when at the beginning of my career it was a major component of my plant listings.

Saccharum species

We also noticed fields of grasses, all being tested for bio-fuel production, and even sugarcane (Saccharum sp.) was being grown. Lastly we were positioned around a hundred or so plants of Chaenomeles in three-gallon pots. We were given score cards and we had to rate the plants for best form. I grew weary of the project, and at one point all the plants began to look alike. Besides, you would need a dozen of each clone to really get a feel for its form. Our reward was an apple grown on the farm, Autumn Crisp – or some such name – which was fantastic. We also received a plant of one of their "wild stuff," a pot of Cornus x 'Little Ruby', a cross between Cornus hongkongensis and Cornus kousa. Why anyone would use the less hardy hongkongensis is beyond me, but in any case it doesn't matter, as the plant is protected and I'll never be able to propagate it. The hybrid was a joint cooperative project between the North Carolina Nursery Association and North Carolina State University. Oregon also has a research station that receives funding from our nursery association, but nothing has ever been accomplished that was of benefit to my business. I'm sorry that my annual dues go to a "no benefit" relationship.

White Gate Inn

White Gate Inn

Pinus densiflora 'Oculis Draconis'

Colocasia species

Helianthus maximiliani

Back on the bus, we rode into Asheville and stopped at the White Gate Inn to visit their garden. It was small and unremarkable, and crammed with way too much, but a few things were of interest. I spotted a small Pinus densiflora 'Oculis Draconis', and as I've seen before, the cultivar colors much better on the East Coast than here in Oregon. A Colocasia species shined with brilliance in the morning light. I don't know much about them, as I have never grown one, but Colocasia is a genus of the arum family from tropical Asia, and I imagine it could look good down by my pond. Also impressive was a patch of Helianthus (Sunflower) maximiliani, a plant I also do not grow. But one of the purposes of the trip was to expand my gardening palette, for Oregon and North Carolina are very much alike climate-wise, except for their very obvious summer humidity, which they can certainly keep.

North Carolina Arboretum

Ulmus parvifolia 'Allee'

For the afternoon we arrived at the North Carolina Arboretum, and just before we parked at the entrance I was impressed with an allee of elms, which proved to be Ulmus parvifolia 'Allee', a clone from a tree planted in 1910 on the University of Georgia campus at Athens. The barks were very colorful and the crowns were rich green and healthy-looking. I have no interest in producing elms at Buchholz Nursery, but I wouldn't mind having an 'Allee' or two in the Flora Wonder Arboretum.

Capsicum annuum 'Black Pearl'

Overall, the Arboretum was not a hotbed of new and wonderful plants; it was more like a walk in the park for young moms and their kids, or old people, but I did see some interesting plant schemes. Masses of the black-leaved and black-berried "Ornamental Pepper," Capsicum annuum 'Black Pearl' was impressive. The ¾ inch fruits emerge black, but are said to ripen to a rich, deep red, and they are edible, assuming you like your peppers very hot. The species is native to the Americas, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years. The generic name is from Greek kapto, meaning "to bite," and the common name "Chili Peppers" is derived from the native Nahuatl (from Oaxaca) chilli or xilli, for a variety of capsicum grown since at least 3,000 BC. "Peppers" refer to the similarity of taste with the black pepper, Piper nigrum, although Piper and Capsicum are not botanically related. If I were to find 'Black Pearl' at my local garden center, I certainly would buy a couple, even though they would be annuals in Oregon. Interestingly, Capsicum is an essential element in Asian cuisine, but no one knows for sure how it reached Asia from America, and of course some would have you believe that its arrival predated Columbus. I would be most delighted if that was proven to be true.

Cyperus papyrifolia

Another plant which intrigues me is Cyperus papyrifolia, also known as Cyperus papyrus, but I'm sure they haul it inside for winter, for it is listed as only hardy to zone 10. Of course this is the papyrus of the Ancient Egyptians, and the first archaeological evidence of paper-making from this wetland sedge dates back to 2,560 BC. The English word "papyrus" is ultimately from Greek papuros, although it has no known relationship to any Egyptian word or phrase. A second Greek word for papyrus is bublos, and that was derived from the Phoenician city of Byblos. The Greek writer (4th century BC) Theophrastus used papuros as a reference to food, and bublos for the same plant when used for baskets or writing surfaces. Eventually bublos became biblos, and hence we have such words as "bibliography" and "bible," all due to the inner bark of the papyrus plant. Besides all of the paper details, I find papyrus to be an attractive ornamental weed, and wish that it was more cold hardy.

Juniperus procumbens

Juniperus virginiana

Pseudocydonia sinensis

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Gracilis'

The North Carolina Arboretum contained a bonsai exhibit with attractive pieces, but overall the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection in Washington state exceeds Carolina's. But curator Arthur Joura led our group through the exhibit, and though I can't remember anything he said now, his passionate point of view of bonsai was evident, and it would be difficult to find any man more connected with his work. Often misspoken is the word bonsai, and it is properly pronounced as "bone-sigh." It first appeared in China over one thousand years ago as an art of growing dwarfed, ornamentally-shaped trees or shrubs in a small shallow container. Bonsai was introduced into Japan in 1195 AD, and it became a symbol of prestige displayed indoors on special occasions. The word was derived from Middle Chinese pun for "basin" and tsai, "to plant." I don't have enough patience to practice the art myself, and I certainly wouldn't want the responsibility of taking care of a collection. How could you ever tell your boss that you just killed a three-hundred-year-old tree?



Gardener at Work

Another fun exhibit was Lego sculptures. From hummingbirds to bison, the works of art were made from thousands of pieces. My favorite was the Garden Worker, a life-size and very life-like work that employed 37,497 Legos by artist Sean Kenney. It was inspired by the Gardener at Work in 1607, from a typical European garden scene.

Pinus palustris

Miller's Gardener's Dictionary

I was joyed to see Pinus palustris, the "Longleaf Pine" from the southeast, and it is the symbol of North Carolina and Alabama. I used to grow a few, but they are only hardy to USDA zone 9, and mine perished when we received five degrees F one winter. I'm not sure how it survives in North Carolina, for they recorded minus seven degrees F in Raleigh in recent times. Palustris is distinctive for large buds covered with white scales which give protection from forest fires. It grows on dry sandy soils and the seedlings have an extended "grass" stage, also a survival strategy against forest fire. The botanical name palustris means "of marshes," but that is a misunderstanding by Philip Miller who described the species, after seeing "Longleaf Pine" forests in temporary winter flooding. I actually own a copy of Philip Miller's Garden Dictionary published in M, DCC, LXX by "Your Grace's Most Obedient Humble Servant, from Chelsea, December 15, 1770." Anyone wishing to observe my copy only needs to ask, for a fan of 1700's horticulture is certainly a fan of me, or a fan for me rather.

Illicium mexicanum

Illicium mexicanum was also a nice find, and the "Mexican Anise Tree" was still in flower. The thick glossy-green leaves are anise-scented when crushed, but the fruits are not edible. Illicium is a delicious word from Latin illicio, which means to "entice" or "allure." Many species of Illicium occur, and the "Star Anise" (Illicium verum) is used as a spice in the preparation of biryani and masala chai (tea) in India, which I have enjoyed – and you too Tobey – when we travelled in India fifteen years ago. But be careful, because Shikimi, the "Japanese Star Anise," Illicium anisatum, is similar, but is not edible and is highly toxic. I have never grown any Illicium species, but once again, I would try one if available at my garden center.

Liquidambar styraciflua 'Slender Silhouette'

I encountered an interesting spike of a tree in Belgium two years ago, Liquidambar styraciflua 'Slender Silhouette', and saw it again at the North Carolina Arboretum. The plant was discovered by Don Shadow of Tennessee and is a narrow columnar tree growing to thirty feet tall by only seven feet wide in twelve years! Fall color ranges from yellow to purple; and it is a tree that performs well in urban situations. We only grow a few, as it is already advanced in the shade-tree world, and large companies can produce them by the many thousands. Buchholz Nursery, actually, operates on the fringe of horticulture, where we produce difficult-to-propagate plants, or those largely unknown  by others, or cultivars that are new from exotic locales. So we'll grow 'Slender Silhouette' for a few years, then drop it as prices begin to fall. Too bad, but that's just the way it is.

Muhlenbergia capillaris 'Pink Form'

Glyptemys muhlenbergii

I've known of the grass genus Muhlenbergia for a long time, but I had never encountered the pink form of the "Muhly Grass." It presents a frothy wave of pink, and the cloud-like eminence is native to eastern North America. The grass was present in a number of the North Carolina Arboretum's landscapes, and was prominent in the dry areas of their parking lot, as photographed above. Gotthilf Ernst Muhlenberg, a Lutheran pastor in Pennsylvania, was best known as a botanist, and the genus of grasses was named in his honor. Muhlenberg corresponded with the great polymath Alexander von Humboldt, my German hero of the natural sciences, as well as other eminent scientists of the era. Some think of Herr Muhlenberg as best known for his discovery and identification of America's bog turtle, which was named Glyptemys muhlenbergii in his honor.

Acer saccharum 'Green Mountain'

Acer saccharum 'Green Mountain'

Acer saccharum 'Green Mountain'

A row of trees I observed at the beginning of my Arboretum visit was twenty or so Acer saccharum 'Green Mountain', a cultivar known for its deep green foliage and resistance to leaf scorch. The trees were beginning to turn to their orange-scarlet autumn color, and, yet again, I wish I had a few of the cultivar in my arboretum. I have come to realize that America's Southeast is not in an ideal climate to grow some trees, but the specimens that do well there also perform admirably in Oregon. North Carolina will always be in my mind, and I am anxious to return, with a near spring my target date.

Mellow Mushroom

Mellow Mushroom

After a full day in this southeast Eden, we headed to Asheville's city center for dinner at The Mellow Mushroom, a pizza joint which was thronged by multitudes of young hipsters in the heart of old town. The pseudo-psychedelic ambiance was enhanced by delicious pizza and an assortment of stout beers. I met manager Gerry Mahon, a plant nerd who recently purchased thousands of dollars of trees from Buchholz Nursery. What a small, but incredible horticultural world I live in! Next week we will continue in North Carolina, and fortunately the best was yet to come.


  1. How can someone so intelegent and talented be so arogant? Please stick to plants and drop the discriptions of your neibors or the rest of your state.

  2. Spelling is not his strong point?????
    Of the accessible N. Carolina arboreta only JC Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh can be relied upon to tag everything. I hope you visited.

    Mike Mc Carthy

  3. hi I found your use of black pearl pepper hilarious. good luck with findin those cabbages rabbits. I besides growing ornamental along side common and wild plants I make videos about fixing the Fukushima disaster You can see them all on General Gamble youtube channal.