BAG9 – it sounds like a jazz club in New York City. "Thelonious Monk, recorded live from the BAG9." Actually, it is my greenhouse that contains many species of deciduous trees and shrubs. I walked through it this morning, and noted about one hundred different species and cultivars. Everything is 100 percent dormant and all of the leaves have been cleaned up. It really looks like an unimpressive collection of sticks, but let's use our imagination to recall how wonderful it was last spring, summer and fall. No! Better yet, let's look at the digital record – that offers a more vivid recall than vague memories. Every scene truly existed, at least for a moment, and I'm lucky to have been there for all of them.
The BAGS sit atop the bottom of the pond, so to speak. The entire area was bottom ground, next to the creek. The pond was excavated and the soil was spread to its east, raising the ground level. That humus was not good for planting trees, so it was rocked and became our Box Area, a place for our larger trees in pots and boxes. After some severe winters in the early years, with temperatures of 0 degrees F with 40 MPH winds, I began construction of Box Area Greenhouses, or "BAGS," you see. There were once eleven BAGS, starting with BAG0, but numbers 3, 4 and 10 collapsed in snow and ice five or six years ago, and have not been rebuilt.
|Magnolia x 'Genie'|
|Magnolia 'Black Beauty'|
BAG6 consists entirely of conifers, and all the others contain maples, except for...BAG9. I used to propagate a large collection of Magnolias, but I have reduced it down to just a handful that I particularly like. The problem was that many cultivars would already be finished with flowering before eastern customers were ready for their orders. Also, most grow so fast, especially in our fields, that they were larger than our customers cared to handle. Magnolia 'Black Beauty' does not grow as tall as many, but it will develop a broad crown at maturity. Blossoms are purple-black with white centers, and appear from April to May. Magnolia x 'Genie' is more dwarf, and it blooms precociously (before leaves appear), even on young trees. Blossoms occur from spring to summer, and you will even see a few flowers at the end of August, at least in Oregon. x 'Genie' is hardy to -20 degrees F, even though it was bred in New Zealand. It was a seedling selection from Magnolia x 'Sweet Valentine' crossed with Magnolia soulangeana 'Sweet Simplicity', and that hybrid crossed with Magnolia liliiflora. It's tough to follow all of the breeding lines, but the result is a compact tree with rich-green foliage, and flowers that are pleasantly fragrant.
Magnolia soulangeana 'Kiki's Broom'
Another Magnolia that I am partial to is soulangeana 'Kiki's Broom', which originated as a witch's broom mutation, presumably on a Magnolia soulangeana. The wood was harvested in winter, and I'm not sure if anyone knows positively that it is a soulangeana. The scions were collected by Kate Brook Nursery about fifteen years ago, and to my knowledge it was never given a name. Years later I called it 'Kiki's Broom', after a popular animated Japanese girl named "Kiki," who flew through the air on a broom. Then it came to my attention a year ago that it is already in Europe (besides from me) where it goes by some KBN-type of name. It is yet another example where my presumptions are possibly not correct, and that I should never have named it in the first place. As you can see from the photo above, 'Kiki's Broom' maintains a dense low-spreading form, and it can bloom heavily.
|Magnolia x 'Vulcan'|
|Magnolia x 'Vulcan'|
We also keep our Magnolia x 'Vulcan' in BAG9, mainly as protection against a hard spring frost which can damage the flower buds. My largest twenty-year-old specimen in the garden is fickle, or rather, Nature is fickle, and in a five-year period I'll have one year with a no-bloom spring, three years will be good and one will be fantastic. I run at about the same historic average myself. 'Vulcan' was also bred in New Zealand, its parentage being the tender Magnolia campbellii mollicomata 'Lanarth' crossed with a Magnolia liliiflora hybrid. Many consider it the best of the Felix Jury introductions, and, where hardy (USDA zone 7) it is a must. Our dear Flora really delivers a wonderful treat to us with x 'Vulcan'.
|Cornus kousa 'Ohkan'|
|Cornus kousa 'Ohkan'|
Cornus kousa 'Ohkan'
Cornus kousa 'Ohkan' has been photographed by me so many times – especially in the fall – that my main-man Seth despairs every time I'm down in BAG9 taking photos. The kousas are hardy to -20 degrees F, or USDA zone 5, but we can lose them exposed outside in winter when they are in pots. Just six mm. of poly is all it takes to protect them from the frigid elements. The cultivar start was given to me by the "Japanese Godfather of Horticulture," Mr. Akira Shibamichi, my favorite of all Japanese horticulturalists, one whose surname I covet the most – shi ba mi chi, and who needs a first name when you are blessed with the later (! not ?) !
Cornus alternifolia 'Odd Leaf'
A strange mutant dogwood is also in BAG9, a Cornus alternifolia called 'Odd Leaf'. It vies for the most ugly tree at the nursery, and a few visitors have remarked, "Ooo, what happened to that?" We're propagating it now, and when I list a few eventually I have no doubt that they will sell. It was received from the same Kate Brook Nursery that gave me a start of the Magnolia witch's broom.
Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Sasaba'
BAG9 contains our stock plants of Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Sasaba', and they have been fragrantly in flower for the past two months. The leathery pointed leaves are unique; but, give 'Sasaba' wide berth or it will scratch you. It was introduced into the United States from Japan by Brookside Gardens in Maryland. In Japanese Sasaba means "bamboo leaf," but that's the last thing I think of when I see the plant.
|Vitex agnus-castus 'Abbeville Blue'|
Vitex agnus-castus 'Abbeville Blue' is a shrub or small tree, and is hardy to USDA zone 5. Leaves are silvery-blue with white undersides, and sky-blue fragrant flower spikes open in spring, and the blooms have the courtesy to rise above the foliage. Sometimes Vitex agnus-castus is confused for Buddleia, as the flowers are similar and both attract bees and butterflies. One seldom sees Vitex in garden centers, but for no good reason, as it is a low-maintenance plant which can be used as a hedge or as a single specimen. The agnus-castus species is native to southern Europe and western Asia, and is known as the "Chaste Tree." Agnus is a female given name, derived from the Greek hagnē, meaning "pure" or "holy." As a drug agnus-castus is used for treating acne, irregular and painful menstruation, and more. It also had an ancient reputation as an aphrodisiac for men, but unfortunately that is not supported by modern science, or I'd be growing a lot more of it. Vitex is derived from Latin vieo which means to "weave" or "tie up," as the stems were used in basketry.
|Fagus sylvatica 'Aurea Pendula'|
Fagus sylvatica 'Aurea Pendula'
|Fagus sylvatica 'Aurea Pendula'|
Fagus sylvatica 'Albovariegata'
Some European beech, Fagus sylvatica, are in BAG9, not for winter protection, but because 'Aurea Pendula' and 'Albovariegata' grow much faster and do not burn when under the white poly. They would grow well outside under a shade structure, but they eventually don't fit, but that is a good time to sell them anyway. In the garden (see photo above) I have sited 'Aurea Pendula' with morning sun and afternoon shade, and it is one of the most admired specimens in our original Display Garden. 'Aurea Pendula' is never in oversupply, even though it was selected in Holland by Van der Bom in 1900, and it is the Fagus sylvatica cultivar we propagate in the largest number. I received my start in the early 1980's from Howard Hughes – plantsman Hughes, not the rich guy. Howard Hughes was from western Washington state, and he also grew maples and was a contributor to the Vertrees collection and subsequent book.
Calycanthus 'Venus' is a hybrid developed by Dr. Tom Ranney of the North Carolina Horticultural Station, and resulted from the mixture of Calycanthus floridus (the "Carolina Allspice"), Calycanthus occidentalis ("California Sweetshrub") and Calycanthus chinensis (the "Chinese Wax Shrub" that used to be known as Sinocalycanthus chinensis). The hybrid grows perfectly in Oregon and I assume also in western North Carolina, but it is reported as "a dog, not worth a damn" by a more easternly Raleigh nurseryman, due to mildew problems. I found 'Venus' to be easy to propagate, and they sold well for a year or two, but I soon discovered that it was patented and have since ceased and desisted. I keep one because I enjoy the flowers and they smell like the "fruity aroma of strawberries and melons," according to the patent documents.
|A venerable old specimen of Enkianthus perulatus in the Gossler garden|
We have a number of species and cultivars of Enkianthus in BAG9. Enkianthus perulatus is the most dwarf for us, and the twiggy plant usually grows as wide as tall. If I recall correctly, at the Gossler Farms garden, a fifty-year-old was about six feet tall and wide. Flowers are white, in May, and the foliage in fall ranges from oranges, reds to purples. I'm not aware of any common name in the west for the species, but in Japan it is known as dodan tutuji, a sweet name meaning "bells" of the "tutuji," or Rhododendron plant. Indeed both genera prefer the same soil type and growing conditions. The specific name is due to the buds being covered in scales.
Enkianthus campanulatus 'Princeton Red'
|Enkianthus campanulatus 'Princeton Red'|
Enkianthus campanulatus 'Showy Lantern'
Enkianthus campanulatus 'Sikokianus'
|Enkianthus campanulatus 'Variegata'|
The Enkianthus campanulatus species is also from Japan, but it is more erect and not so wide-growing as perulatus. Its specific name – from its flower – is derived from the Latin campanula for "little bell." We only grow named cultivars of campanulatus – the gardening public has been spoiled with deep red-flowering selections, and I doubt that there would now be any market for the straight species. 'Princeton Red' was selected for its pinkish-red flowers, so the common name of Enkianthus campanulatus – "red-vein" – does not apply when the flower is entirely red. Ditto with 'Showy Lantern', which is probably my favorite, along with 'Sikokianus', and the weakling 'Variegata'.
Enkianthus serrulatus is a large shrub or small tree from China, and it can be identified with leaves that are slightly serrated and white flowers that are larger than the perulatus species. Out of the three species mentioned thus far, campanulatus contains most or all of the cultivars, and is by far the species most encountered in the nursery trade. The genus Enkianthus was taxonomically defined in 1790 by the Portuguese Jesuit physician and botanist João de Loureiro who resided in Cochinchina (now Vietnam). The name is derived from the appearance of the flowers, from the Greek enkyos for "pregnant" and anthos for "flowers." The Jesuit published a work entitled Flora Cochinchinensis in 1790, and a good thing he finished it for he died the following year.
|Rubus spectabilis 'Golden Ruby'|
Rubus spectabilis 'Golden Ruby'
|Rubus spectabilis 'Golden Ruby'|
Five years ago I couldn't have dreamed that I would be growing an ornamental "Salmonberry," Rubus spectabilis 'Golden Ruby'. Salmonberry grows along stream beds in the shade, and in my youth I fought through them on my way to the fishing hole. The common name is due to the orange-pink edible (but vapid) fruit that resembles the color of salmon flesh. 'Golden Ruby' is very attractive for its soft golden foliage, and it prefers afternoon shade in my experience, but too much shade will cause it to go green. The "Ruby" part of the cultivar name is due to the pinkish-purple flower which is pretty, but small. The generic name Rubus was coined by Linnaeus in 1753 for ruber is "red," which most of the berries are in the genus. It was once called Rubacer, the "acer" part is due to the maple-like appearance of the leaves of some species. It's remarkable to me that there is a market for weeds, so to speak, if they are different somehow, like being yellow instead of green. If there was a variegated dandelion, for instance, would there be a market for it?
Pieris japonica 'Bonsai'
Pieris japonica 'Bonsai'
|Perseus with Medusa's head|
|Picea engelmannii 'Snake'|
Pieris japonica 'Bonsai' is a cute miniature – it sells well – but it's so slow that very little profit can be made. For our QT (cutie pot) program we offer 'Bonsai' where hardy, and the "Andromeda" will grow to only 2' tall by 1' wide in 10 years. It received its common name due to its pendulous "chains" of white flowers. In Greek myth a princess of Ethiopia – Andromeda – was chained to a sea wall and was being threatened by a sea monster. The hero Perseus saved Andromeda by breaking the chains and freeing her, and later they would marry. They now exist in the sky as constellations. Perseus also had the good fortune to be assisted by the Nymphs of the North. They gave him the Cap of Darkness which rendered him invisible. He put on his dark hat, flew down and cut the head off the evil female monster, Medusa. By Roman times, according to the poet Ovid, Medusa was an exceedingly beautiful maiden, but she was caught fornicating with Poseidon (God of the Sea) in Athena's temple. Of course that outraged Athena, and she transformed Medusa's hair to serpents and made her so ugly that the sight of her face would turn onlookers to stone. I used to own a Picea engelmannii 'Snake' that certainly resembled Medusa's head, but I sold it to a high bidder before I was turned to stone. Forgive the wandering mythological digressions, but you'll have a lot to think about the next time you see an Andromeda.
There really is an astonishing floral display in BAG9, and we only took a few steps into it. About a year ago, after a heavy autumn wind, I was inside looking up at the poly that was littered with Alnus leaves and old Pseudotsuga needles. I became fascinated with the debris; it was more interesting than a lot of modern art I have seen. Well, I guess it's true that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." But not for my brother-in-law, who is convinced that "beauty is in the eye of the beerholder." He would also say, "We all need something to believe in. I believe I'll have another beer."