Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Winding Paths

The original Display Garden at Buchholz Nursery, photographed above, and at the beginning of every Flora Wonder Blog, was begun thirty four years ago, with some trees being about ten years old (or more) when planted. The grounds were quite sparse then, and even in the middle I could not take a piss comfortably. And there was no shade, neither for me nor for certain plants. How I coveted the shady areas in older established gardens! Now the Display Garden has aged, and has undergone many changes with trees harvested, edited (cut down), limbed up, as well as many new items planted. I don't consider these plants a "landscape" in the traditional sense; it is more of a collection, like my son's baseball-cards just tossed without order into a box.

In circle: the beginning of the Display Garden, September 1982

The Display Garden contains a network of winding paths, and a first-time visitor – especially one constrained by time – is consternated by the myriad of potential routes: "Should I turn left, or right, or move straight ahead?" The visitor doesn't want to miss anything, but there are cool plants to see in every direction. In the history of the Garden, no one has ever passed from one side to the other at a normal walking pace...without stopping to look at plants and read the labels. He converses with himself if alone, or aloud with others if in a group. The Display Garden is not something I'm particularly proud of, in the sense that I have accomplished anything great. All I did was to take great plants and hole them into the ground.

This morning we have the gift of a blue sky and sunshine, and most of last night's frost is gone. Let's wander (from Old English wandrian, related to wend and wind) around and see what we find.

Abies concolor 'Wintergold' prostate form

Abies concolor 'Wintergold' in January

Abies concolor 'Wintergold' in May

Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph'

At the very beginning we encounter a luminous nine-foot golden pyramid, Abies concolor 'Wintergold', and it pairs well with today's bright blue sky. Further into the garden is a 'Wintergold' of the same age, but it was always disinclined to form a leader, and it is only two feet tall by eight feet wide at fifteen years of age. The golden color is most intense in winter, and probably its only rival for dramatic color is Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph'. An outstanding feature of the concolor is its chartreuse-colored new growth in spring, and you can see in the photo above how that new growth contrasts with the older, golden foliage. I've had more people ooh and aah over 'Wintergold' in spring than in winter, and these people would include non-plantsmen such as truck drivers and the mail lady.

Abies concolor

Abies concolor is commonly known as the "White Fir," and it occurs in the mountainous areas of North America and into northern Mexico. The species name concolor refers in this case to "having uniform color." It has even been recorded at an elevation over 11,000 feet, and eventually can form a large-size tree up to 200 feet tall. The species was discovered and introduced by William Lobb, a botanical explorer who was sent to California from 1849 to 1853 by the English Veitch Nursery. Lobb was famous for introducing Sequoiadendron giganteum (as the sore losers in England continue to call Wellingtonia), Araucaria araucana, the Chilean "Monkey Puzzle Tree," and one of my favorites of all conifers, Abies bracteata, the "Santa Lucia Fir." Poor Lobb never returned to England; he lost his marbles in California due to syphilis and died forgotten and alone.

Tsuga heterophylla 'Thorsen'

I have a beautiful specimen of "Western Hemlock" in the Display Garden, Tsuga heterophylla 'Thorsen', aka 'Thorsen's Weeping'. 'Thorsen' only "weeps" if it is staked up, otherwise it will form a low-spreading groundcover. The green foliage is much more rich and refined than on any of the Tsuga canadensis cultivars, but 'Thorsen' is not quite as hardy (to -10 degrees, USDA zone 6). This hemlock will tolerate partial shade, but it looks fantastic when grown in full sun; and remember, you Midwesterners and East Coasters, our summer sun is more akin to an Arizona heat than to your muggy misfortune. My only gripe about 'Thorsen' is the crappy cultivar name. I don't know who Mr. or Mrs. Thorsen is or was, but the selection is far too wonderful to be saddled with such a dumb name.

Plantsman Hatch inspecting a Rhododendron

Rhododendron campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum

Rhododendron campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum

Rhododendron cinnabarinum 'Small Leaf UBC'

Rhododendron makinoi

Rhododendron occidentale

Now that I finally have shade in the Display Garden, I have planted a world-class – albeit small – collection of Rhododendrons. These came to me via plantsman Reuben Hatch, a long-time friend who I cheekily refer to as "My Grandfather," or from the Rhododendron Species Foundation of Washington state. I should admit that most of my favorites have little or nothing to do with their blossoms; it is the leaves – both tops and bottoms – and the trunks that I admire the most. Add to that their stories, like where they come from, and who discovered and introduced them.

Rhododendron yuefengense

Rhododendron orbiculare 'Exbury'

Two recent Rhododendron additions to the Display Garden are Rhododendron yuefengense and Rhododendron kesangiae var. album. All photos above are from the Species Foundation, as my plants are still quite small. Plant explorer and Rhododendron discoverer Kenneth Cox states, "More than 50 new species of Rhododendron have been introduced from the wild since 1981 and some are significant garden plants, worthy of widespread cultivation. Furthermore, I am convinced that we have not found them all yet." Rhododendron yuefengense is one such introduction, and features rounded glossy-green leaves and pinkish-white bell-shaped flowers (in early June). Its foliage reminds me of Rhododendron orbiculare, but the flowers are more white than the latter.

Rhododendron kesangiae

Rhododendron kesangiae

Abies forest in Bhutan

Taxus species from Bhutan

Rhododendron kesangiae is a lofty tree-like species with large glossy-green leaves. A beautiful specimen resides just outside the entrance to the Species Garden, and I suspect there are more planted inside. Flowers can be pink-purple to white, and I have the white form, var. album. The species, from Bhutan, was named in honor of Kesang, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, and the suffix iae denotes a female as name recipient in botanical nomenclature. I ran into her husband, almost literally, on a 1990 trip to Bhutan, when I was displaced on an expedition by "lost" (lost = stolen) luggage in Bangkok, Thailand. I finally arrived in Paro, Bhutan, and went from there to Thimphu the capital. I was in a jeep-like vehicle that speedily rounded a dirt-road corner and...suddenly slammed to a halt just inches from crashing into his Supreme Holiness. The jeep driver and my "guide" instantly bowed deeply into their crotches while I dumbly stared directly at the Thunder Dragon King, and we briefly made eye contact. He was approximately my age, and indeed he presented a rather royal visage, but I didn't immediately realize that I was so close to an Asian king. Later, my Bhutanese ushers ferried me to the eastern portion of the realm, on a precarious road filled with boulders and wash-outs, and in one instance we all got out of our vehicle to remove the obstructional rocks. A day later we came to a ten-vehicle traffic jam on this single-track to eastern Bhutan – on the National Highway. It turned out that the King was simultaneously inspecting his eastern possessions, and had stopped for lunch. His entourage prepared a pleasant lunch along the pot-holed road, and decorated the site with an enclosure of fir boughs and tents for royal dining. I got out of my vehicle and decided to roam the hillside to botanize, but first I made sure that the armed royal bodyguards noticed my camera and would have no reason to suspect me of anything malicious. Up on the hillside, barely hidden from armored view, I relived myself...and reflected that I was pissing in the vicinity of Holiness, and that, furthermore, I was possibly also pissing on a plant species that was new to science. Immediately after I zipped up, I turned to find a most colorful trunk, that of a Taxus species, but one that I've never been able to positively identify. Anyway, Rhododendron kesangiae brings back memories of my time in the Thunder Dragon Kingdom, and my only regret was that I was largely ignorant of the Bhutanese flora at the time.

Picea abies 'Pusch'

Picea abies 'Pusch'

Picea abies 'Acrocona'

At the western side of the Display Garden – in section DG12 – I have a peninsula planting of 'Pusch', a dwarf Picea abies cultivar. It is sometimes known as 'Acrocona Pusch' because it originated as a witch's broom mutation on Picea abies 'Acrocona', a slow-growing "Norway Spruce" cultivar known to cone heavily. 'Pusch' cones heavily as well, and the tiny purple-red orbs reside erectly above the green foliage in spring. By summer the ornamental cones evolve to a russet-brown color and droop downwards, where they remain for the rest of the season. My original planting included seventeen trees, but since they were beginning to grow into each other, the 'Pusch' came to shovel this past winter, and now only seven trees remain. The compact low-spreading cultivar was discovered in Germany in the 1970's by...Mr. Pusch.

Sciadopitys verticillata 'Picola'

Sciadopitys verticillata

Sciadopitys verticillata

Another attractive conifer is Sciadopitys verticillata 'Picola', a dwarf with a rounded form for its first seven to eight years, but then eventually assumes a leader. 'Picola' was originally selected as a seedling at Böhlje Nursery of Westerstede, Germany, but my start came from Holland about fifteen years ago. To date my oldest specimen has never coned, but I assume that eventually it will. We used to propagate by grafting, but currently we produce 'Picola' by winter cuttings, and we have decent success at that. The genus name Sciadopitys is derived from Greek skias or skiados, meaning an "umbrella" or "parasol," and pitys, meaning a "fir" or "pine." It was introduced into Europe from its native Japan by Thomas Lobb, brother of poor William Lobb, in 1853. Yes, the enterprising Veitch Nursery had a history of sending explorers around the world in search of new plants. I can recommend an excellent biography of the Veitch family, Seeds of Fortune, by Sue Shepard, published in 2003. For over one hundred years, and across five generations, the family Рoriginally from Scotland Рwas among the most advanced and successful growers and hybridizers in Europe. Their demise came as a result of World War I, but I wonder if there are any descendants in horticulture today, and if so I would like to meet them. The Veitch name is Scottish (Norman), and is a variant of Vacher, or "cowherd," derived from Latin vacca for "cow."

The original Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost'

The original Acer palmatum 'Dr. Seuss'

Acer palmatum 'Dr. Seuss'

The original Acer palmatum 'Spring Delight'

Acer palmatum 'Spring Delight'

Acer palmatum 'Spring Delight'

Acer shirasawanum 'Sensai'

The original Acer shirasawanum 'Shogun'

The original Acer japonicum 'Ao jutan'

Acer japonicum 'Ao jutan'

There are dozens of Japanese maples in the Display Garden, and I suppose at some point in the future one could canopy-hop from tree to tree without ever touching the ground. There exists around fifty individual specimens, including the original Acer palmatums 'Purple Ghost', 'Dr. Seuss' and 'Spring Delight', shirasawanums 'Sensai' and 'Shogun' and japonicum 'Ao jutan'.

Original Display Garden with 'Tsuma gaki' on the right

Acer palmatum 'Tsuma gaki'

In addition to these "originals" is a fantastic specimen of Acer palmatum 'Tsuma gaki'. It is one of my most favorite of all Japanese maple cultivars, and I easily sold all I had in the early days when my scionwood was limited. Now, when I could potentially graft thousands, the market has waned. I don't understand how such a unique and lovely cultivar can fall from favor, but I have adjusted my production to the times.

Acer palmatum 'Amagi shigure'

Fifteen steps from the original 'Purple Ghost' is Acer palmatum 'Amagi shigure'. I saw the latter for the first time in spring in Japan about ten years ago. From a distance I first assumed it to be 'Purple Ghost', but how in the world did 'Purple Ghost' get to Japan, as it certainly was not sent by me? Now that I grow both cultivars I can see how they differ, with 'Amagi shigure' being the more bright purple (with black veins), and the 'Purple Ghost' being more dark purple (and also with black veins). 'Purple Ghost' is the stronger grower of the two, but I have to admit that I would choose 'Amagi shigure' over my introduction if I could only have one in my garden.

Acer palmatum 'Baby Lace'

Acer palmatum 'Baby Lace'

Apparently I have the largest Acer palmatum 'Baby Lace' in the world, at least according to the discoverer Rick Rey who visited my garden about ten years ago. He first noticed it as a witch's broom mutation on a red laceleaf at his East Coast bank. Rick harvested scions, and a good thing he did because the broom eventually died out, and later it was introduced by Raraflora Nursery in Pennsylvania. The photo above shows my specimen at a younger age, and it attained its superior size because I grafted it onto a vigorous six-year-old rootstock. That is one of my tricks to rapidly increase scionwood on new and dwarf maples, by grafting them atop an older rootstock.


Acer buergerianum 'Wako nishiki' in May

Acer buergerianum 'Wako nishiki' in summer

Acer buergerianum 'Miyasama yatsubusa'

I also have a couple of "Trident Maples" in the Display Garden, Acer buergerianums 'Wako nishiki' and 'Miyasama yatsubusa'. The 'Wako' is an amazing cultivar which can begin in spring with pure-white leaves with green veins. Sometime in May the white leaves evolve to a speckled white and green, then eventually to mostly green by summer. Changing to a green color ensures that 'Wako nishiki' can survive the hot summer, but for every year that the tree is established in the garden, less burning occurs anyway. The 'Miyasama yatsubusa' in the photo above is about eight feet tall at twenty five years of age. We produce the cultivar by rooted cuttings and by grafting, with neither method being highly successful.

Well, there you have a little tour along the winding paths of the Display Garden. I am sure that at some point in the future we'll be returning. I enjoy this place, and especially so when all employees are gone, and only my wife and I are alone on the paths in the evening. Then, I reflect on the circuitous routes that led us to each other.


  1. Naruto is an awesome AB too.....love the curled leaves so much

    thanx for the entry duder

  2. Thank you so much for the beauty, Talon. Also, it sounds like you have such a wonderful "love story". If only everyone could experience the beauty of trees with someone special. Wouldn't the world be a happy place?

  3. I have one of your Acer palmatum 'Amagi shigure' here in Saint Louis. A Huge Fan!