Friday, July 25, 2014

History of the Display Garden

The original Display Garden in 2002

When I look out the office window I see how the trees in the original Display Garden have matured, or at least what's left of them. Some perished in windstorms and some were cut down by us and some just died naturally, and just as well so that we could plant new things. I wish those that remain would stop growing, as a dozen or more have such massive trunks that they prevent nearby companions from thriving by sucking up all the moisture. The Flora Wonder Blog theme photo (above) was the Display Garden as it existed twelve years ago, and the photo below was taken today from the very same spot.

The original Display Garden in 2014

The Garden seems to have gone downhill then, wouldn't you say? The older photo reveals a more lush, vibrant and inviting garden than the one in today's photo. But actually I think the garden is even better than twelve years ago, but clearly my photographic depiction appears to have gone downhill. The point being is that on a volatile spring evening in 2002, when the sky exhibited enthusiastic drama, and when light and enriched foliage enhanced the image, the garden was indeed more incredible. Believe me – I was there – it was. Today, on the other hand, I was pooped from the 95 degree July temperature and so were the plants. Instead of receiving a photograph, which is my preference, I went out and took it. I took the Display Garden photo, and that usually results in something crappy.

I'll mention again the correspondence from a Tennessee nurseryman who considered to purchase maple liners from us, as maples might be a profitable product for him to expand into. But as a maple novice his concern was that the photographs from our extensive plant photo library showed images when the maples just looked their best, and not what they looked like the rest of the time. Therefore, how could he wisely choose what to purchase? Actually I agreed – you can't. Guilty! I confess that my sham is to portray plants at their best, that I have no attraction to plants at their worst or most plain or boring. Yep, I am a huckster for beauty and always will be. Believe me, Leonardo da Vinci  did not paint La Gioconda when she first awoke in the morning, nor does my muse, Flora, hold flowers during her morning constitutional.

S. giganteum 'Glaucum' at Buchholz Nursery
S. giganteum 'Glaucum' at Bedgebury

But back to the original Display Garden, let's consider what still remains, in particular the largest trees that jut above all of the rest. The most tall is not the most old, but it is still over thirty years of age. Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Glaucum' forms a narrow spire, making it more garden friendly than the typical seedling-grown "Giant Redwood," and especially if you favor blue foliage. 'Glaucum' was introduced into cultivation around 1860 and I think it is the tallest tree in the Bedgebury National Pinetum in the High Weald of Kent, England, a conifer wonderland that I visited about ten years ago. Hillier in his Manual of Trees and Shrubs notes 'Glaucum's' narrow form, while Krussman in Manual of Cultivated Conifers claims that, other than the blue foliage, it is "Exactly like the type." You lose Krussmann, and how could you miss something so obvious?

Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Pendula'

Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Green Arrow'

Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Van den Akker'

Not far from the Giant Redwood is Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Pendula'. The "Weeping Alaskan Cedar" as a cultivar is an old-timer, having been in cultivation since 1884, and was introduced by van Leeuwen of Holland. I must confess that my large specimen is not particularly attractive, and we don't propagate it anymore. The foliage is gray-green and smells rather like cat piss. It is not so narrow either, at least compared with superior cultivars like 'Green Arrow' and 'Van den Akker'. I remember fifteen years ago that Horticulture magazine had an article by its (then) editor extolling the virtues of nootkatensis 'Pendula', and I think the author used the words "slender nymph" to describe it. Well, not in Oregon and I doubt elsewhere as it matures. He went on to contrast it with the behemoth Colorado blue spruces, like why would anyone plant a garden-thug spruce when you could have a "nymph" in your yard. When the Display Garden was twenty years old it actually contained two different cultivars of Picea pungens, both grafted onto vigorous "Norway Spruce," Picea abies. It turned out that the nootkatensis was more tall and wide than the spruces (which were actually older), half-again more so. If I could Photoshop 'Pendula' out of the garden I would, but the danger to nearby plants of actually cutting it down prevents me from taking action.

Pinus flexilis 'Vanderwolf Pyramid'

And the same is the case with my oldest Pinus flexilis 'Vanderwolf Pyramid' which now soars to 70' in height. They are cute "dwarves" in the field, especially if you candle prune as we do – or used to do, since we don't propagate it anymore. If potential customers at the retail end could see my monster, no one would ever buy one. Actually it is not a bad-looking pine, and could be perfect in a park or large arboretum, but certainly not in the typical home-owner's yard. Interestingly, 'Vanderwolf Pyramid' is not a true flexilis species; it is from Pinus reflexa, a southern USA-northern Mexico species, but one that is fairly similar to flexilis. Reflexa (Engelmann) is considered the "Southern Limber Pine." The reason I stopped propagating 'Vanderwolf Pyramid' is because my customers stopped buying them. The market went from good to dead about ten years ago. Incidentally, both the pine and the nootkatensis 'Pendula' can be bought for cheap at my local box store, for a retail price less than what I can wholesale them for. I suspect the suppliers to the box stores are either bankrupt or soon to be, as that seems to be the pattern.

Abies procera 'Glauca'

Another giant is Abies procera 'Glauca', which was originally propagated as 'Glauca Pendula'. The old Dutchman that I worked for thirty years ago had a specimen in his landscape that sprawled flat to ten or more feet wide, and was less than one foot tall. My grafts from his wonderful plant promptly assumed leaders, and not knowing what to do, I sold all but one. I planted it wondering if it would ever settle down and behave; it didn't, but it's a nice tree nevertheless. The same apical dominance has occurred on other species as well. The rambling Picea pungens 'Procumbens', when staked into a narrow weeping tree, can sometimes emulate the Abies. Perhaps it is a factor of my rich soil and constant watering, but I didn't get the supine nymph that I was hoping for.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Spiralis'

Cryptomeria japonica 'Spiralis'

Cryptomeria japonica 'Rasen'

Cryptomeria japonica 'Rasen'

Cryptomeria japonica 'Spiralis' is another old cultivar that the uninformed take to be a dwarf. Ha to that! as my thirty-year old specimen is over forty feet tall. We have limbed it up because it stretched onto the garden path, and now we can also enjoy the exfoliating cinnamon trunk. One can guess that 'Spiralis' is an old selection due to the preponderance of Latin names for many old conifer cultivars, and in fact it was Philipp Franz von Siebold who brought it from Japan to Holland in about 1860. Another cultivar is C. j. 'Rasen' and its needles do the wrap-around, even more than 'Spiralis'. 'Rasen' has a more open tree form, but is equally as vigorous. Rasen is the Japanese word for "barber pole."

Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu

Cryptomeria – or sugi to the Japanese – is the country's National Tree, and many fine specimens can be found around Japan's temples and shrines. One of the most impressive sights that I have ever seen, awesome even, was the sugi avenue in Nikko. According the Charles Sprague Sargent in The Forest Flora of Japan (1894), a daimyo (feudal lord) was too poor to donate a stone lantern at the funeral of the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616). The poor daimyo requested instead to be allowed to plant an avenue of sugi "so that future visitors might be protected from the heat of the sun." The offer was accepted, and the marvel planted is about forty miles long and "has not its equal in stately grandeur."...But not for everyone, for sugi and hinoki – no matter how majestic – exude pollen that is a major cause of hay fever in Japan.

Source: Peter Freiman

The word crypto is from Greek kruptos for "hidden." Cryptomeria means "hidden parts," and doesn't just refer to the sugi tree. Lunarly speaking, cryptomeria are "mare basalt deposits hidden or obscured by superposed higher albedo material or variations in albedo. They represent a record of the earliest mare volcanism, and may be a significant volumetric contribution to the volcanic and magmatic history of the Moon." By Irene Antonenko, James W. Head, John F. Mustard, and B. Ray Hawke, 1994 – those spacists who relish the properties of the Moon*.

*Mare (plural maria) are dark basaltic plains on the moon, visible to the naked eye, which resulted from ancient volcanic eruptions. Albedo is a Latin word for "whiteness" from reflected sunlight.

Picea orientalis 'Aureospicata'

Picea orientalis 'Aureospicata'

Picea orientalis 'Lemon Drop'

I have two impressive Picea orientalis 'Aureospicata' that are quite sizable, and I bought them thirty years ago (when they were ten years old) from a German nurseryman from Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. 'Aureospicata' is listed by both Krussmann and Hillier as simply 'Aurea', but clearly 'Aureospicata' is the preferred epitaph, for it is only golden for a month in spring with its new growth and for the remainder of the year it is dark green. There possibly exists more than one clone because many of its seedlings – which pop up all over my Display Garden – also exhibit the golden new growth. We are trialing one we have named 'Lemon Drop', and I'll be happy if it retains its dwarf stature, especially when grafted onto vigorous Picea abies. According to Krussmann 'Aureospicata' was first introduced by P. Smith "near Hamburg, W. Germany* before 1873."

The reunited Germany

*It's memorable to see W. Germany in print, and it surely dates the Krussmann work. It reminds me of my very first intern, the German Harald Jacobs, a thoughtful, hardworking and interesting man who is in his mid-fifties by now. We lost touch because his handwriting was so terrible that I couldn't make out his new address when he moved. So, Germany, if you know him make sure to tell him to type a message to me! Anyway, one day (in the 1980's) Harald and I were discussing the possibility of a united Germany. He replied that some might wish for it but it would never ever happen. Today we salute the one Germany for its recent World Cup championship, but some find the Germans to be arrogant and domineering. Well, they are if they're on vacation in Greece, but overall I find them to be a remarkable tribe, likable and intelligent and straight-forward – my kind of people who I feel a kinship towards.

Picea orientalis (center)
Abies nordmanniana (left)
Picea abies (right)

Also vying for ascendancy in the Display Garden is a trio of trees planted in a triangle. Their distances apart seemed sufficient at first, but of course the Abies nordmanniana, Picea abies and Picea orientalis are far more robust than what I originally imagined. Each is approximately forty years old, and it surprises me that Abies nordmanniana is the tallest, followed by Picea abies, then by a straight-species Picea orientalis. In spite of their height rankings, it's notable that all three are pretty close in size, just as Pikes Peak in Colorado is very close in elevation to dozens of other mountains in the Rockies. The trio – Los Tres – were available and free, and I was mainly looking to produce some large-growing conifers to provide shade and to vary the monotony of a new garden.


Eventually the inner grounds became a sacred sanctuary when we committed a number of pets to their grave. On my second year on the property I was attached to a baby duck who apparently lost her mother, and the lil-ling would follow me around the nursery and cutely quack. It was so sweet that I am sure she was a female, and of course I fed her. Sadly, one day I found her dead, of what I didn't know – perhaps loneliness – so I put her in a shoebox and into the ground. Later she was followed by China, our German short-hair, the best-behaved dog I ever owned. Also buried in the Display Garden graveyard are the ashes of my first child Emily who died still-born, who never saw the light of day. That tragic event led me to cherish my surviving children even more. A stone statue of St. Francis of Assisi is the lone erect monument in this sanctuary.

Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Compacta'

I enjoy to tour the Display Garden with visitors, although I tend to walk too fast since I already know it, and I'm anxious to move past the problems – like why did that plant die anyway? But it's fun to enjoy its maturity, or at least the beginning of it. Now I have plenty of shade, and I can take a piss in the middle, in the middle of the day without anyone knowing. Frequently I'll stop at a certain spot and ask visitors which they think is the oldest plant in the garden. Invariably all heads tilt upward and I get guesses primarily for the Sequoiadendron. Then second guesses for the Abies nordmanniana. But nope, I point sideways at a dwarf Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Compacta', a tree over fifty years old. Really it's a boring thing, a flat dense evergreen about eight feet wide by five feet tall. I purchased it from a rare-plant nursery in Washington state, and fortunately the old owner was gone that day and the twenty-year-old granddaughter was left in charge, and she was the one who priced the plants. I acquired a number of excellent specimens for cheap, for many of them were quite old, and I hauled away a Thuja occidentalis 'Ohlendorfii', a Tsuga canadensis 'Everitt's Gold' and many others besides the P. m. 'Compacta'. I raced home with a full pickup for only $200, which I paid for in cash, and the old plantsman must have been grief-stricken when he returned home. Surely the simple granddaughter was disinherited and kicked down the road, never again to give away the farm. Of course I am not proud that I shoved cash at her and ran, but gramps is long gone now, and he couldn't take the trees with him anyway.

No tree remains on my property that existed when I bought the land. Now I have a veritable arboretum that will probably outlast me, or at least I hope it will. I imagine that I have been more fortunate than the shopkeeper or the insurance spend a life with trees, but I will forever miss the duck, the dog. And Emily.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Growing Plants for the Heck of It

One of the best perks of a horticultural operation such as mine is that I can collect plants on a whim and write them off as a business expense. I grow hundreds of bushes just for the heck of it, when I know full well that I'll never propagate or sell any of them. In fact, that is the whole point of Buchholz Nursery: to grow and sell some plants as an excuse to be around others. Buchholz Nursery and the Flora Wonder Arboretum is an incredible place – and I say so without boasting – because while I am not so great, the plants certainly are.

I hate walnut trees. I detest the acrid fruits, and the sloppy smelly trees are a big mistake planted next to a house. I know from experience, and the five or six trees on the Buchholz Nursery property were quickly dispatched. You see, I grew up with walnuts as a youth in Forest Grove, and my mother was always crabby when we tracked the slimy leaves and rotten nut hulls into the house. And what teenager needs another payless job raking walnut leaves? I considered it a blessing when they all blew over in our famous Columbus Day Storm of 1962, when winds exceeded 100 miles per hour.

Platycarya strobilacea catkins in May

Platycarya strobilacea nuts in July

Platycarya strobilacea nut in October

In spite of these harsh walnut ruminations, I have absolutely fallen in love with a member of the Juglandaceae family, Platycarya strobilacea, a tree native to eastern Asian in China, Korea and Japan. It is a medium-sized deciduous tree with green pinnate leaves which turn to yellow in autumn. I first encountered it last fall in North Carolina at the Charles Keith Arboretum, and I was particularly attracted to the fruits which resembled conifer-like cones. I went online and found a company that was selling them, and bought three trees for a reasonable price. This spring erect male catkins developed, and they were curious little guys. Now light green nuts are appearing which I know will turn to a mahogany color by autumn. I don't understand a thing about walnut sex, but the fruits exist at the same location as the pollen flowers, and in one case a female cone has enveloped itself around the male flower. One wonders what goes on at night when I'm not there to watch. I've always stayed away from drugs to help manage mountain sickness when I have been in the Himalaya, but one doctor and another trek member used carbonic anhydrase inhibitors, and the diuretic properties can be found in Platycarya. Commonly called the "Broad Nut," an extract of the flower can be used as an active ingredient in anti-aging cosmetics as well. More about Platycarya can be found on the Flora Wonder Blog, A Carolina Wrap-up from November 22, 2013, but finish this blog first.

Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii'

Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii'

Ensete is the "Abyssinian Banana" and is so-called because it is native to Abyssinia, or what we refer to today as Ethiopia. I have seen it listed as Ensete ventricosum and as Ensete maurelii and as Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii'.* It really doesn't matter to me – and one of the very few times for that – because it is just a fun red banana that I'll never grow to sell. Ensete is only hardy to 20 degrees F and so it is hauled into our no-profit house, GH20 for the winter. Last winter we had a heater malfunction and both of my Ensete specimens died, so I replaced them with two new ones this spring. I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I bought them for cheap at the local box store, where a 3-4 foot plant had a Wow! $17.99 sticker on the pot. I replanted them immediately into a larger pot and grow them in full sun; and stand back for you can almost watch the movement of growth. Ensete can be grown from seed but they usually only flower in hot tropical regions. Mine were propagated via tissue culture and originated from a large bankrupt wholesale nursery with locations in Oregon and California, a company that doesn't seem to be bothered by failure. Bankruptcy as a business strategy absolutely irks me, because in the case of H. Nursery they never go away; they screw their suppliers and keep on going. Maybe my heater in GH20 failed last winter because I was cursed for buying from a box store supplier.

*The maurelii name honors J. Maurel who drew the attention of French authorities in Ethiopia to the red bananas. In 1853 the British Consul in Ethiopia sent seed to Kew Gardens, and mentioned the local name "ansette," but before, in 1769 the Scottish traveler James Bruce wrote that its local name was "ensete." The English so love Ensete that it gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

Sarracenia wrigleyana 'Scarlet Belle'

Sarracenia wrigleyana 'Scarlet Belle'

I have also squandered company resources on carnivorous plants. Maybe someday I will propagate and sell, but that was never my intention when I acquired them. I originally bought a few for my daughter's birthday, as I imagined she would be intrigued by them. A few years ago she is on record as saying "I hate boys. They're like bugs: you just can't get rid of them." I thought Harumi would enjoy watching plants that devoured bugs, and I was right. Occasionally a yellow-jacket will be lured into her pitcher plant, a Sarracenia wrigleyana cultivar named 'Scarlet Belle'. He doesn't perish without a struggle though, however futile, as part of his head poked through the side in an attempt to eat his way out. As you look at the pitcher traps sideways with the sun as back-light, you can see a black mess of dead critters, with a few buzzing bugs that have yet to die.

Sarracenia flava

Our Sarracenia hobby has even extended to the nursery, where we keep a few bog tubs by the office. The myth that they are difficult to grow and require a terrarium is nonsense. They thrive in full sun and you only need to keep them wet. They will not be happy, however, unless your water source is free of excessive minerals. They catch insects by producing nectar along their pitcher rims. The bugs try to get more by going further into the pitcher, and oops! they lose their footing and fall in. Insects cannot climb out because the inside walls are too smooth, and they cannot fly out because there is no airlift. They are trapped! and die from heat or dehydration while the evil carnivore absorbs nutrients from the bug-mush.

Sarracenias are easy to acquire, for we have Sarracenia Northwest in Oregon, a company that Harumi thoroughly enjoys to visit. At age eleven now, she has softened somewhat, and allows that some boys are ok...just not the annoying ones, and she is known to spend an hour in front of the mirror to make sure her clothes and hair are proper before heading to school. Some mornings are quite tense when things don't work right, but I escape to the nursery in that event.

Rhododendron keiskei 'Yaku Fairy'

Rhododendron keiskei 'Yaku Fairy'

I have acquired a classy – I won't say world-class – Rhododendron collection, partly through my Rhododendron Species Garden membership, and largely through friend and plantsman Reuben Hatch who used to grow them for a living. His nursery property in Vancouver, Washington was undergoing development and I rescued many of his prized specimens. For example I have a large R. keiskei 'Yaku Fairy' from his garden, and Rhododendron aficionados would be hard-pressed to find one larger. I do propagate from that plant and sell liners, but most of Hatch's Rhododendrons are simply here to look pretty. It's nice to have plants this way: they exist for my pleasure only and do not become crops to worry about. Many times I wish that my plant involvement was not commercial, that my living was not based upon crop outcome. In fact, I sometimes dream of going cold-turkey and cultivate nothing. I would live in a condominium in the city and dotter daily to the nearest park and swat the dandelions with my cane. Or I would live in a mountain shack, surrounded by native flora only, and I wouldn't care if ice storms, record heat or cold came my way. However, I'm not there yet. I came to work early this hot Sunday to make sure my plants are all right, that the watering crew actually showed up...which they did. I guess I am not really ready for retirement just yet, but I am tired.

Rhododendron campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum

Rhododendron campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum

The Rhododendrons I like the best are usually straight species, not the hybrids that are bred to impress with large gaudy flowers. My preference is for plants that intrigue me regardless of their flowers, in fact sometimes the blossoms are a distraction from the plant's beauty. One of my favorites is R. campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum. It is a species occurring in the Himalayan alpine regions of northern India, Bhutan and Nepal, and is recorded at 12,000 to 14,500 feet. No photograph can adequately capture the beauty of this species. On a spring day you gasp when you encounter the blue foliage, as it has something to do with the light on that particular day. The flowers are bell-shaped, hence the specific name campanulatum, while the subspecies aeruginosum refers to the Latin word for "rusty," the color of the leaf's underside. This species is practically perfect in the garden. It is slow-growing and compact and truly unique for the blue mouse-ear type leaves.

Rhododendron daphnoides

Rhododendron daphnoides

Rhododendron daphnoides is another slow-growing plant with small glossy-green leaves. I actually do like its blossoms, whatever that color would be, and the swallow-tails love them too. I have an old 10' tall by 10' wide specimen that I can see out the office window. Something bothered me about it though, it was a big green blob that stood in the way. One winter we "treed it up," which means to make more tree-like by pruning out much of the lower portions and exposing the trunk. That did the trick, and I am much happier with it now. Apparently there is still no consensus among Rhododendron experts whether daphnoides is a species or a hybrid. It was "developed" by T. Methven and Sons in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1868.

Chinese market products

Other "useless" plants, from an economic point of view, is my collection of Pleione species and hybrids. I have never sold one in twenty years, but at least I have had the pleasure to give a few away. My favorite species is probably P. forrestii, a gorgeous yellow orchid from Yunnan, China, which is not so easy to cultivate. I have twice had it for a year or two but couldn't keep it alive. The species is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and I know why. I was plant hunting in Yunnan in the 1980's, and our group was resting on a grassy hillside at 8,000-10,000 feet elevation. Over the hill came a loud group of Hans with their sacks full of Pleione bulbs. I don't know for sure if they were grubbing the forrestii species, or if they were gathering another, but the Chinese can be quite ruthless with their native flora. As you would guess, Scottish plant explorer George Forrest was in our exact area about one hundred years prior, so it was probably P. forrestii that they were gathering. The bulbs are harvested in summer and autumn and they are boiled until they are cooked to the core, then are dried for future use. They are not used for food, even though sweet and slightly pungent in flavor, but rather medicinally to clear away heat to expel toxic substances and to relieve inflammation. Pleione is used for treating carbuncles and cellulitis, malignant tumors, scrofula and subcutaneous nodules, and poor Biblical Job could have used it to treat his sores and boils. And, if you combine Pleione with ground beetle, pangolin scale and mole cricket, the compound softens the liver and spleen and aids in the recovery of the hepatic functions. One of the most fascinating experiences about rural China – at least it was in the 1980's – was visiting the markets, where a whole lot of medicine was going on. I have a beautiful photograph of some P. forrestii blooms in a hanging basket, but unfortunately they are still in slide form and I haven't been energetic enough to convert it to digital. Finish this blog first, then go online to see the rich beauty of P. forrestii.

Pleione 'Alishan'
Pleione 'Ridgeway'

Pleione 'Versailles'

Pleione hybrids are generally more easy to cultivate, and in England they are known as "windowsill orchids." Bring a pot into the house in February, and by March you will be delighted with the pretty flowers. I particularly like the cultivars 'Alishan', 'Versailles' and 'Ridgeway', but a photo of the sweet white purity of 'Claire' is also stuck in a shoebox of slides like P. forrestii.

Wollemia nobilis

Wollemia nobilis trunk (left), "polar cap" (right)

Wollemia nobilis male flower (left), female flower (right)

Seven or eight years ago I acquired a Wollemia nobilis* and I keep it in GH20 because I doubt that it would survive a harsh Oregon winter. Wollemia was recently discovered (in 1994) in the Wollemi National Park in a steep canyon just 100 miles northwest of Sydney, Australia. Previously it was only known through the fossil record. This evergreen conifer is not a true pine, but rather a member of the Araucariaceae family. A small population exists in a secret location as it would probably be fatal if the public knew where it was. It is an odd tree with black bubbly bark and a "polar cap" (white sap) on the terminal bud. Wollemi will root, but not to great success, and just as well as it is only hardy to about 20 degrees F. My tree survived in GH20 even when the heater failed and temperatures dipped to about 10 degrees F for a short period. Ultimately it will hit the greenhouse roof and I will look to sell it, and maybe start again with a little tree...or maybe not.

*The species name nobilis honors David Noble who discovered the grove. Wollemi is an Aboriginal word that means "look around you, keep your eyes open and watch out."

With my no-profit tree collection I behave like a wealthy aristocrat. Thanks to Buchholz Nursery and its customers for funding my folly.

"Oh Talon, I love what you're doing."