Wednesday, July 2, 2014

At First Fantastic...But Not For Long

No, I'm not talking about ex-girlfriends or get-rich-quick ideas that I have entertained, but rather plants that I had high hopes for, but which ultimately fizzled. There have been many to be sure, but if you aspire to be at the “cutting edge of horticulture,” whether as a nurseryman or as a plant-addict gardener, you will compile a long list of the no-mas. Of course there is no consensus on what to consider a success or a failure, but since I need to make a living I have to consider what is profitable and what is not. In the recent World Cup of soccer, one announcer suggested that the USA “really deserved” the win against Portugal, but the other announcer countered that it had nothing to do with deserve, that the only concern was simply to put the ball into the back of the net. My plant failures are due to unexpectedly-weak sales, difficulty in propagation, instability or under-performance of the cultivariant and a myriad of other factors. One way to mark the history of my career is to note the hundreds thousands of plants that I no longer propagate.

Taxodium distichum 'Peve Minaret'

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Gold Rush'

I also must curb my enthusiasm for the new, for as a propagating nursery some plants can be increased quickly, like Taxodium distichum 'Peve Minaret' and Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Gold Rush'; and a company such as mine with no designated sales staff and with limited facilities can suddenly have too much of a good thing. I usually have to complete the cycle, where I first don't have any that I can spare, then I have too many, then I deal with a period where I don't have enough...before I truly understand how many the nursery can reliably handle. Besides that, we are dealing with a fickle market, one that clamors for a new fantastic plant and then three years later couldn't care less. Ah, where is my crystal ball?

Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star'

Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star' was discovered by the Hoogeveen Nursery in Reeuwijk, Holland in the 1960's, and resulted as a witch's broom mutation on the faster-growing, more-upright Juniperus squamata 'Meyeri'. Eventually it made its way to America, and at the beginning of my career I was able to acquire some stock plants, and while I wasn't the first in America to have 'Blue Star', I was among the first to have liners for sale. Nurseries large and small bought our rooted cuttings, sometimes by the thousands. But at some point sales declined and we discontinued our propagation. No one has asked for 'Blue Star' for the past twenty years, and even if I listed some on my availability (fictitiously) I really doubt that anyone would order any. Some company is still growing them though – Monrovia Nursery perhaps, because I still see them for sale at the box stores, and for a retail price less than what my wholesale production cost would be. But at Buchholz Nursery the 'Blue Star' ship has come and gone, and I don't even have one on the place anymore...and just as well, because after about ten years 'Blue Star' gets the cruds and looks like hell.

Taxodium distichum 'Peve Minaret'

I mentioned Taxodium distichum 'Peve Minaret' earlier, and it is a cultivar that we have discontinued propagation for the past couple of years. I first saw it in Holland fourteen years ago when I was on a Conifer Society tour. After a week of nursery and arboretum visits, some of the older women-spouses were too tired to get off the bus...but one woman finally did – I think she was looking for a toilet. She walked past a 'Peve Minaret', then went back to fondle the foliage. She then called to the other ladies from the bus to come see what she had found. Soon four or five women clambered over to it and they all gave 'Peve Minaret' a few strokes. That's when I said to myself that I should grow it, that when tired non-plant people are impressed there surely must be a market. And there was at first, but soon enough everyone was growing it. In 2010, when America was deep in recession, I got an email from an east coast nursery – my first ever contact from them – offering great discounts on quantities of 5,000 or more. Ha!

Taxodium distichum 'Peve Yellow' original tree
Taxodium distichum 'Peve Yellow'

Actually I like 'Peve Minaret' in the garden, but it grows much larger than I originally thought, and my first thirteen-year-old tree is approximately twenty feet tall. We pruned it into a narrow spire so it wouldn't over-crowd its spot. The trouble with that solution is that it eventually will get too tall to prune and it will flare-out at the top. I suppose that editing it with the chainsaw at the base will be its final fate. We also have discontinued with Taxodium distichum 'Peve Yellow' – from the same Dutch nurseryman, Piet Vergeldt – because portions can revert to green. What is most interesting is that the original seedling selection, photographed above, has never reverted, at least as of five years ago.

Acer davidii 'Hanshu suru'

Flora Fun

I have also wasted a lot of time and money with variegated maples (of many species) due to reversion issues. Acer davidii 'Hanshu suru' was one such flash in the pan. I got my start from the Vertrees collection, just before Mr. V. passed away, but I don't know where he acquired it. I was so excited at first, that it even made the cover of my Flora Fun publication of 2003. I still keep a couple of 'Hanshu suru' for old time's sake, and a few of the leaves will show variegation while the remainder of the foliage is just green. We germinated seed from it a couple of years ago, but every seedling came up green. So, a great example of outstanding potential, but no sales for me.

Acer palmatum 'Spring Surprise'

The original Acer palmatum 'Spring Delight'

Acer palmatum 'Spring Delight'

Other failures abound: consider our selection of Acer palmatum 'Spring Surprise' which flopped, whereas our cultivar 'Spring Delight' has admirably succeeded. Well-known Frenchman Guy Maillot, owner of one of the most famous maple nurseries in all of Europe, visited our nursery about five years ago, and when presented with our thousands of seedlings from named cultivars, he declared that he liked 'Spring Surprise' the best. For sure, it was looking good that day, but eventually it proved to be exceedingly the point where we don't even propagate it anymore. I keep one in the Flora Wonder Arboretum, for memory's sake, and in case it surprisingly snaps back into usefulness.

Acer palmatum 'Rainbow'

Acer palmatum 'Rainbow'

Acer palmatum 'Rainbow'

Acer palmatum 'Taimen nishiki'

Acer palmatum 'Hinode nishiki'

One of the most troublesome of our maple introductions is Acer palmatum 'Rainbow'. I have dozens of photographs of its foliage, because when it is looking good, it is absolutely stunning. The basic dark purple foliage can be spectacularly streaked, splashed and edged with pink and red and white, but unfortunately, as the tree matures the colorful tones diminish, and in some cases all that is left is a purple 'Bloodgood'-like tree. The same has occurred with the Japanese selections such as 'Taimen nishiki', 'Hinode nishiki' and others; and even Vertrees named another unreliable cultivar as 'Yubae'.

Ginkgo biloba 'Peve Maribo'

Ginkgo biloba 'Majestic Butterfly'

Ginkgo biloba 'Summer Rainbow'

Ginkgo biloba 'Snow Cloud'

Likewise, the variegated Ginkgo cultivars strike us to the quick – initially – until they revert back to their normal green leaves. My God, we have tried so many – 'Peve Maribo', 'Majestic Butterfly' 'Summer Rainbow' etc. Ginkgo biloba 'Snow Cloud' is interesting for a blonde-blushed Ginkgo, and we continue to propagate it, but all of the others wind up being a huge waste of money.

Rhododendron 'Yaku Fairy'

Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira'

Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku'

Two years ago we propagated cuttings – about two or three hundred – of Rhododendron 'Yaku Fairy', a fantastic dwarf ground-cover mat. At forty years my oldest specimen is five feet wide and less than one foot tall, and new growth is usually less than one inch per year. I wasn't anticipating a high percent to root, but it wound up being nearly 100 percent, and 100 percent survived the pot-up as well. All propagators will sigh when a subsequent crop – treated the same way – can mostly fail. This can happen with grafted plants too, leaving the grower mighty humble. A hit-and-miss crop for us, throughout my whole career, is Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira'. The scionwood is always excellent, but we can never predict what our results will be. 'Sango kaku' is almost always dismal, so we don't even propagate it anymore. Yet other nurseries get reliable results, even though the grower is less experienced and intelligent than I. So I concede the 'Sango kaku' to him, but wonder if he is so dumb why he outperforms me? Dumb luck I guess.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Green Cushion'

If I was in my right mind I would probably discontinue with many of the miniature conifers. They fit into our mix nicely, but it can sometimes take between five and eight years to produce a salable one-gallon pot which goes for twelve-to-fifteen dollars. I love the little dickens, but a bona-fide business analysis would conclude that I should abandon my hobby of love. Besides, winter can be tough on them. We lost a good portion of our eight-year-old Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Green Cushion', when major die-back occurred on the tiny buns, and it would take another five years to recover. So dump them! – I'm not going to look at them for five more years.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana (True)'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Densa'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Hage'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Butterball'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Butterball'

Other green hinoki buns, such as Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Leprechaun', 'Nana (True)'*, 'Densa', 'Hage' etc., suffered the same fate, but surprisingly the miniature 'Butterball' – grown side-by-side – survived completely. One theory is that the tight green buns retain water in the foliage, and then when they've frozen solid for a week or two, that portion dies. One should never forget that horticulture is a practice of nurturing nature's freaks, its wimps. It's not normal to survive with congested foliage, or to be variegated; these usually don't prosper without man's intervention. A previous visitor to our nursery was not in the trade, but he wanted to walk around and look at our trees. After three hours he concluded that there was not one normal tree. C'mon, there's at least 10 percent that are perfectly normal, but I saw his point. I simply don't have a market for normal trees; my customers are only excited, apparently, by nature's weirdos. By the way, my customers pay for my bad winters, because when I lose eight-year-old Chamaecyparis buns, it surely is reflected in the pricing of everything else. It takes a lot of hard work and worry just to break even.

*The 'Nana (True)' is my designation for the real dwarf, because I often see 'Nana' for 'Nana Gracilis'. Admittedly, it is not proper for me to alter the 'Nana' name, but since 'Nana Gracilis' grows a hundred times larger than 'Nana (True)', I think it's very important to specify exactly which clone is under consideration.

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Gold Rush'

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Golden Dawn'

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Golden Dawn'

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Kools Gold'

We have discontinued with Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Gold Rush' (AKA 'Ogon') as field plants, because they burn in Oregon, no matter how much water you give them. Yes, I have seen beautiful specimens in eastern states that look perfect at the end of summer, but we don't have the high humidity (thankfully), and a 100 degree day in Oregon brings a brighter, more piercing sun that scorches many plants. The patented M. g. 'Golden Dawn' – what a great name! – burns as well, so we only grow a handful in containers under protection. Fortunately we have M. g. 'Kools Gold' for a golden “Dawn Redwood,” but I have already hyped it many times.

Acer campestre 'Carnival'

Acer palmatum 'Akane'

I am amazed that the very colorful Acer campestre 'Carnival' can survive 100 degrees without burning, because there is so much pure-white in the foliage. On the other hand Acer palmatum 'Akane' is very sought after for its spring color, but after a hot day the leaves burn hideously, and the tree basically defoliates. Now, the first of July, they are an embarrassment, but if you look closely, new growth is just beginning to emerge. But I doubt I'll ever put 'Akane' in the landscape, even though I intend to keep growing it in pots.

Picea glauca 'Pendula'

Picea engelmannii 'Bush's Lace'

No mas with many spruces in the field, as some species are prone to attack by the “pine shoot moth,” Rhyacionia buoliana, which don't damage the pines, but prefer species of spruce such as Picea engelmannii, Picea pungens, Picea smithiana and others. The moth is a creep from Europe that just loves to wreck the trees' leaders, rendering them unsalable. Interestingly, a row of Picea glauca 'Pendula' can be next to Picea engelmannii 'Bush's Lace', and the glauca species is never affected. Of course there are chemical controls, but at Buchholz Nursery our little bit-and-piece company has everything scattered all over, and we never seem to have the time to spray anyway. A related moth species has the wonderful specific name of frustrana and is native to northeast America.

I'll conclude with a partial list of discontinued plants. Maybe one or more still exist in our gardens or on our sales list, but we are no longer propagating for one reason or another.

Abies concolor 'Candicans'

Acer circinatum 'Little Gem'

Acer macrophyllum 'Seattle Sentinel'

Alnus glutinosa 'Imperialis'

Arbutus 'Marina'

Berberis thunbergii 'Helmond Pillar'

Calluna vulgaris 'Robert Chapman'

Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca'

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Curly Tops'

Cornus kousa 'Gold Star'

Daphne bholua

Euonymus europaeus 'Red Cascade'

Fothergilla monticola

Genista pilosa 'Vancouver Gold'

Ginkgo biloba 'Autumn Gold'

Hamamelis intermedia 'Arnold's Promise'

Hydrangea aspera 'Macrophylla'

Juniperus virginiana 'Royo'

Magnolia campbellii var. mollicomata 'Lanarth'

Parrotia persica 'Select'

Picea abies 'Pendula'

Pieris japonica 'Katsura'

Pinus densiflora 'Tanyosho'

Ribes sanguineum 'Brocklebankii'

Sambucus nigra 'Pyramidalis'

Taiwania cryptomerioides

Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii'

Zea mays 'Tricolor'

...and the list could go on. It's sad in a way, that we have discontinued propagation, because I like every one of the plants listed above.

This blog is appearing a day early because once again the employees have assumed that I allow time off for July 4th.


  1. sweet pictures on this one; thanx tree man!

  2. oh i lost my comment...books are great reference source...and the pictures here are excellent...i think i have posted quite a few on pinterest!!!!!!!!

  3. Amazing plants. Sorry I only found this blog recently. Have you encountered any reliable variegated Ginkgo cultivars? I have tried a few myself, but many have reverted as well.

  4. Have you had any reliable variegated Ginkgo cultivars? I have tried a few and have noticed some reverting to green.

  5. Well, dang. I have only recently found conifers (joined ACS almost 2 yrs ago, so not that recently), and attended my first National in Newark, OH a few weeks ago. I fell in love with the Gold Rush Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Ogon') when I toured Dawes Arb, then Schnormeier Gardens, then Hidden Lake Gardens in SE Mich a couple weeks after I returned to Ann Arbor. They were all just beautiful, very mature, and still with and amazingly brilliant yellow leaf. I have purchased two of them, now, though have not put them into the ground yet. I sure hope our sun and humidity cooperate over the next 30 or so years...