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.


  1. Ogni volta che passo di qui rimango stupito! Amo le conifere e qui vedo le piĆ¹ belle! Complimenti per le piante e per le immagini :)

    Un saluto!!

  2. My first use of the Bing translator. Italian is a beautiful language. The comment is equally beautiful and I agree. The nursery with its display garden is my destination several times a year. I always take time to enjoy the garden with a walk about.

  3. I have only just stumbled upon this blog, having been daydreaming about Japanese maples. And coincidentally, it was just yesterday that I visited the gravesite of my stillborn daughter, so I am very touched by the mention of Emily. And the duck. - My little hermit crab, Maurice, lies at the base of maple in our yard. It's a charming, iconic shaped tree, but the rest of the garden is rather pathetic. Your Flora Wonder blog may inspire me, Talon. Thank-you

  4. Flora Wonder is the greatest tree blog of all time!