Monday, August 18, 2014

Smells Like Rain

Yesterday's 100 degree day was far more muggy than usual, but those of you in USA's Midwest and East Coast would trade Oregon's normal summer weather for what you experience every year (in a heartbeat). It has even been said that if Plymouth Rock was located in Oregon, no one would have ever migrated east. This morning I commented to my wife that "the atmosphere was pregnant," for it was more cool, but still muggy and impending. "What?" she exclaimed, wondering if my "pregnant" was a joke set-up, and was I then going to deliver the punchline. I explained that I meant things were developing, that something was going to happen. "Tell me then," she asked, "is this pregnancy thing something I can tell to my friends?" Haruko is Japanese, and although everyone loves her, she still struggles with the English language and our customary sayings—well, mine anyway. She is now particularly timid because our eleven-year-old teenager calls her out on everything. Due to her insecurity I suggested that no, don't tell your friends that the atmosphere is "pregnant."

Eric Lucas, our Office Manager Plus, is not some robotic functionary here, but rather a real, live arm-pit-sweating guy who not only takes care of the invoices and payments, but also contributes to our "alpine plant" program. Eric said, "it's strange, today's weather is weird." We both smelled something in the air. Sure enough big droplets began to fall and we finally felt relief from our sweltering summer. Maple branches were hanging low in the Display Garden and I had to duck in places, making mental note that we would have numerous pruning tasks this fall.*

Meanwhile Eric went back into the office, still holding his pet coyote.

*We don't adhere to the "wisdom" of pruning at the "correct" time only, rather we do it when we have time.

So it rained, and at times heavily. A musty, earthy scent greeted me in the garden. It's petrichor, the smell of rain on dry earth, is a term derived from Greek petros for "stone" and ichor, "the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods." This petrichor (pronounced petri kur) is a word first offered by two Australian scientists – I.J. Bear and R.G. Thomas – in 1964. In a nutshell, they found that the smell derives from an oil created by some plants during dry periods, which is then absorbed by soil and rocks. Upon rain, the oil is released into the air along with other Actinobacteria. I assume that the odor would be different in Australia from that in Oregon, even if the same group of plants was rained upon.

Rain contains droplets of water that can travel a long distance. Your nose is equipped to detect this even before the full shower arrives. Dogs are famous for what they can smell of course, and it can range from impending snow to cancer. It is said that humans can recognize at least 10,000 different smells, due to receptor neurons lining the nose, with each encoded by a specific gene. Our August storm also contained thunder and lightning, and so it included the smell of ozone (03, from Greek ozein, to "smell").

One of the most fascinating of films ever – I saw it three times – is Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a 2010 documentary about the Chauvet Cave in southern France, which was rendered in 3-D. The cave contains the oldest human-painted images known, and the quality of the animals depicted is equal to any work of art ever since. In one scene, outside of the cave, an old man is walking along a trail in the French countryside. He pauses now and then to sniff the air, then continues. We learn that he is a retired perfumist, so he obviously has a well-developed sense of smell. He was searching for possible cave openings, as the odor would vary from the surrounding atmosphere. I don't know how successful he was, but I find it amusing that a Frenchman is searching for caves with his nose.

Our August downpour was a joy, replete with the earthy smells, just as in India when the arrival of the monsoons alleviates the built-up tension of hideously hot temperatures. I'm not the kind of guy who would dance around the garden in the nude, but it kind of seems like fun.

"I love to smell the petrichor."

Friday, August 15, 2014

Helter Swelter

Photo: NASA

To swelter is to be "faint with heat," and is from Old English sweltan "to die" or "perish." In Old Norse svelta meant "to put to death" or "starve." The news media loves words like "sizzle" and "swelter," and they are often employed into headlines about the weather. You can experience a "heat wave," but never a "cold wave;" for cold it would be a "cold snap." In the 15th century snap meant to "make a sudden audible bite," and was derived from the German snappen for "seize." Oh snap or ah snap is a phrase used for the occurrence of something unexpected or surprising, and for some, snap is a euphemism for "shit." Personally, snapping at me was something that my ex-wife excelled at.

We and our plants are rather worn as we drag ourselves through August. Indeed we swelter, with so many days above ninety. In Oregon we experience very little humidity when we're hot, and consequently many plants burn, plants that perform admirably in the central and east coast regions of the USA. I frequently remind myself that we are, and thank God we're not in Phoenix, Arizona or Baghdad, Iraq where 90% of my plants would swelter and perish. My hobby – or perhaps my obsession – is world weather, and my anal sphincter twists and cringes every time that some dramatic weather develops somewhere in the world. Severe ice storms in Connecticut, for example, petrify and remind me how disaster could happen here one day. Icy trees smash everything and power can be out for weeks. "Agh! I'm bankrupt," I Imagine.

Death Valley Photo: Tuxyso/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0

The factoid that impresses me immensely is that America's one-two punch for weather occurs most frequently in California, where more days are the hottest – in Death Valley, California – and the most cold are in Bodie State Park, California. Interestingly the two locations are a mere 424 km apart, and it takes me only four hours to cover the distance by car. Bodie State Park can/does freeze in any month of the year, whereas Death Valley records more temperatures over 100 degrees per year than anywhere else in America. Meanwhile I am here in Oregon growing my delicate exotics, and while they have provided me with a living, a career, all aspects of my pursuits are tenuous at best. In August we water, water and water...which is too much for some plants and too little for others, but it is a drudgerous task that consumes a great deal of company resources.

Acer palmatum 'Sister Ghost'

Acer palmatum 'Sister Ghost'

Acer palmatum 'Amber Ghost' in May

Acer palmatum 'Amber Ghost' in August

Generally, the maples in the nursery are tired, the variegates washed out of their color distinctions, while many of the reds have bleached to bronze or green. August is the month that I'm least proud to show off my "Ghost" introductions, except that 'Sister Ghost' and 'Amber Ghost' still look cheerful.

Acer palmatum 'Pung Kil'

But, the other day I walked past a beautiful row of Acer palmatum 'Pung Kil', and the foliage was the most deep of all purple. In the blinding sunlight I perceived them as almost black. They were planted in 20" square wooden boxes and were pleased about their situation, while I appreciated how black could radiate light, as demonstrated here, and 'Pung Kil' never looked so good, so impressive. I have some confusion over this great cultivar – and we sell a ton of them – because I don't know exactly how to spell the name, but I think it was named for Mr. Pung Kil from the Chollipo Arboretum in South Korea, so I suppose the "K" should be capitalized. However, no one named 'Pung Kil' should have a maple named in his honor, and really, how could Mrs. or Mr. Kil even think to name their son "Pung?" Just asking.

Acer platanoides 'Princeton Gold'

Acer macrophyllum 'Mocha Rose'

Other maples look great in August as well. In the Flora Wonder Arboretum I have a mature specimen of Acer platanoides 'Princeton Gold', a wide-canopied cultivar of "Norway Maple" that strikes boldly in the landscape, assuming one has enough room for it. It has absolutely no problem with summer's heat even though the large leaves are butter-yellow. I admit, though, that the tree has bleached into a more light-yellow by August, compared to its color from May through July. I've never grown one in shade but I suspect that it would turn green. It was discovered in 1987 at Princeton Nurseries (now no longer existing) as an unusual yellow seedling in a batch of green-leaved seedlings. It wasn't a great discovery – although it is a great cultivar – because anybody could have spotted it, kind of like me with my Acer macrophyllum 'Mocha Rose'. The only thing I don't like about 'Princeton Gold' is that it is patented, so a small nursery like mine can't grow the twenty-to-thirty per year, which would probably be all I could sell. I understand the game that the large shade-tree nurseries play, as they want to monopolize the market. I guess I'm just not a big enough "Norway Maple" player.

Acer buergerianum 'Miyasama'

My oldest specimen of Acer buergerianum 'Miyasama' looks fantastic in August, and it is the tallest (12') of that cultivar that I have ever seen. Certainly there must be some at least triple my size in Europe or Japan.* Never does it burn, and the glossy green leaves always look fresh, even though they are thick and leathery. We have listed the cultivar before as 'Miyasama yatsubusa', but the latter part just refers to it being dwarf. 'Miyasama' is easy to sell but we never have many due to propagation difficulty. Generally a one-gallon plant is five or six years old, so it's not very profitable either.

*Vertrees in Japanese Maples reports that, "one of the oldest specimens was in the garden of Prince Fushimi." Miyasama means "prince," and the cultivar was known as 'Miyasama kaede', the "prince's maple."

Acer circinatum 'Burgundy Jewel'

Acer circinatum 'Burgundy Jewel' loves the summer heat, assuming that it receives adequate moisture. Often the "vine maples" are sited in shade, but 'Burgundy Jewel' would be mostly green in a shady location. The cultivar was a selected seedling out of a group of normal green circinatums, another example where the finder – Gordy Halgren of Peacedale Nursery in Washington state – couldn't fail to notice it. I love to walk past my three rows in the Flora Farm field, for every plant has a sturdy appearance and my trees look type A, like they're the maples in charge. Acer circinatum is a popular small tree for use around commercial buildings in the Northwest, and seemingly every bank is landscaped with them. That, and Viburnum davidii and those compact ever-blooming roses. If I have anything to do with it, those commercial buildings will one day be landscaped with 'Burgundy Jewel'.

Acer palmatum 'Marlo'

Acer palmatum 'Taylor'

Two new Dutch selections, Acer palmatums 'Marlo' and 'Taylor', are looking good now. 'Taylor' is the more liable of the two to be damaged from powdery mildew, as the small variegated leaves are thin with cream-white, pink and green portions, and those type of maples are frequently suspect. If it ever had mildew this year, it has busted out of it with a foot or more of new growth in the last month. Both cultivars are willowy with thin arching shoots and I think they'll remain as bushes rather than as trees. I don't have a clue what size the originals have grown to, or even how they originated. To date I've never seen either revert. 'Taylor' is patented by Dick Van der Maat and we are licensed to grow it, but I would choose 'Marlo' of the two, primarily for greater mildew resistance. These two exciting selections make the horticulture professor's statement (at the 2002 Maple Society Conference) that "certainly we have enough Acer palmatum cultivars" sound very shallow.

Acer shirasawanum 'Kawaii' in May

Acer shirasawanum 'Kawaii' in August

Pinus parviflora 'Tanima no yuki'

Acer shirasawanum 'Kawaii' – Japanese for "cute" – is looking good, and I'm talking about the older foliage. In spring I would call its color red-purple, but now it is predominantly orange at the tips and a cream-white for the remainder of the leaf. This bicolor is most pronounced on plants grown in full sun and in the ground. When my Japanese wife first saw this sweet seedling, back when it was not yet named, she exclaimed in delight, "Ah kawaii," with the ii part drawn out. I asked, and she told me what that meant, so 'Kawaii' seemed appropriate and we marketed it as such. I reflect on how important – when you also consider other occasions – that this humble daughter of a prominent Tokyo banker has made an impact on horticulture. She has named many other maple cultivars – at my prodding – and her whimsical-serious perspective has resulted in 'Sensu' ("moving fan"), 'Johin' ("elegant") and 'Haru iro' ("spring color"); while I have saddled the maple world with 'Geisha Gone Wild', 'Ikandi' and 'Kinky Krinkle'. Besides maples, my wife has enlightened the American world of conifers by informing us that 'Tani mano uki' (Pinus parviflora) is absolutely an invalid name, and that it is actually 'Tanima no yuki' – "snow in the valley." Furthermore, I learned that tanima is a crude Japanese male term for a woman's cleavage, hence the "valley."

Acer palmatum 'Fireglow'

What fun it was – recently – to walk past a row of thirty-year-old red upright Acer palmatum cultivars. In the old days, many customers new to maples asked me which was the "best" red upright. Obviously that was a difficult question to address, for where are you located, what is your soil like, what is your irrigation program etc? So I planted a couple of each in our Far East section, and I would let customers decide for themselves...with a caveat that I'm growing them in Oregon, and their site might yield different results. Well, after 30 years my opinion will be rendered, that 'Fireglow' is superior to 'Bloodgood', 'Nuresagi', 'Shojo nomura' etc. Of course, when I observed these selections the other day, it was when the early sun was shining through the trees, and the fiery light of 'Fireglow' – with the sun as backlight – provided the most impressive show. Remember that I'm writing in August, for in May they all look similar. Also note that in the southeast many growers prefer 'Hefner's Red' or 'Margaret Bee', that they hold the best color in the muggy, sweltering weather. In other words, be careful to express your opinion, especially when you are young, for as you age you will become, like me, increasingly ignorant. Occasionally a customer will ask me to choose a selection of "can't miss" maples for him, as he trusts my opinion more than his own. So, "can't miss" then? Well, they all can miss, you dimrod. But I do my best, and generally the customer is pleased.

Acer palmatum 'Red Flash'

Gilardelli Nursery in Italy introduced 'Fireglow', and it arrived in America about 35 years ago. I'm always afraid of having too many, even though I always quickly sell out. Mr. G. visited Buchholz Nursery about 10 or more years ago, and through his right-hand man and interpreter we conducted a useful conversation. Besides, when he spoke in Italian, I pretty much understood, due to my forty years of sputtering Spanish. When we walked past my largest specimen of 'Fireglow' – which I proudly led him to – Mr. G. waved it off as old hat, that he had moved Acer palmatum 'Red Flash'. I took due note, and convinced myself that I needed to acquire 'Red Flash' – and what a great name! – as soon as possible. But initially 'Red Flash' proved to be a disappointment. It really isn't very red to begin with, and by July the leaves are a boring green-red, at least here in Oregon. However, now in August, bright red new growth appears, and the contrast between the tired old leaves and the flashing new leaves is quite impressive. Still, 'Fireglow' is the better cultivar and I now understand that old G. was just hyping his new maple, and he knew full well that 'Red Flash' wasn't really that great.

In August

Acer palmatum 'Ruslyn in the Pink' in May

Better than 'Red Flash' is Acer palmatum 'Ruslyn in the Pink', and August is its best month by far. It is poorly named, or at least awkward in my opinion, for it is never "pink." 'Ruslyn' is fairly compact but not dwarf. Spring foliage is purple-red but never rivals the dozens of other cultivars for outstanding color, and by July you could call it puke-red, boring, a non-event etc. For some reason I planted one at the west end of the Display Garden, then largely forgot about it. Then, last August and again this August too, I walked past and marveled at the new growth. Somebody please weigh-in on what you think that color is, and if you say "pink," well all right then.

Acer saccharum

Acer saccharum

Acer saccharum 'Apollo'

Acer saccharum 'Sweet Shadow'

Foliage of the "Sugar Maples, Acer saccharum, look wonderful from spring through fall. A fantasy tree would be one with red leaves in spring and summer, just as the palmatums contain both green and red cultivars. Such a tree might even outsell my new blue ginkgo. At least some cultivars turn red in autumn. I'm sure there is a scientific reason for why in the wild – at least in Michigan – the sugar forest is completely yellow in fall, but I don't know the answer. In other locations, and with other cultivars, autumn coloration is fiery orange to red.

Acer saccharum 'Newton Sentry'

Acer saccharum 'Monumentale'

I'm partial to the columnar sugar maples. 'Newton Sentry' has multiple leaders with very short side branches. According to Hillier, 'Newton Sentry' was first introduced in 1871 as 'Columnare', and is from the saccharum subspecies nigrum. Krussmann says it was introduced in 1885 by FL. Temple of Shady Hill Nurseries in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This Mr. Temple, according to Krussmann, also introduced 'Temple's Upright' in 1887 and equates it with "Acer saccharinum monumentale [sic], and that it is "often used as a street tree in the USA." Hillier claims that 'Monumentale' is the same as 'Temple's Upright', and that it has been confused with 'Columnare'. Confused?* Me too, and I don't think any of the above are "often used" as street trees in the USA. Krussmann. Krussmann (1910-1980). Come back and explain yourself.

*By the way, you can go on the internet and become even more confused.

Today's blog theme began by expressing how worn-out and tired the maples are in August, but then I contradicted that with numerous exceptions. Maybe it is just me who is worn-out. Today it is 97 degrees F, and tomorrow is supposed to be 102. When weather is extremely cold or extremely hot, these extremes wear me out and I suppose that the life of an insurance salesman or a store clerk would be better. Then, I would probably bring more energy and enthusiasm to my family, and we would all tiptoe to the ice cream shop. I employ a good crew of diligent workers, to be sure; and they stick with me because they can make more money than with the competition, but really: we all need a rest.

Buchholz & Child at the end of the day.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Top-Notch, But Not Awesome

Photo: Luc Viatour

There is no shortage of top-notch golden plants in horticulture, but one must be careful in their landscape use or you'll wind up with too much of a good thing...kind of like writing with too many exclamation points in a paragraph. Have you noticed that the people who end a thought or phrase with !!!, or even worse: !!!! – never use four for anything – are also the people who think everything is awesome. Really, very little is truly awesome, but one event that I am looking forward to will occur at 10:15 AM on August 21, 2017, and it will be mega awesome. The total eclipse of the sun will make first landfall on the planet on the Oregon coast, just north of Newport. I will be there to cheer with my wife and children, while the other half of Oregon will be there puffing on their hippy lettuce.

Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph'

Anyway, none of the following golden plants will rival the total eclipse, but they are all very nice floral choices. I'm not including plants with golden new growth in spring, but then turn back to green or blue later, nor am I including plants with golden fall foliage. True, some of the conifers like Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph', can become the most intensely golden in winter, and thank goodness for that, for putting some dazzle into the winter garden. 'Chief Joseph' was discovered in the Wallowa Mountains in northeastern Oregon, home of the famous native leader of the Nez Perce tribe. His homeland, before he was chased away and captured by the US Army, is a land of snowy mountains, beautiful pastures and forests, and is often compared to Switzerland.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Melody'

There is an endless array of golden Chamaecyparis cultivars, from tiny buns to medium-size trees. Some can burn, but a few can tolerate full sun, and one must learn most of this the hard way. The solution isn't to put them all in shade necessarily, for they will be greenish in many cases. I have championed the semi-dwarf Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Melody' before, both for its intricate lacy foliage and its narrow compact form. We can grow it in full sun in our 100 degree F summer, and it handles our heat-with-no-humidity situation fairly well. It's not bad in shade either, but just not quite as bright. I don't think "Melody' is suitable in Phoenix, Arizona for example, but for most of America it's an attractive year-around golden presence.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Butterball'

My favorite golden bun hinoki is Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Butterball', and I guess "cute" is the best word to describe it. I mentioned previously that some of our green-bun miniatures suffered damage from our brutal winter, but that 'Butterball' came through perfectly. In Oregon it is best sited with afternoon shade, and requires adequate moisture in a well-drained soil.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Filip's Golden Tears'

New in America is Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Filip's Golden Tears', a very narrow weeping tree from Holland. It provides a bright golden exclamation point in the landscape, but again, you don't want it cluttered with other golden plants. It is a fast grower to about 12-15 feet tall, by 3' wide in ten years. And of course, don't ever buy one if it has been propagated on its own roots, as it will likely succumb to root rot from Phytophthora lateralis. The disease was first noticed around 1920 on nursery stock near Seattle, Washington. At first it was confined to Washington, Oregon and California, and yes, it has been detected in the wild as well as in cultivation. The lawson species is popular in Europe, and at the Bedgebury Pinetum in southern England they seemingly grow hundreds of cultivars. It's sad to hear that recent outbreaks have been recorded in France, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Netherlands.

I preach about the need to graft the lawsoniana cultivars on disease-resistant rootstock, and any wholesale company that produces them otherwise is ignorant (in the best-case scenario) or down-right greedy for profit. I have an urge to call out several Oregon companies who do know better, but I'll suffice to just say "shame on you!" How can the gardening public be expected to know about your lawson sham?

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Kools Gold'

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Gold Rush', or 'Ogon' just doesn't do well in my part of Oregon. It burns, even when given plenty of water. An older, established tree burns less, but still displays blemishes of non-golden portions. At the nursery I have planted my favorite – 'Kools Gold' (AKA 'Golden Guusje') – next to the 'Gold Rush' to demonstrate how superior the former is. Do not plant 'Kools Gold' in shade or it will color to off-green.

Picea abies 'Gold Drift'

Picea abies 'Gold Drift' is a fairly recent spruce introduction, and if given adequate moisture it can thrive brightly in full sun. It originated as a yellow sport on a Picea abies 'Reflexa' in 1990 in Washington state. Some wrongly list it as Picea abies 'Pendula Gold Drift', and if any of you do so, then stop it right now. I have seen it grown into a wide mounding form and also as a low groundcover, but in my happy garden soil it forms a narrow weeping tree with no need to stake. 'Gold Drift's' color changes throughout the season, from lime-green in early spring to lush gold by summer. Into fall and winter the foliage becomes a soft cream-yellow, at least here in Oregon. 'Gold Drift' can be propagated from hardwood cuttings in winter, but we prefer to graft it onto hardy Picea abies ("Norway Spruce") rootstock.

Sciadopitys verticillata 'Gold Rush'

Sciadopitys verticillata 'Gold Rush'

At the Seattle Flower Show last February, an acclaimed landscape designer filled his display garden with Buchholz plants. The hit of the entire show was an eight-foot bushy specimen of Sciadopitys verticillata 'Gold Rush'. Sorry, the photo above from the show was taken in strange light, but you can see from photos in my garden just how vibrant it really is. The "Golden Umbrella Pine" will also root from winter cuttings, but generally golden plants are more vigorous if grafted onto green rootstock. I keep two large stock plants – in a prominent location – and suddenly every customer becomes my best friend in hopes of buying them. My reply is always the same, that yes, they are for sale, but you have to buy the entire farm to get them. And the farm is always for sale, and on some days for cheap.

Illicium parviflorum 'Florida Sunshine'

Illicium parviflorum is a rounded evergreen shrub native to Florida where it is protected as a threatened species. In spite of its origin it is hardy to 0 degrees F, USDA zone 7. It is commonly called the "Small Anise Tree," for when the shiny leaves are crushed they emit an anise-like odor. Flowers in May are insignificant, so much so that you might never notice them. This olive-green bush is something that I could never sell, except that we now have a new cultivar, selected by Plant Delights Nursery, called 'Florida Sunshine', and the North Carolina company was my source for the plant as well. They describe it with "chartreuse gold foliage during the spring and summer. As the weather cools in fall, the leaf color brightens to screaming yellow" – I love that a color can "scream!" Plant Delights continues, that by midwinter "the upper stems take on a brilliant red cast, contrasting vividly with the leaves...a stunning beacon in the winter garden." I had a wonderful visit to Plant Delights last fall, which I wrote about in Still in Love with Carolina, but finish this blog first.

Ribes sanguineum 'Brocklebankii'

An attractive Ribes, sanguineum 'Brocklebankii' is a golden selection of Oregon's native "Currant," although this cultivar was developed in Britain where it received the prestigious Award of Garden Merit. Drooping rose-pink flower clusters appear in March-April and are pleasantly highlighted against the yellow leaves. In Oregon it is best sited with morning sun and afternoon shade, but in deep shade the foliage will be green. I received my start of 'Brocklebankii' about 10-12 years ago when it was fairly new. I don't know who is/was Brocklebank, but the cultivar name is horrible, not to mention illegitimate. I like to know who is responsible and why.

Corylopsis spicata 'Golden Spring'

Corylopsis spicata 'Golden Spring'

Corylopsis spicata 'Golden Spring'

Corylopsis spicata 'Golden Spring'

Another delicious shrub is Corylopsis spicata 'Golden Spring', and every year I'm tempted to take more photographs even though I have plenty already. The pretty leaves display a rich texture and it is a cheerful shrub during the growing season. But first, one is greeted with pendulous racemes of light yellow flowers on bare branches in late winter. This golden "winter hazel" needs to be sited carefully, preferably with morning sun and afternoon shade in moist, but well-drained soil. The genus Corylopsis was named for Corylus, or the "hazels," and the suffix opsis is Latin for "resembling." I have never left a 'Golden Spring' alone, meaning without pruning, but I imagine it could look nice in a woodland setting. Rather, at Buchholz Nursery we feel compelled to prune them tightly, where they appear low, wide and dense, and I think they make a stronger color statement that way. It might be fun, though, to train one up as a tree. Apparently 'Golden Spring' was selected in Japan, and it is also known as 'Ogon'. Perhaps 'Aurea' is a different golden clone...or maybe not.

Quercus robur 'Butterbee'

Quercus robur 'Purpurea'

Quercus robur 'Butterbee' is a golden-leaved oak selection that arose as a seedling at Buchholz Nursery. I admit that it is similar to 'Concordia' and perhaps never did need to be named. I did so because a customer wanted to buy the original tree, so I first propagated from it and then sold it to him. The only problem is that the sketchy customer ran out of money and didn't pay his full invoice. He also got the original Acer palmatum 'Sister Ghost', the asshole. I am generally a kind man, willing to forgive and forget, but in this case I will not, as his company is still in business. One day I will show up at this 'G of E' Nursery in Washington State and we'll see what happens. Somehow, I expect to be paid. But don't let my grudge get in the way of celebrating a beautiful golden oak, one that can be grown in full sun. By the way, 'Butterbee' looks great when paired with the purple-leaved English Oak, Quercus robur 'Purpurea'.

Fagus sylvatica 'Aurea Pendula'

Any discussion of golden-foliage plants that skips the "Golden Weeping Beech," Fagus sylvatica 'Aurea Pendula', would leave out one of the greatest ornamentals of all time. Of European origin, and discovered in about 1900 as a bud mutation on a (green) weeping beech, the plant is still rather rare in American gardens...because it is slow-growing and somewhat difficult to propagate. Any that appear on our sales list quickly disappear. Google Klehm's Song Sparrow Nursery – after you finish this blog – and know that the owner paid a ton of money to wrest the photographed tree from me. But let's face it, the cultivar is rather weak, even when propagated onto vigorous green rootstock, and it takes forever to grow one to impressive size.

Mr. Van Hoey Smith with Quercus pontica

Haruko at Trompenburg
One specimen of 'Aurea Pendula' at the Arboretum Trompenburg in Rotterdam was reported to be 40 feet tall by only 5 feet wide. I never saw it there, even though I have visited four times over the years; but that's what I like about the late Dick Van Hoey Smith's arboretum: you could visit one hundred times and still make new discoveries. I remember him fondly, for when he died, "The Oak Has Fallen" was certainly true, and he was one of the International Dendrology Society's founding members. I did little to entertain or advance his knowledge and enjoyment, but he did a lot to help and promote me. We stayed in touch the old-fashioned way, by handwriting. And all letters from me to him received a response in no less than one week later, so you knew that he dashed out his thought immediately.

Buchholz furthered his tree collection at Flora Farm.

I reported to Van Hoey Smith in 2002 that I had purchased a sixty-acre parcel of Oregon farmland, and that I finally had room to plant out my oak collection, a genus of which he was considered a world-class authority. I also mentioned that my new wife Haruko, who he had met in Rotterdam, and seemed to like, was now pregnant with our first child. His response letter was classic Plant-man, that "I don't remember her name, but that doesn't matter. The important thing is that you can further your tree collection."

Sarracenia flava

I mentioned in a previous blog that we have acquired a collection of Sarracenia – the "pitcher plants" – and species flava is a favorite, especially for its butter-yellow flowers. It is native to southeastern USA, but our bog-troughs (above the ground) were hardy enough to withstand our 8 degree F winter without harm. I love the strategies of the carnivores to lure, then trap their prey, but frankly they give my wife the creeps – because they sort of look like snakes. Anyway, the flared lid of the feeding tube, called the operculum, acts as an umbrella to prevent excess rain from entering and diluting the digestive juice within. The opening contains nectar-secreting glands, and not only are sugars produced but also a toxin (coniine)* which intoxicates the unfortunate prey. The insects cannot climb out due to slick walls and inward-pointing hairs, and eventually the digestive fluids turn them into lunch. If you want to start your kids on a fun hobby, buy them a couple of carnivorous plants, and all the how-to is available on the internet. They are easy, fun and fascinating – the plants, that is – and they – the kids – will enter into a world where reality is more interesting than their video games.

The Death of Socrates

*Coniine is an alkaloid found in Conium maculatum, commonly known as "poison hemlock," which of course is not a Tsuga at all. Socrates was executed by drinking the poison, even when he had the option to flee with his life. Instead, he used his death as a final lesson for his pupils.

Jovibarba heuffelii 'Gold Bug'

Acer palmatum 'Fireball'
Acer palmatum 'Hime shojo'

Jovibarba heuffelii 'Gold Bug' is a cute plant with a fun name. It forms tightly clustered rosettes of ever changing colors. In summer it is basically lime-green, while in winter it turns more rich-gold with orange-red tips. Jovibarba means the "beard of Jupiter," and the genus – closely related to Sempervivum – comes from the mountains of southeastern Europe. We use 'Gold Bug' in our pumice gardens and alpine troughs, and it pairs especially well with red-foliage plants, such as Acer palmatum 'Fireball' or 'Hime shojo'.

Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum'

Acer palmatum 'Summer Gold'

Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream'

And speaking of maples, there are a number of Acer palmatums and shirasawanums which feature golden leaves. Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum' has been grown in Holland for 150 years, as perhaps the oldest tree known (growing at Esveld) was brought from Japan to Holland by Philipp Von Siebold in 1860. I love shirasawanum 'Aureum', and it has remained popular throughout my career, and every year we have sold out. Nevertheless, I have also been very impressed with a new-comer, Acer palmatum 'Summer Gold'. My enthusiasm is due to its pretty golden leaves which are very tolerant of full sun. There was only minor burning after our 100 degree F day, and it fared much better than 'Orange Dream'. Both cultivars are from the Gilardelli Nursery of Italy.

I began the blog with the admonishment to not grow too many golden plants in your garden, but heck, do whatever you want. Maybe a totally golden garden would be spectacular, and you could be the oddball of the neighborhood. Or mix it half-and-half with red plants, or with's up to you.