Friday, August 1, 2014

Sir Harold Hillier's Manual of Trees & Shrubs

A few blogs ago (The Knowledge in Books) I mentioned that The Hiller Manual of Trees and Shrubs is my go-to book for quick and accurate information, but that I should probably upgrade with a new edition. Immediately an exceptional Englishman sent said book to me, an edition revised and updated with 1,500 new plants. No photos are therein, except for a beautiful Betula trunk-shot on the cover and five floral close-ups on the back. If you aren't into plants the text would be unreadable, but since all you fine folks are, the book is absolutely jammed with interesting descriptions, and the only problem (for me) is the miniscule type.

Picea breweriana

Let's start with Picea breweriana, since it is one of my most favorite of conifers, and in this 8th edition (2014) it is finally spelled korrectly. Hillier calls breweriana "Perhaps the most beautiful of all spruces and one of the most popular of all ornamental conifers." If I was sitting in the pub with old Harold Hillier, I would mention – in a polite way – that the "beautiful" part is correct, but what does he mean by "most popular?"* Certainly they are not ubiquitous in English landscapes, and I've only encountered them in the snob gardens and arboreta. Maybe at Hilliers they hand out a questionnaire and ask you to choose your favorite tree. I know I filled out something of the sort during my last visit.

*Which I can't, as he passed away in 1985.

Picea breweriana grafted onto Picea abies

I know that P. breweriana is very difficult to grow from seed, and England in general is probably too wet for it. The species evolved on serpentine soils and loves to be there, and I don't think Britain contains such an environment. Correct me if I am wrong, as certainly I saw a nice specimen in the wet botanic garden in Edinburgh. I can easily grow breweriana, for I graft it onto hardy, vigorous, adaptable Picea abies, the "Norway Spruce." A grafted plant will shoot to impressive size much faster, and still retain the wonderful weeping appearance. We are growing a fun selection with the horrible name of 'Inversa Form', and it is more strictly weeping – a "Weeping Weeping Brewer's Spruce." As for the name, perhaps it was coined before the 1950's and the name stands valid. I don't remember just how it came to me, legally I'm sure, but somehow it went from Horstmann in Schneverdingen, Germany to my conifer field.* Sadly, 'Inversa Form' is not recorded in the new (8th) edition of Hiller's Manual.

Picea breweriana 'Inversa Form'

*Yes, that's me: standing in the conifer field – out standing in my field – next to 'Inversa Form'. My blog specialist, Seth, is such a wizard with Photoshop, that he was able to render me as ten years older than I really am. Good job Seth, but next time let's go the other direction.

Picea breweriana with Mt. Shasta

P. breweriana bark
About twenty years ago I took a solo trip to southern Oregon, and then on to Yosemite. I had a lot of fun and carried on great conversations with myself. The first day I stopped at the Castle Crags, a group of awesome rock mountains and climbed up the steep trail. At one point a black bear ran across the path ahead of me, and while that gave me pause, I was rewarded at the top with a view of Mt. Shasta with a majestic Picea breweriana in the foreground. I approached the tree to verify that it really was a breweriana, since it wasn't so lushly weeping, and even if I didn't examine the foliage the unique checkered trunk gave it away. Hillier claims that P. breweriana is "a rare tree in the wild..." I would challenge that statement, and anyone from Hilliers is welcome to accompany me on a redux up the Crags and other locales, where I'll show you more than plenty of native stands.

Acer palmatum 'Red Pygmy'

Acer palmatum 'Skeeter's Broom'

Back to the Hillier Manual, to add 1,500 new plants is not difficult when you consider all the new cultivars of Acer, Cornus, Hamamelis, Rhododendrons etc. Heck, you might be able to do it with Acer palmatum alone. So I went to that section, curious what was included. First of all I liked the layout much better than some other reference books. The cultivars were listed in alphabetical order with their "group" next in parenthesis. For example: 'Red Pygmy' (Linearlobum Group) and 'Skeeter's Broom' (Dwarf Group), even though I would not group 'Skeeter's Broom' as dwarf.

Acer palmatum 'Marlo'
Acer palmatum 'Taylor'

There are slightly over one hundred cultivars of palmatum, and the decision of what to include is very interesting, or rather puzzling. I was impressed that two new Dutch selections, 'Taylor' and 'Marlo' were included, but 'Mikawa yatsubusa', 'Winter Flame' and 'Purple Ghost' were not. No to 'Amagi shigure' even though it is my best seller at this time. In fact, none of my selections are included. Honestly I'm not miffed by it, but curious why 'Shirazz' is in and 'Geisha Gone Wild' is not. Perhaps it's because Britain is a very insular country?

Acer palmatum 'Versicolor'

Hillier includes Acer palmatum 'Versicolor' and describes it as "Leaves green with white, pink-tinged blotches and spots. Liable to revert." I seriously doubt that anyone in the world is currently growing 'Versicolor', even though it was chosen (by Timber Press) to be Vertrees' cover photo in his first edition of Japanese Maples. That selection annoyed J.D. as well, but he didn't get to choose. When I heard that story from Vertrees I was shocked that Timber Press didn't consult with the Great Authority, especially on their first publication ever.

Acer palmatum 'Shigitatsu sawa'
Acer palmatum 'Ukigumo'

I'm not on a crusade I promise, though I've discussed it before, but the Hillier Manual has a strong penchant to dash the Japanese maple's cultivar names, and I would certainly like to know the rationale. It contains far more dashed-up cultivars than the Vertrees book, for example 'Uki-gumo', 'Shigi-tatsu-sawa', 'Sango-kaku' and many more. I have publically asked this dash question numerous times, but I haven't yet had anybody address it. My 1981 5th edition only contains about a quarter of the cultivars, and interestingly, they are all dashless.

Buchholz hogging the home couch with his blog stuff

My staff in the office – and then my family when I'm home – all wonder why I am constantly perusing this new Hillier's edition. Mostly what is contained is old, and appeared over forty years ago. But the company is celebrating its 150th anniversary, about five times more than my own company, and the lure for me is the 1,500 new plant additions.

Ribes x beatonii

Let's continue...and I'll just flip to a page and see what appears. About half way through the 567-page Manual, I crack to the page containing Platycarya strobilacea, but geeze, I have already over-indulged in that tree, so I closed the book, then reopened it about two-thirds through...and came upon the Ribes genus. So, the "currants" then. I learn that the Grossulariaceae family contains about 200 species native to the Americas. Further I learned that R. x beatonii is the proper name of what I have always called R. x gordonianum, "an extremely hardy, vigorous and rather pleasing shrub, intermediate between its parents" (R. aureum x R. sanguineum).* R. x beatonii is poetically described with "Drooping racemes of flowers, deep red in bud, open yellow, the calyx pale yellow, flushed with red at the base and on the margins." Excellent! Overwriting, but I love it.

*According to Gossler in Best Hardy Shrubs, Ribes x gordonianum is a cross between R. odoratum and R. sanguineum.

Cupressus cashmeriana

I already know from past Hillier editions that we begin with Trees & Shrubs, followed by Climbers – Clematis and Wisteria etc. – then conclude with Conifers. Ok, bamboos after the conifers. Flipping to the conifer section I come to the Thuja page...a rather boring place to be but I am shocked that Thuja occidentalis 'Pyramidalis' is not listed. It was the most widely-grown conifer – along with "Dwarf Alberta Spruce" and "Mugo Pine" – at the beginning of my career. The 'Pyramidalis' cultivar was soon replaced with 'Smaragd', a superior Danish selection that appeared in Oregon in the late 1970's. We root the 'Smaragd' cultivar, then pot it up for understock for Chamaecyparis obtusa varieties. Oddly 'Smaragd' understock forms a perfect graft union with Cupressus cashmeriana, but 'Pyramidalis' does not.

Thuja occidentalis 'Malonyana'

In the past I've grown many cultivars of Thuja occidentalis, but they were usually a tough sell. Now we're down to just two, 'Brobeck's Tower' and 'Malonyana'. The 'Brobeck's' is extremely narrow and was selected, I read, "before 1999 by Anders Brobeck of Sweden," and originated from a seedling of 'Spiralis'. The 'Malonyana' is a curious dwarf with a narrow columnar habit. According to Hillier the "leaves uniform rich green, borne in short, dense, crowded sprays. This architectural tree forms a perfect avenue in Count Ambrozy-Migazzi's garden, Mlynany Arboretum, Slovakia," and that would be worth seeing.

Quercus alnifolia

Again, just cracking at random, I came to Quercus alnifolia, for I had just been given a plant by the Englishman Guy Meacham from Plantmad Nursery – a "Micro Nursery owned at operated by Guy and Chiyoko Meacham. Specializing in the custom propagation of choice and difficult to propagate hardy ornamental plants. Serving other Nurseries, Botanical Gardens & fellow Plant Collectors." Plantmad Nursery present themselves on the web with a delicious lime-green font combined with a yellow Edgeworthia flower. Mr. Meacham had the good sense, just as I did, to remarry with a beautiful Japanese woman, and although our wives probably have second thoughts, we smile at our good fortune. The leaves of Q. alnifolia are indeed "Alder-like" and Hillier informs me that the "Golden Oak of Cyprus" is a "rare and interesting, slow-growing, medium to large shrub in cultivation." In spite of its Cyprian origin, the damn thing survived our long cold Oregon winter. Hillier adequately describes the leaves as "dark glossy green above and yellow-felted beneath." Guy is able to root this oak from cuttings, but then a pencil once fell from his ear and immediately struck root too.

Oplopanax horridus

Oplopanax horridus

I recently photographed an impressive patch of Oplopanax horridus – the somewhat primeval and imposing Oregon (and Washington and Alaskan) native with its impressive specific name. "Horrible" indeed, as spines exist on the undersides of large maple-like leaves and stems, and no wonder it is commonly called "Devil's Club." I wondered if it would even be listed in the Hillier Manual, but certainly it was, and I learned that its date of introduction – or classification, anyway – was 1828. I wonder if David Douglas was involved, but the Manual didn't reveal. I learned that a related species is native to Korea and Japan. O. horridus is nothing to be trifled with, and a thicket of them would shred you to death if you had to walk through. My photographs come from the Siouxon Creek wilderness in Washington state, a paradise hike filled with waterfalls, ferns, moss, wood sorrel and lush hemlocks, Tsuga heterophylla. Most of the hike was paradise, but you wouldn't want to scramble through the horridus patch.*

Tsuga heterophylla at Siouxon Creek

Oxalis oregana at Siouxon Creek

Siouxon Creek waterfall

Forest ferns

*Oplopanax is related to ginseng "and is still highly important as a medicine and protective agent for aboriginal peoples throughout its range." Also, "possibly because of its diabolical spines, it is considered a highly powerful plant that can protect one against evil influences of many kinds." Besides, the Lummi natives used the berries to "rub into the scalp to combat lice and dandruff and to make hair shiny," while the Lushootseed people "pulverized the bark for use as a deodorant." Source: Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and Mackinnon.

Sinowilsonia henryi

E.H. Wilson
The Hillier Manual is pretty good at revealing information about many of the world's BIO plants – plants of "Botanical Interest Only." In other words, plants that only Hillier, Buchholz and others of like inclination would ever grow. Include Guy Meacham on that list. Such a curiosity is Sinowilsonia henryi. This shrub, in the Hamamelidaceae family, doesn't really have much going for it ornamentally, although its "witch-hazel" leaves can turn to a nice yellow-to-orange in fall. The unimpressive flowers are greenish in May. Even Hillier describes Sinowilsonia as "mainly of botanic interest." It was introduced from China by Ernest "Chinese" Wilson, in whose honor it was named. Hillier lovingly recounts that "A walk round the nurseries with Ernest Wilson revealed that there was virtually no tree, shrub or herbaceous plant with which he was not familiar. He was a first-class botanist, perhaps the greatest of the plant hunters and, like W.J. Bean, a tremendous companion in the garden." What in incredible tribute to Wilson, even though it was employed over a boring bush. I have a single specimen planted in the arboretum which was grafted onto Hamamelis virginiana, and my start came from the quirky Heronswood Nursery in Washington state some twenty years ago. I purchased a lot of non-moneymakers from them in the day.

According to Roy Lancaster, horticulture author and plant personality, in his preface to the 8th edition of the Manual, "Initially Harold Hillier envisaged an extended catalogue of plants grown and offered by Hillier Nurseries, but gradually the temptation to include plants not currently available, together with more detailed information of reference value, meant that the Catalog morphed into a manual that he embraced and directed with vigour and enthusiasm."

Hillier conifer collection

At the end of the Manual is a bit of history about the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens. "From the beginning Sir Harold regarded his arboretum as his contribution to future generations, to increase their knowledge of plants and to provide enjoyment; his green heritage and monument."

Sir Harold Hillier Garden

I have visited three times but never met Harold Hillier. Nevertheless his presence can be felt when you tour the collections, as if he just might pop out from behind that birch tree or Rhododendron. The Gardens seem so historical, so personal, and I feel like declaring, "Life well lived, good chap!"

"I love it here too."

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