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.


  1. Second year with 'Summer Gold' grafts here in the East. Nice even yellow spring leaf but then greened out in early summer. 'Akane' is worst for burn but had no probs this year with Dream or Spring. Still think Dream is the one, orange edging helps as lot. So when I'm standing there in the Farmers Market expounding on the virtues its the Dream I go with. Mike Mc Carthy

  2. I believe Picea abies 'Gold Drift' is a Coenesium Nursery, Robert Fincham introduction, it is always good form to mention the originator, at least some of the time, if at all possible. I love this plant and now call my plant 'Dianne's' in memory of Robert Finchams late wife.

  3. Talon, thanks so much for taking the time to show us the many beautiful plants you are able to grow in the Pacific Northwest. We can mostly only enjoy most of these thru pictures here in South Florida, as 99.9 % will not survive here mostly due to lack of sufficient cold period.

    I would like to offer a trade.....we will take your 97 to 100 degree temperatures in August with near zero humidity for our almost consistent 92 degree temperature with near 100% humidity and we will throw in 10 inches of rain for the month.

    Bruce at Tropical World Nursery in Boynton Beach, Fla

  4. Thanks for a great discussion of yellow/aureum cultivars!
    Now how about why and how they occur....particularly in the conifers. What happens to the chlorophyll and how do they survive winters without it? What is the evolutionary advantage?
    Curious in Bend