Friday, October 31, 2014

A Review of Gossler Farms Nursery

Roger Gossler
The Gossler Guide

I received my Fall 2014 – Spring 2015 catalog from Gossler Farms Nursery, and by coincidence Roger Gossler showed up the next day to pick up his order. He has been buying plants from me for quite a few years, and never once has there been a complaint or a late payment. Besides, he often brings me something new when he visits. The Gosslers have been in business since the 1960's, and in 2009 Timber Press published The Gossler Guide to the Best Hardy Shrubs. Remember: whether you are good to him or bad, he loves to gossip, so behave yourself and buy his plants and his book. It's for your own good.

Zenobia pulverulenta 'Blue Sky'

The Gossler business is a small family-run retail and mail order company, but it's not small when you consider the impressive display garden and the multitude of plant varieties for sale in their greenhouses. The sales catalog begins with Abies balsamea 'Nana' and ends with Zenobia pulverulenta 'Raspberry', the latter a cultivar I didn't know existed. In between are Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Fastigiata', Lyonia lucida and Indigophera heterantha, and I also didn't know before that any of these existed. You get the idea: small numbers of a lot of stuff, and many plants that you will not see anywhere else.

Tsuga heterophylla 'Thorsen'

Tsuga heterophylla 'Thorsen'

Let's take a look at the sales catalog and explore the wide array of plants offered, and note that most do not come from my nursery. I don't remember if Gossler bought Tsuga canadensis 'Thorsen' from me, but we do grow it, and perhaps it is my favorite of all hemlocks. He sells a 1 gal. pot for only $30 and it's worth every cent. It takes five or six years to grow a salable 'Thorsen', and it is rare to find one in the retail setting. It is a neat little groundcover, or it can be staked into a narrow weeping tree, and it is far more attractive and refined than any of the weeping Tsuga canadensis cultivars. 'Thorsen's' foliage doesn't get the yellowish-green of the better known Tsuga canadensis 'Pendula'. 'Thorsen' is listed in the Gossler catalog as 'Thorsen's Weeping', and other nurseries list it as such, but I don't remember why I was once convinced that just 'Thorsen' was the correct name. No offense to Mr. or Mrs. Thorsen, but this wonderful little conifer shouldn't be saddled with their boring name.

Tsuga mertensiana 'Bump's Blue' (in foreground)

Tsuga mertensiana 'Bump's Blue'

Dr. Lewis (left), 'Bump's Blue' (center), Dr. Bump (right)

Also for $30 you can buy a Tsuga mertensiana 'Bump's Blue'. Years ago Dr. Forrest Bump of Forest Grove, Oregon dug up a "mountain hemlock" from the flanks of Mt. Hood and planted it into his garden. That was back in the time when many plants people did the same, when the notion of eco-robbery hadn't existed. The little seedling thrived, and I was impressed with its powder-blue foliage and narrow "alpine" form when I saw it twenty years later. Now I have had it for twenty five years, grafted onto seedling mertensiana, and the oldest resides near my waterfall with a backdrop of Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Pendula'. I have sold hundreds of 'Bump's Blue' throughout my career, but I've never made any profit as they are so slow. But you are advised to buy one from Gossler, and you will love the tree, and be sure to plant it in full sun for the best blue color.

Camellia x williamsii 'Water Lily'

For years I resisted to have anything to do with the Camellia genus. As a kid they were planted around our house and I was charged with "dead-heading" the spent blossoms, mushy red things that didn't last long. The leaves were usually infested with a black soot-like crud that I think was caused by aphids. Then, as a nurseryman, I wanted nothing to do with Camellias for their propensity to attract root weevils, those evil root-eating insects that lay grubs and who don't need to have sex to produce offspring. Then, in recent times, Camellias were a major vector for "Sudden Oak Death," Phytophthora ramorum, and a large irresponsible California company spread diseased plants across the country. In spite of these sordid details I was smitten with Gossler's Camellia x williamsii 'Water Lily' when I first saw it in bloom in the spring of 2013, and I was most impressed with its seductive luminosity. Roger gave one to me, the first Camellia of my career, and I enjoyed its flowers again this past spring.

Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Pearl'

Camellia japonica 'Kujaku tsubaki'

Camellia japonica 'Kujaku tsubaki'

Camellia 'Black Opal'

...Shortly thereafter I received another Camellia, japonica 'Nuccio's Pearl', a double-blossom selection with glossy dark-green foliage. It is a popular cultivar but Gossler doesn't list it. He does list Camellia japonica 'Kujaku tsubaki', a weeping bush that is known as the "Peacock Camellia" (Kujaku is Japanese for "peacock" and tsubaki is Japanese for "Camellia"). And Roger gave me a good sized plant to take home. So suddenly, in the space of less than a year, my Camellia collection was already up to three. Was I catching Camellia Fever? I remember a Camellia 'Black Opal' from a previous Gossler visit. Hmm...

Berberis linearifolia 'Orange King'

Berberis linearifolia 'Orange King' is listed, and only $25 for a 2 gal. pot, and Roger reminds us that "These are superb plants." Don't dismiss this cultivar for another one of those patented round balls or "pillars" that flop open, for 'Orange King' is an early bloomer that shocks you with its orangeness. It is an evergreen barberry with glossy dark green leaves, and can grow up to about eight feet in height. I remember having a group of one-gallon pots, about 100 feet away from the greenhouse entrance, and in late March visitors/customers would dash past everything else to see what was so orange. I know of a couple of snobbish gardeners who will insist that orange has no place in a sophisticated garden – a snob's garden – but I don't know: bees, hummingbirds and customers seem to accept the color; and after all, what's wrong with an orange rush in the drab month of March?

Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Sasaba'

Gossler is in love with Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Sasaba', and I like the cultivar as well. He suggests that the "sharply pointed evergreen leaves look somewhat like a small bamboo." Well, I don't see that, but I still like the small holly-like barbed leaves...and the fact that many experienced plantsmen cannot even guess the genus. In any case, I mention 'Sasaba' because I have a few stock plants in (my famous) BAG9 – Box Area Greenhouse 9 – that are currently in odoriferous bloom. True, they are in a seasonally-advanced environment – in a greenhouse a month ahead of what occurs in nature outdoors, but what other floral fragrance is available in late October?

Magnolia x 'Genie'

Magnolia x 'Genie'

Let's not forget that Magnolias were once the Gossler forte, and the genus made up a sizable portion of their overall sales. The situation has evolved to where they are still a prominent player in the dissemination of worthy Magnolia cultivars, but now their many non-Magnolia plants must make up for the public's realization that Magnolias take up a lot of room, and most are not suitable for everyone's garden. But not all Magnolias grow to huge size. x 'Genie' is a new patented hybrid that grows to only 10-12' according to Gossler. The cultivar resulted as a cross of M. soulangeana with M. liliiflora and is hardy to -20 degrees F, USDA zone 5. Blossoms are tulip-shaped and colored dark maroon; and the flowers appear in April for the most part, with a second (smaller) flush later in summer. The hybrid was produced by New Zealand plantsman Vance Hooper and I get my starts from New Zealand as well.

Magnolia kobus var. stellata 'Jane Platt'

Magnolia kobus var. stellata 'Jane Platt'

Magnolia kobus var. stellata 'Jane Platt'

Gossler and I also grow the special M. kobus var. stellata 'Jane Platt', a plant that Roger discovered in the famous Portland garden of the same name. Mrs. Platt presumably purchased a 'Rosea' for her garden, but there is certainly more than one 'Rosea' in the trade. Perhaps they should be called var. rosea. According to Jim Gardiner in Magnolias, A Gardener's Guide, "The Domoto Brothers of Oakland, California imported plants [of 'Rosea'] from Japan." Anyway, Roger thought the Platt tree had a stronger pink color than any others he had seen, and so he propagated and named it in the 1980's. We produce 'Jane Platt' by soft-wood cuttings in summer or by grafting onto kobus rootstocks in winter. You should order one soon, as after all, it received an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Parthenocissus tricuspidata 'Fenway Park'

Last spring at Don Shadow's Nursery in Tennessee I saw Parthenocissus tricuspidata 'Fenway Park', a golden form of the "Boston Ivy" that covered an entire shed. It was discovered in 1988 as a mutation on ivy at an apartment building near – but not in – Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. I don't grow it myself, although I would like to have one. I'm not aware if it has any reversion problems, but at least the one I saw at Shadow's was solid yellow. In autumn the foliage changes to yellow, orange and red, and in winter small blue-black berries are evident...until they are all eaten by birds. The genus name comes from Greek parthenos meaning "virgin" and kissos – then Latinized as cissus – for "ivy-like vine."

Acer buergerianum 'Angyo Weeping'

Acer buergerianum 'Angyo Weeping'

Gossler is selling Acer buergerianum 'Angyo Weeping', a strongly pendulous form of the "Trident Maple." It features the glossy green leaves of the species which turn to brilliant yellow, orange and red in fall, often at the same time. I know he didn't buy them from me, for it is fairly new at Buchholz Nursery and I haven't sold any yet. Angyo is located in Japan near Tokyo, and it has a 380 year history with its garden plant industry. This area was chosen for nurseries due to excellent underground water and red soil (Kanto loam) that the nurserymen incorporate into their potting media. I don't know who discovered 'Angyo Weeping', but the name is suspect, as it is against nomenclatural rules to combine the Japanese Angyo with the English Weeping. Perhaps the name occurred when the first American brought it into this country. There used to be an Angyo Maple Nursery which in the 1930's listed over 200 cultivars of Japanese maples, but I don't know if it continued after the War.

Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine'

Davidia involucrata 'Aya nishiki'

Probably the most expensive plant in the Gossler catalog is Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine', a stunning variegated "Dove Tree" discovered by Crispin Silva of Oregon. Yikes! A 1 gal. pot will cost you $140, but I maintain that it's still worth the price. After all, Roger pays a fortune to get his supply. I also grow it, and I trialed one in full sun at Flora Farm. When we hit 100 degrees F the foliage didn't burn, but it certainly lost its freshness. Later in the summer a second flush of growth developed, so now it looks like I have a two-toned tree. I suspect that the longer it is in the ground, the better it will handle the heat; and for those of you gardening in humid summers, you may experience no problem at all. I saw the beautiful Davidia involucrata 'Aya nishiki' in humid Japan that went the entire summer looking good, but in my field it looks miserable by August. I assume that 'Lady Sunshine' will eventually bloom, but my oldest eight-foot tree has not yet done so, but in any case the "handkerchief" bracts will probably be lost in the dazzling foliage.

Daphniphyllum himalaense ssp. macropodum 'Yellow-White'

Roger has the knack for roaming around my nursery and finding – and wanting to buy – everything that's not for sale. And damn! He found my handful of variegated Daphniphyllum, plants that I wanted to grow on to larger size. Roger has a hound's nose for these hidden treasures and I usually oblige. I have three forms of variegated Daphniphyllum, all from Japan, and all acquired because my cute wife was able to talk an old Japanese nurseryman into sending starts to me about eleven years ago. Haruko is quite an expert at floating with the old Japanese geezers, and it has been quite beneficial to my career. But while I have these wonderful variegated plants, the nomenclature remains a muddle. Roger bought a cultivar labelled 'Yellow-White', but that can't be a correct, proper name, a detail that I'm always hung-up on. He sold out immediately – the five that I would sell him – for a hefty price. Daphniphyllum is difficult to root (for me) so I must graft the variegated varieties. But then it's difficult to find rootstock. I imagine a tremendous market potential for these plants, but I'll probably never be able to cash in on them.

Leucothoe keiskei

Gossler is one of the few retail nurseries in America to offer the fantastic Leucothoe keiskei, a low slow-growing evergreen shrub. Leucothoe is in the Ericaceae family and it produces small Pieris-like fragrant blossoms in spring. The best feature, however, is the leaves' glossy mahogany color in fall and winter. In England it received an Award of Garden Merit in 1933, but I don't recall ever seeing it in any English garden. My first encounter with this Japanese species was in the rock garden at the University of British Columbia Botanic Garden, a plant I saw twenty five years ago. Beware of a Leucothoe cultivar being peddled as keiskei 'Royal Ruby' for it is not the keiskei species, nor is it very impressive. The vendor of this fraud agreed that it was not the keiskei species, but dismissed my purchase as "Well, you win some and you lose some," but no refund was offered. That is not at all how I handle an identity crisis!

Salix magnifica

Salix magnifica

I see that Gossler continues to list Salix magnifica, a plant that I really should acquire again. We used to grow it but sales were weak, as potential customers immediately decided that a "willow" was just another cheap junk plant. But not so, for magnifica is appropriately named, and I don't know why in the world I sold my last one ten years ago. I suppose it was because nobody would buy them from me. But the incredible species was originally collected by E.H. Wilson in 1909 in China, and was first assumed to be a Magnolia...until it flowered. New growth is beautiful and the leaves are the most large of any willow. Female catkins are impressive, as they can develop to 25 cm, or nearly 10" at maturity.

Gossler Farms Nursery Catalog

Look: the conclusion, after paging through the Gossler catalog a number of times, is that I should place an order. You can decide what you want, but I'm going to order Acer palmatum 'Red Spire', Astilbe 'Color Flash Lime', Callicarpa japonica 'Snow Storm', Camellia 'Black Opal', Embothrium coccineum 'Inca Flame', Hamamelis vernalis 'Red Imp', Styrax japonicus 'Evening Light' and yes, Zenobia pulverulenta 'Raspberry'. I could easily order three times that amount, but I never want to appear glutinous among plant friends. In your case, however, order as much as you want...which in the long run will be good for me. Never shop for plants at a box store and never patronize a retail nursery that is not inclined to provide personalized service. Instead, shop at Gossler's and you will benefit them, me and yourself. For you own good.