Friday, February 6, 2015

In the Fog

Quercus garryana in the fog

The origin of the word fog is a bit uncertain, but it might be Scandinavian, as Norwegian fogg means "long grass in a moist hollow." The Icelandic fuki means "rotten sea grass." The well-known Blooms of Bressingham in Norfolk, England, a garden center with attractive landscapes, is located in an area called Foggy Bottom.

Picea omorika 'Golden Midget'

Picea omorika 'Golden Midget'

Earlier this winter a thick murk descended upon us, and for most of a week it never left. I know, I know that at least we didn't suffer a blizzard like the USA East Coast. But I could barely see my trees in the gardens – they were brooding in the gloom – while I was on a mission to collect scionwood. Most of the conifers we propagate these days are dwarf and low to the ground, and it's really no fun to stoop to cut prickly tiny Picea cultivars on a cold morning, especially with an old man's back.

Helleborus 'Golden Lotus Strain'

Helleborus 'Peppermint Ice Strain'

But as I make my rounds through the fields, gardens and greenhouses, I am beginning to notice some early-spring fun. The Hellebores are starting to flower, and I'm not talking about your old grandmother's boring "Lenten Roses." I don't sell Helleborus anymore, but the most impressive come from Marietta O'Byrne near Eugene, Oregon. She crosses various plants that she finds most promising – kind of like an arranged marriage – then labels the offspring as a "strain." Thus you get seedlings that are called the Amber Gem strain, the Golden Lotus strain, the Peppermint Ice strain etc. They are not identical to the mother plant since they vary as seedlings, just as my children are not identical to my wife or me. I wasn't careful when I first purchased liners – about the "strain" part – for I assumed I was buying one clone produced via tissue culture. The first year the flowers were quite variable, and frankly most of them were not attractive, not at all like the color photo of the named parent. Also I was to learn that it would take another year or two for the seedlings' accurate colors to reveal themselves.

Helleborus hybridus '101'

Helleborus hybridus '102'

Helleborus hybridus '103'

Helleborus hybridus '104'

Helleborus hybridus '105'

Helleborus hybridus '106'

Helleborus hybridus '107'

Helleborus hybridus '108'

Helleborus hybridus '109'

Helleborus hybridus '110'

Helleborus hybridus '111'

Helleborus hybridus '112'

Helleborus hybridus '113'

Helleborus 'Golden Sunrise'
I saw one plant in the O'Byrne's display garden, labeled 'Golden Sunrise'. At some point it could be divided – not propagated by seed – and then you would produce identical 'Golden Sunrises'. Two years ago I bought thirteen seedling plants from them, and they were old enough to show their true colors. I labeled them Helleborus hybridus 101-113 for now, in case I wanted to divide them later, but I probably won't as I am late to the Hellebore game. Already new crosses are being trialed where the blooms face upward, for example. The name "hellebore" originates from Greek helleboros – for H. orientalis – which is derived from elein "to injure" and bora for "food," as many species are poisonous. The word Lenten is of Germanic origin, then to Old English as lencten for "spring." And of course, Helleborus is not related to the rose family (Rosaceae), but rather to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). A possible cause of the death of the relatively young Alexander the Great was an overdose of medication containing Helleborus.

Mahonia media 'Charity'
Mahonia napaulensis 'Maharajah'

I walked into GH20 this afternoon just as a hummingbird zipped past. And no wonder, with the doors opened, that our warmest house would attract the little hummers; they seemed to be particularly interested with the blooming Mahonias. I feel sorry for anyone who resides in a climate unsuitable to Mahonia, for they are evidence that there is light at the end of winter's tunnel. Many of the species are flowering even now, outside, and the genus is essential for any winter garden able to host them. I have written about Mahonias in the past (February 20, 2014) – for both their good and bad features – and if you care you can type in Mahonia in the rectangular box, above and to the left of the Flora Wonder Blog theme photo...but finish this blog first.

Camellia x williamsii 'Water Lily'

Camellia x williamsii 'Water Lily'

GH20 also contains three cultivars of Camellia, and x williamsii 'Water Lily' has been in flower for over a week. It doesn't appear to be a hummingbird attractant, but every plants-person oohs and ahhs when they see it. To the Japanese, the fallen petals upon the ground evoke wabi sabi, a mood for the bittersweet memory of something beautiful...that has passed. The words originally meant "the misery of living alone in nature" and "chill, lean and withered." Another sabi definition is "transformed by age and use." One should be careful, however, when trying to describe something about the "Japanese mood" – my wife suggests that I am never quite right (tadashi), as if absolute truth will always float above my reach.

Cyclamen coum 'Something Magic', back outside I pass the alpine frame, and there are a couple of blooms on Cyclamen coum (pronounced kō um) 'Something Magic' rising above the ghostly foliage. Cyclamen is pronounced by some as sik la men, but anyway it is derived from the Greek kyklaminos or kuklaminos, and that from kuklos for "circle," or perhaps kyklos for "cycle." The specific name coum is derived from an ancient name for its native range, which is now known as part of Armenia and Turkey. Don't let these botanics or word origins get in the way of any of you average-to-poor-gardeners, for Cyclamen is relatively easy to grow, as long as the soil is well-drained, and mine are in full sun to partial shade. For those who prefer something a little more spectacular (or gaudy) you can purchase the large-flowering Cyclamen persicum (from Persia, or Iran), known as the "florist's cyclamen" which come in shades of white, pink or red; and I've even seen them offered in my local Safeway grocery store.

Prunus ume 'Kyushu'

We have a weeping Prunus ume 'Kyushu' near our long driveway, which I purposely planted to entertain my wife in spring as she drives back and forth to school with the kids. I write this on January 28th, and I don't ever remember it blooming so early. The tree was gifted to me by Gordy Halgren of Peacedale Nursery in Washington state. And just what is the species ume? It was given to me as a “weeping cherry,” but it bears plum-like fruits. Ume is Japanese for plum, but an apricot also. My wife Haruko says the fruit – which is inedible without preparation – resembles an apricot because the bottom part of the fruit “looks like little buns.” The scientific name is mume, but in Japan ume is alternatively used. I've never propagated the tree so it doesn't really matter if it's a cherry, plum or apricot, and besides all of them hybridize anyway. The mume species originated in China and was later introduced into other Asian countries, but it was first described by Siebold when he encountered it in Japan. Plum liquor is popular in Japan and with me, and is called umeshu, or “plum wine.” I don't consider it a wine, but rather a sweet smooth drink, and every bottle of it that I have seen contains two golf ball-sized plums which are delicious as well. By the way, don't guzzle too fast or too much, as it will soon catch up to you.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise'

Parrotia persica trunk

Fothergilla monticola

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Sunburst'

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Angelly'

And of course the witch hazels are flowering now. It puzzles me why Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise' is still popular in the trade for I discontinued propagation years ago. I still do have one in the Display Garden, about twenty feet tall, that resulted from five grafts onto one Parrotia persica rootstock. The trunk is quite ornamental, and it is not prone to suckering like Hamamelis virginiana can be. I also grafted a Fothergilla monticola atop a similar Parrotia rootstock. The reason I discontinued 'Arnold Promise' is because I'm more in favor of x intermedia 'Sunburst' and 'Angelly', both of which display a brighter yellow flower. Incidentally, the two photos of 'Angelly' were from the same plant, taken on the same day, but at different times.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Orange Peel'

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Orange Peel'

For an orange-flowered Hamamelis I like x intermedia 'Orange Peel'. I first saw it at Wisley in England, but learned that it was yet another Belgium selection from the de Belder family. The late Jelena de Belder is memorialized for her Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena', and both 'Jelena' and 'Orange Peel' flower similarly, but in Oregon (at least) the autumn color of 'Orange Peel' is the more spectacular. I had a great time in the fall of 2011 in Belgium at Kalmthout and at the spill-over Hemelrijk, walking among their trees. I'm sure it would be spectacular to see the witch hazels in bloom, but at risk of sounding sacrilegious, an old Hamamelis in the fall is not a pretty sight, and many were twice as wide as tall and were spreading into other shrubs.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Strawberries & Cream'

Someone please tell me who introduced Hamamelis x intermedia 'Strawberries & Cream', a cultivar with petals red at the base and light yellow on the remainder. It is a cheerful selection, and relatively new for me, so I planted one along my long driveway at home, again to impress my wife. It is particularly attractive when a late-afternoon winter sun shines from behind; then it looks more like it's on fire rather than strawberries and cream.

Daphne odora 'Maejima'

Daphne odora is from China, but it has been long-cultivated in Japan, and that is from where it was introduced by Carl Peter Thunberg – as was Acer palmatum. Thunberg studied under Linnaeus and went on to be known as the “Japanese Linnaeus.” Daphne odora 'Maejima'* is a cultivar with pinkish-purple, highly fragrant flowers and glossy green leaves with yellow margins. There are a number of variegated odoras, but I like 'Maejima's' clean contrast between the colors. Daphne odora is hardy to USDA zone 6 and 'Maejima' can handle full sun. A good place to plant one is next to your house door, and whenever you enter or exit it's like visiting a French perfumist's shop, or, a bordello if you prefer.

*Jima is Japanese for "island," as in Iwo jima. Mae is probably a place name, according to my Japanese wife, and she thinks it's located near Okinawa.

Sassafras tsumu

Our lofty specimen of Sassafras tsumu is in flower, and it seems like just a short time ago I was admiring the fantastic autumn foliage. I can't detect any odor like with the Daphne, although tiny flies were sitting on most of the blossoms. The tsumu species is the Chinese counterpart to our American native S. albidum (Latin for “white”), and I do not see much difference in the two, actually any difference. I do not know who first introduced tsumu, but it was described by the English botanist William Botting Hemsley who was Keeper of Herbarium and Library at Kew. The species is dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate trees, and the flower photo (above) indicates that I have a male tree. The name sassafras was given by the botanist Nicolas Monardes in 1570, and was possibly derived from a Native American word that is no longer known. My children love the sassafras leaves, that there can be three leaf shapes on one tree: oval, mitten and tri-lobed.

Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Gold Rush'

Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Akabana'
Edgeworthia papyrifera 'Red Dragon'

Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Gold Rush'
Our liner greenhouse contains 3 9/16" pots of Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Gold Rush', and nearly every one of them is displaying a flower. It's funny to see a one-year-old stick in a pot with a bloom hanging off, and the red-flowered cultivars are doing the same. Sadly the flowers are an encumbrance on the young plants and they will be pruned off, but we let the older trees flower at will. As with the Daphne genus, Edgeworthia is in the Thymelaeaceae family, a word I have to spell carefully to get its seven vowels in the right order. The genus name honors Michael Pakenham Edgeworth who collected it from the Himalayas in the mid 1800's while working for the East India Company. Years ago, before I had acquired 'Akabana' and 'Red Dragon', I was visiting Far Reaches Farm in northern Washington, a place that seems to grow everything. Google them and buy something, but first finish this blog. Anyway, I asked the proprietor if he had a red Edgeworthia. He went into the next greenhouse and handed me a plant with a label that read Rhododendron edgeworthii. I didn't say anything more, but accepted the plant.

It's a few days past our fog week, and now we are experiencing normal clouds and rain. I'm still bent over cutting conifer scions with a soaked coat and hat. But the flowering gems at the nursery help me to endure my tired back.


  1. Your posts loaded with plant pics and stories/descriptions behind them are top notch!

  2. Thank you for your article. It is always welcome. This week, I especially enjoyed the witch hazels . . . and the mahonias.

  3. About Hamamelis'Strawberry and Cream:
    A Hemelrijk selection raised by de Belder in 1986.
    Introduced by Chris Lane in 1990.
    (I found these informations in Witch Hazel by Chris Lane(Timber Press) ISBN 0-88192-678-7)