Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Wandering Narrative

Flora blessed me with an extraordinary week, for I encountered many fantastic plants, and all of the photos in this blog will join the many thousands of others that can be seen in our website photo library. Unfortunately many people call us wanting to buy what they see in the library, but I don't grow all of the plants, let alone have a market to sell them. Rather it is a record of my floral encounters, my autobiography as it were. It is true that you are what you eat, but equally so with what you see.

Dracunculus vulgaris

A spathe* developed on our Dracunculus vulgaris and I would inspect it daily. One day last week, voila, it opened, and I was surprised that it could happen so fast. The species name vulgaris is Latin for “common,” but this stinker went beyond “common” to the realm of putrid, all in an attempt to attract flies to aid in pollination. It is native to the Balkans, Turkey, Crete and Greece, and in the latter it is known as drakondia since the long spadix** – to someone who drank too much wine – looked like a dragon*** hiding in the spathe. Dracunculus belongs to the Araceae family and is related to the Arum  genus. The spathe is a bract, so to speak, while the spadix bears numerous flowers, both male and female which are hidden inside the bulbous chamber inside the spathe. Even though the flower smells like rotten meat, it is poisonous, and animals keep clear.

*Spathe is Greek for “broad blade.”
**Spadix is Greek for “palm branch.”
***Dragon is from Greek drakon for “serpent.” Of course most everything from Greek went to Latin and was altered to some degree. Latin Graeci was the name given by the Romans to the people who called themselves the Hellenes, which was from the Greek Graikoi, and was believed by Aristotle  to be the prehistoric name of the Hellenes. Latin, or Latium was the country of the Latini, a people from Mount Album – today Colli Albani – located twelve miles southeast of Rome. The area has been occupied by agricultural populations since the Bronze Age, and the name is possibly derived from the Latin word “latus” meaning “wide,” referring to the flat land. I don't know about you, but sometimes the asterisk (from Greek asteriskos for “little star”) is more interesting than the paragraph which preceded it.

Fagus sylvatica 'Aurea Pendula'

May is a wonderful time to see our magnificent specimen of Fagus sylvatica 'Aurea Pendula'. When we eventually reach 100 degrees F this summer the foliage will burn to a degree – for we have very little humidity – but the longer it has been in our original display garden the better it handles the sun. The tree behind the 'Aurea Pendula' is the original Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost', and beyond that is an Abies nordmanniana, planted as a sapling to one day provide shade. The “Golden Weeping beech” was introduced by Van der Bom of Holland in 1900, but you don't see it very often in American gardens. Everyone wants to buy our larger trees so they are a cinch to sell, but clients never know about our dismal propagation results, and just what it takes to get little plants of weak constitution to shoot upward. I saw my first plant and got a start 35 years ago from Howard Hughes – no, not the loony Vegas tycoon – who was a generous man of 92 at the time. Before J.D. Vertrees had a sizeable maple collection, Hughes had also gathered a collection, and when the Vertrees maple book came out in 1978, due acknowledgement was given to Mr. Hughes.

Acer macrophyllum 'Santiam Snow'

Acer macrophyllum 'Santiam Snow'

Acer macrophyllum 'Santiam Snow' is a new, but apparently stable variegated form of our “Oregon maple,” meaning that – hopefully – vigorous green reversions won't appear. It received its name because it was discovered on the Santiam Highway which begins just south of Salem, Oregon, and goes east...up-and-over the Cascade Mountains and into central Oregon. I don't know who found it, but the company that introduced it is Heritage Seedlings of Salem. Santiam is a river in the area, so-named by the Kalapuya tribe. The natives are gone now; those who survived the white-man's diseases and the disgusting concept of Manifest Destiny were relocated. It's fitting that they now run a large casino and suck huge sums of money from the slovenly descendants of those whities who first screwed them. Anyway, 'Santiam' has never been tested by me in the real world, that is, out in the garden in full sun.

Onoclea sensibilis

I encountered Onoclea sensibilis last week at a nursery that sells many groundcovers and ferns. In Sue Olsen's Encyclopedia of Garden Ferns, she says, “The name Onoclea is from the Greek onos, vessel, and kleio, to close or sheathe, in reference to the podlike pinnules enclosing the spores on the fertile fronds.” With the specific name sensibilis I wondered if the fronds would curl up if I touched them. I did, they didn't. They are “sensitive” in that the sterile fronds turn yellow and die at the first frost. Sue adds, “It was supposedly the first fern introduced to Britain from North America, in 1699.”

Dryopteris sieboldii

Dryopteris erythrosora

Polystichum polyblepharum

The fern greenhouse contained many genera and species, and none fascinates me more than Dryopteris sieboldii, “Siebold's wood fern.” Also noticed was Dryopteris erythrosora, the “autumn fern” from Asia. Its specific name means “red sori” in Greek, and sori is plural of sorus, which is from ancient Greek soros for “stack” or “heap.” The sori are the structures producing and containing spores, visible on the underside of the fertile fronds. Polystichum polyblepharum is the “Tassel fern” from Japan, Korea and China and the specific name means “many eyelashes” due to the bristly scales on the stipe. A stipe is a stalk or stem.

Cornus kousa 'Summer Fun'

Cornus controversa 'Variegata' at Schreiner's Nursery

Cornus controversa 'Variegata' at Arboretum Trompenburg

I arranged a visit to Schreiner's Iris Gardens, not so much for the iris, but to see Ray Schreiner's personal garden. His is a sprawling collection of trees and shrubs that he likes. After planting he doesn't worry about the labeling, for after all the trees are not part of his business. It's as if the countless crops of iris on 200 acres got a little boring, and his own garden seems to be where he has most fun. Ray likes variegated plants, and I was pleased to see three or four of my Cornus kousa 'Summer Fun', although he didn't get them from me. He also had a good sized Cornus controversa 'Variegata', a cultivar common in the gardens of tasteful plantsmen, but seldom seen in the landscapes of the general public. Cornus controversa, a tree native to eastern Asia to about the 5,000' altitude, was first described by William Botting Hemsley (1843-1924), an English botanist who worked his way up to Keeper of Herbarium and Library at Kew. 'Variegata' was introduced in 1896 by the Frenchman Barbier, and it is probably more commonly found in Europe than America. For me, the most grand specimen I have ever seen is at the Arboretum Trompenburg in Rotterdam, and even on dismal rainy days it will light up its if it was preparing for a glorious wedding.

Schreiner's Display Garden

Schreiner's Iris Gardens

Iris 'Fringe of Gold'

Iris 'Sea Power'

I will admit that Schreiner's iris fields were spectacular, and customers and visitors are welcome to wander around a display garden, where labeling was a priority. Ray is a third generation iris-man, with his grandfather starting the business in Minnesota. Eventually they relocated to Oregon's Willamette Valley where growing conditions were far more superior, and they didn't forget to bring along their Adirondack furniture.

Audrey's place

Back at the nursery I encountered a lush scene in our Display Garden's lath house. I constructed this structure as a place of repose when I was in my early 30's, and even my older children would whisper when they were near it. It was known as Audrey's place, named after a friend who had passed away at a young age. She was my age, but could never seem to find her place in life, and was forever complaining about her job or her boyfriend etc. Finally I advised her to change her course and volunteer for something, to make the world a better place...and quit thinking about herself. She took me up on it and joined the Peace Corps and was shipped to a remote island in the Philippines. The villagers assumed she was a witch and would stare into her window, but she tried to accept the situation. After only a month of her stay we received a phone call from her mother that Audrey had died of “heart failure.” She was healthy and only 35, and to this day I conclude that she was murdered. In any case I built her monument and planted it with some choice shade-loving plants.

Acer palmatum 'Golden Falls'

Also on my camera from the past week are some Japanese maples, all of which are seedlings from named varieties which we hope to introduce in the near future. Acer palmatum 'Golden Falls' is a yellow-leaved seedling from A. p. 'Ryu sei' with the same pendulous habit of its parent. From the two hundred seedlings that we raised about 20 showed the weeping characteristic, while the others – the uprights – became rootstock. I have come to the conclusion in my career that it is best to have a cultivar name firmly in place before you propagate so as to avoid confusion later. I have broadcast that view before so I won't go into it further now – unless someone is inexperienced enough (or foolish) to debate with me.

Acer palmatum 'Celebration'

Acer palmatum 'Celebration'

The original Acer palmatum 'Amber Ghost'

Acer palmatum 'Strawberry Spring'

Acer palmatum 'Strawberry Spring'

Acer palmatum 'Yellow Threads'

Another attractive new maple is Acer palmatum 'Celebration' which originated as a seedling from 'Purple Ghost'. Its leaves are more brightly red than with 'Purple Ghost' or 'Amagi shigure', and it displays good vigor as well. A seedling from 'Amber Ghost' became 'Strawberry Spring', while 'Koto no ito' yielded 'Yellow Threads'. One should be cautious to describe a cultivar based on the original seedling, because one will never again be produced that way. The original is the one and only and all of its propagules will have a borrowed – and probably more vigorous – rootstock. For example, my first two grafts from my 'Fairy Hair' are over three times  the size of the original seedling.

Paeonia ostii

Paeonia ostii

I was disappointed with a shipment of Paeonia ostii 'Phoenix White' which I bought from another wholesale grower. He did not provide what he promised, as they all turned out to be seedlings of 'Phoenix White', and while some flowered white, most bloomed an insipid pink. One seedling was a strong pink and I like it, but it looks funny with a label that describes it as “white.” 'Phoenix White' is a tree peony from China, known as Feng Dan Bai, while a pink-flowered form is called Feng Dan Fen, and they are cultivated for the bark of their roots which is used as an anti-spasmodic. The tree peony is the national flower of China and is known as hua wang, “King of Flowers,” and this connotation goes back over 2,000 years. The herbaceous form of Paeonia is native to the Mediterranean region of Europe, and an anonymous Greek poet called it “the Queen of all herbs.” The Roman Pliny the Elder wrote that a tincture of peony roots “prevents the mocking illusions that the Fauns* bring to us in our sleep.”

*Faun is derived from the name of the pastoral god Faunus. In classical mythology they are one of a class of rural deities, represented as men with the ears, horns and rear legs and tail of a goat. Faunus was a nature god who was the father of Bona Dea, sometimes identified as Fauna.

Callicarpa japonica 'Snow Storm'

Callicarpa japonica 'Snow Storm' is a new plant from Japan, but in Europe it is known by its Japanese name of 'Shiji murasaki', which does not translate as “snow storm.” Murasaki is Japanese for “purple,” and I think that shiji is referring to the stems. The “purple” of course is referring to the “beautyberries.” Sadly the cultivar has been trademarked in America – meaning that I can't use the name and wouldn't be able to sell it. Furthermore, it will be peddled with the dumb name of 'Wine Spritzer', and I read that “landscapers are clinking wine glasses over this beautiful new shrub.” Yuck – count me out!

Abies concolor 'Wattezii'

Abies concolor is a western American fir that received its specific name because the trees are of one color, whole-colored, not partly-colored or variegated. Well, in general I guess, as the trees in the wild do look alike, but certainly not alike in the world of cultivars. This past week I walked around my upper gardens at Flora Farm, and I happily stumbled into Abies concolor 'Wattezii' which was flushed with beautiful new growth. Hillier describes the foliage, “leaves creamy yellow when young, becoming silvery white later.” Krussmann describes, “needles pale yellow on new growth, generally turning silver-white.” It originated as a mutation on A. concolor by D. Wattez in Bussum, Holland.

Dr. Forrest Bump

My connection to 'Wattezii' was due to the late Dr. Bump and his wife of Forest Grove, Oregon, who encountered a specimen in the Hillier Arboretum in England. Bump was a keen plantsman but his wife was not. After a long tour of the collection, led by Sir Harold Hillier himself, Mrs. Bump declared that “Wattezii' was the most interesting plant that she had ever seen. Bump went on a quest to acquire it, and I was pleased to provide him a tree from scions sent to me from an East Coast conifer collector. Dr. Bump was surprised that I remembered his story, but I was just beginning my nursery, and I reasoned that if a non-plant-person liked one tree out of the entire Hillier collection, it was probably something I should grow.

Acer griseum

The name of the Flora Wonder Blog could well have been A Wandering Narrative, with my floral encounters of the past week being the only theme. The last photo (above) was taken at 8:30 in the evening after a late dinner. I took my finished plate to the kitchen and glanced out the window. Acer griseum was glowing in the waning light, and one second after I pushed the shutter the sun retreated behind a cloud and it was good night for further photography. Below are more images from my happy week.

Rosa omiensis

Tricyrtis formosana 'Samurai'

Picea abies 'Vermont Gold'
Pinus schwerinii

Beschorneria septentrionalis

Sedum ochroleucum 'Red Wiggle'

Astrantia major 'Star of Billion'

Laburnum x watereri 'Vossii'

Phyllitis scolopendrium 'Angustifolia'

Campanula persicifolia 'Kelly's Gold'
Cardiocrinum giganteum var. yunnanense

Sempervivum tectorum var. calcareum 'Fire Dragon'

Oxalis regnellii 'Francis'

Sempervivum 'Spring Beauty'

Paeonia 'Border Charm'

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