Friday, June 5, 2015

Arboretum Trompenburg

JRP van Hoey Smith with Quercus pontica

Last week's Flora Wonder Blog was something of a geography lesson – at least for the few of you who actually read it – and it discussed species like Adiantum aleuticum that is native to the Aleutian Islands, and Quercus pontica which is from an ancient country in Asia Minor which borders the Black Sea. The Quercus cannot be mentioned without bringing up the late JRP van Hoey Smith, the King of the Oaks, whose favorite tree in his Arboretum Trompenburg was Q. pontica. In fact, on the announcement of his passing was “The Oak Has Fallen.” When I finally go, the announcement will probably be less grandiose, like “Buchholz Withered Up Like A Dry Maple.”

In any case I pulled my copy of van Hoey Smith's Arboretum Trompenburg from the shelf, and I cherish his inscription on the title page:

 For Talon Buchholz
 Once more thanks for Flora Wonder
 with the most sympathetic inscription.
 Photo's this book most mine but
 alas never as good as in your booklet.

 Dick + Riet van Hoey Smith
 Dec. 2001

Then Mayor of Rotterdam wrote the forward for the Trompenburg book, and I learned that over 50,000 people from Rotterdam visit the garden every year (2001), but also that “Arboretum Trompenburg is a pearl to attract visitors from the entire country and the entire world.” You can count my five visits, and for me it is my favorite tree collection in the world even though it has rained on every visit. Trompenburg is an intimate garden where you can experience a great man's obsession, and he penned his autobiography with every tree in the collection.

van Hoey Smith's home

“In comparison to arboretums [sic] and pineta – particularly in England – Trompenburg is of modest proportions. Despite the limitations that this imposes, there are some 3,590 different woody plants...” The Arboretum Trompenburg will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2020, and I hope to add my three cheers to the occasion if I am fortunate enough. For fifty-plus years the collection was under  the guidance of JRP van Hoey Smith, and in 1939 he received 100 guilders as a graduation present; he spent the money on trees: Liriodendron tulipifera 'Fastigiatum', Nothofagus antarctica, Picea omorika 'Expansa', Pinus pumila 'Dwarf Blue', Quercus acuta, Quercus dentata, Quercus imbricaria, Quercus petraea 'Columna', Quercus pontica and Rhododendron przewalskii.

Fagus sylvatica 'Dawyck Gold'
Fagus sylvatica 'Dawyck Purple'

Fagus sylvatica 'Red Obelisk'

The book lists 27 of Trompenburg's “own” plants, and I suppose the columnar beeches – such as 'Dawyck Gold', 'Dawyck Purple' and 'Red Obelisk' – are the most horticulturally significant. There is another list of plants received from elsewhere and named by Trompenburg, and some include Picea engelmannii 'Snake', Pinus koraiensis 'Silveray', Thuja occidentalis 'Trompenburg' and Acer palmatum 'Trompenburg', and I grow all of the above.

Acer palmatum 'Trompenburg'

The 'Trompenburg' maple has an interesting story, if I have my facts straight. It was germinated with other seedlings at Trompenburg, but then it was discovered that the arboretum soil was infected with verticilium wilt. 'Trompenburg' was still alive when it seemed prudent to send it to the DeBelders in their Arboretum Kalmthout in Belgium. I'm not sure if 'Trompenburg' was ever sent back to Rotterdam, but in any case the original is no longer alive. I liked the cultivar early in my career – in fact it was one of six of my first maples purchased from JD Vertrees – but there isn't much demand for it anymore. I think its problem is that it doesn't hold its purple-red color in many climates. I once broached the theory with van Hoey Smith that 'Trompenburg' was a hybrid with Acer shirasawanum, but he screwed up his face and emphatically insisted that it was “absolutely not!” I came up with the notion because its seed rises above the foliage,  as evidenced in the photo in his book on page 68, but anyway it received the RHS Award of Garden Merit as a palmatum.

Thuja orientalis 'Van Hoey Smith'

The plant eventually known as Thuja orientalis 'Van Hoey Smith' was sent by Don Teese of Melbourne, Australia to Trompenburg. Soon thereafter I received it from Trompenburg without a name, for the name of 'Aurea Compacta' or some other Latin name was not deemed appropriate. I had to call it something, so temporarily I christened it 'Van Hoey Smith'...and it entered the trade as such. I didn't really mean for that to happen because naming plants after people is a dumb idea; but happen it did because at the time I was apparently under the fervor of capitalism. Later I was attending a Conifer Society function, with van Hoey Smith in attendance, and the name of the Thuja came up. He chided “you Americans" for constantly putting new names on plants as a marketing ploy. I held my head low because I didn't want him to know that “you Americans” was me.

Heptacodium miconioides

I remember walking past a Heptacodium miconioides at Trompenburg, and van Hoey Smith admitted that he didn't even know that the tree existed before he was given one. He relates in the book that it “was not discovered until after the war, but has now conquered the world.” He continues, “In 1988 I gave a lecture in Boston, USA. In thanks I was given a rather large plant of Heptacodium, which I was not too happy about. I did not know the plant and had to drag that thing home on the airplane. Later I realized what a precious gift that had been.” Heptacodium is commonly called “Seven-Sons Flower” due to two rows of three flowers around a central bud – let's see: 3+3+1=7 – and seven is a lucky number to the Chinese. It is a genus of a single species which was discovered by EH Wilson, but the seed he collected was not viable. Eventually it was introduced from seed by the 1980 Sino-American Botanical Expedition. The word heptacodium comes from Greek for “seven” and codium for “poppyhead,” and was coined by Alfred Rehder of the Arnold Arboretum. The specific name was due to its general appearance to the genus Miconia, a member of the “glory bush” family, Melastomataceae.

Calocedrus decurrens 'Berrima Gold' at Arboretum Trompenburg

'Berrima Gold' in the Display Garden

As with my garden, Trompenburg has changed dramatically over time. On page 158 is a “view to the south from our home,” and it reveals a narrow pillar five-to-six feet in height, Calocedrus decurrens 'Berrima Gold'. The photo above is from my last visit a few years ago, and now I estimate it to be close to twenty feet tall. In any case it is the tallest I have ever seen, and at Buchholz Nursery this cultivar is usually a more-squat pyramidal bush. Our iconic Flora Wonder Blog theme photo shows a young 'Berrima Gold' in our original Display Garden, but it was dug and sold because it was in the way of an irrigation pipe. Now I wished I had diverted the pipe and kept the tree. 'Berrima Gold' originated at the Berrima Nursery in New South Wales, Australia, at a nursery started on a two acre site by Claude and Isobel Crowe in 1943. With the addition of property across the river, Berrima Bridge Nursery grew to 23 acres. Claude died in 1999 and the nursery closed the following year. I don't know if we have any other Berrima introductions, except for Acer palmatum 'Berrima Bridge' which is largely a non-event.

Abies squamata

Abies squamata

The first time I had ever seen Abies squamata was at Trompenburg. The “Flaky-bark fir” was languishing amid other bushes and one had to wade through the brush to get to the exfoliating trunk. In recent times, thankfully, the area has been cleared and the trunk limbed up so the Acer griseum-like bark can be better appreciated. The squamata species is rare in gardens, but I did recently see seedlings for sale (of Dutch origin) in the retail sales area at Westonbirt Arboretum in England. I have peddled my share too, but my propagations are never from seed, but rather by grafting onto another Abies rootstock. Van Hoey Smith asserts that Abies squamata “is one of those genuine gems that we are very proud of and  that no tour of the arboretum ever skips.” He received his tree from Hillier in 1966, planted it in 1968, and transplanted it to the other side of the path in 1982. My oldest Abies squamata grew beautifully in our Blue Forest, and one year I was treated to a fabulous display of purple cones; but not so fast, my friend, for the following year it subsequently died. But at least I have another on the slope of my “Upper Gardens” where I live, and I pray that it will out-live me. It is rather surprising that Trompenburg's thriving Abies squamata prospers in its soggy (4m below sea level) locale, for this Abies species holds the arboreal altitude record at 4,700 meters (15,419.9475 feet) in a dry region of China on the border with Tibet. I assume that the Trompenburg specimen is of seedling origin. Abies squamata was first classified by Maxwell Tylden Masters (1833-1907), an English botanist and taxonomist. Besides describing Chinese conifers, Masters was perhaps best known for Vegetable Teratology which deals with abnormal mutations of vegetable species. Hey, we all have our own particular areas of interest.

Chamaecyparis obtusa on lawsoniana rootstock

Back to Trompenburg, one receives a horticultural history lesson, especially when observing the old practice of grafting Chamaecyparis obtusa cultivars onto the rootstock of Chamaecyparis lawsoniana. Initially it appears horticulturally sound, but with advanced age the preposterous ridiculousness reveals itself. Sure, the tops survive, but the base becomes grotesque. In America we use Thuja occidentalis to graft C. obtusa cultivars, and the long-term compatibility is not perfect either. Some nurserymen reason that the typical American home-owner will reside at their current residence for only five-to-ten years, so selling them a short-term plant is not at all inappropriate. I'll admit to being guilty of selling an Abies pindrow to a know-it-all landscaper from Oklahoma who insisted that he had designed and placed A. pindrow in landscapes before, and that he didn't need to heed my concerns for the viability of the species in his climate. The problem was that he was confusing Abies pindrow with Abies pinsapo, the latter a species from the arid southern regions of Spain, but I allowed the “scraper” to be smarter than me and took his money after all.

Pseudolarix amabilis

Pseudolarix amabilis

Pseudolarix amabilis should be present in any world-class arboretum, and of course Trompenburg contains (at least) one. This deciduous conifer was introduced by Scotsman Robert Fortune from eastern China in 1852. Fortune's primary purpose in China was to spy for the England's East India Company, to learn how to grow and process tea plants (Camellia sinensis), and he even managed to smuggle live plants. If caught he probably would have been put to death. Fortune collected many new species of plants while on his tea mission, and successfully transported them back to England in Wardian cases. The Pseudolarix – or “False Larch” – used to be called Pseudolarix kaempferi and Chrysolarix amabilis, and it is a deciduous conifer with a broad form. It differs from the true larches with more long and broad needles, and also with a different cone structure, which to me somewhat resembles an artichoke. I used to grow and sell Pseudolarix, but now I'm limited to just one specimen in the Flora Wonder Arboretum. I discontinued with sales because of very limited appeal, and I suppose that when potential customers saw larix in the name, they would imagine a huge tree that looks dead for half a year. Besides enjoying my one remaining tree for its beauty, I could also copy the Chinese and use it as a dermalogic antifungal remedy. In traditional Chinese medicine Pseudolarix is called jin qian song.

Arboretum Trompenburg

The feet of Haruko at Trompenburg

One afternoon van Hoey Smith, Haruko and I were headed to a certain tree, for I wished to know if I was growing mine under the correct name. But he paused to stare at the trunk of something else, then he got on his knees to scramble through the leaves search of the missing label. “Where did it go,” he muttered. He stood, shook his head and sighed, “hopeless.” The book states that a “complete inventory of Arboretum Trompenburg will be published, a list containing all plants including the perennials...It will become available in a simpler form, since the intention is to reprint it every year or every other year with all the changes that have meanwhile taken place.” He realized that his project would consume much time. “It is, however, all part of the obligation to maintain proper documentation, which is lacking in so many botanical gardens and therefore renders them less significant.”

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Minima Aurea'

I'm not sure if van Hoey Smith ever went digital with his photographs, but for the bulk of his career he preferred color slides. He filed them in fireproof safes, and if a colleague called to ask for a photo of such-and-such a tree, he could locate it in less than thirty seconds. Thus he contributed photos for books on maples, conifers, Rhododendrons and probably other publications that I don't know about. In his final decade he travelled with one of his daughters, either Joan or Maaike, and they were always prepared to assist him. We were in my Blue Forest when he ran out of film. He shouted across the garden, “Joan, Joan! I need film!” Or “Maaike, write that down.” One time he stumbled upon a Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Minima Aurea', and he demanded to know what I was thinking, for the label read obtusa. I stuttered for an apology, that it was my most-trusted employee who had spaced on the species, that indeed it was a lawsoniana. He expressed relief, then moved on. I was embarrassed and five minutes after he left I went to change the label.

Whenever van Hoey Smith was in a plant collection, whether in his, mine or somewhere else, I stayed close to his heels like a puppy dog, not wanting to miss a thing. It was not unusual for him to gush, “Absolutely fantastik!” about a floral wonder. However, my favorite time was when I was in his garden alone, for it really is an enchanting place for me when there are no distractions. I'm sure that most would consider Beethoven to be more grand and wonderful than Maurice Ravel, but I'll take Ravel's Piano Trio in A Minor over Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Tolstoy is more well-known and accomplished than Turgenev, but I'll take Turgenev's Hunting Sketches over War and Peace. And so it is with Trompenburg.

"Yes Talon, Trompenburg is a special garden that I have blessed for many years. I assure you that it remains in good care with Directeur Gert Fortgens."
Gert Fortgens

1 comment:

  1. I'm convinced that Acer palmatum 'Trompenburg' is a hybrid as well. My specimen still remains in the upper Midwest after several rough winters that have wiped out most Acer palmatums.