Friday, July 10, 2015

Heat Records

The past couple of weeks has been sizzling at Buchholz Nursery, and I'm not talking about deals and discounts like they have at the mattress stores before the 4th of July. Sizzling hot with virtually no rain for over two months. We are pooped, and the only joy I see in my employees' faces happens at 4:30 when it's time to go home. 90 degree F-to-the-low 100's, day after day, makes one question the notion of a career in horticulture.

Death Valley, CA

The Sun
The hottest place in America (and the world) is usually Death Valley, California, where it has been 125 degrees F a few times already this year. Of course that's nothing compared to the temperature at the earth's core which is estimated to be about 10,800 degrees , as hot as the surface of the sun. The core temperature of the sun is a whopping 27 million degrees F, and I doubt  that any sun screen would afford suitable protection.

I'll whine to anybody who listens that I hate weather records, that they all cost me money. That's the problem with owning a plant factory: you might coddle a tree for years, only to lose it to a weather record. Heat records and cold records are bad news, but also problematic is how early it gets cold or hot, or how late it gets cold or hot. If someone knew that the coldest it would get for the year is 10 degrees F, would I take that or take my chances? I would take the 10 degrees, certainly, except not in June! My dream is to one day quit the nursery, to not have anything more to do with plants, and to not care anymore about the weather. Then I could finally relax and marvel at the extremes; bring them on!

I walk a lot of miles per day as I travel up and down the nursery rows and in and out of the greenhouses. It's not always pleasant, as I encounter the weeds and the plants that need to be pruned, staked and potted up. What crew is going to get that done, especially since 2/9ths of the outdoor employees will be watering all day? I prefer to be alone when I make the rounds so I won't be distracted, and I never want to visit the nursery with my wife anymore because I love her so much that I want to spare her my grumblings.

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Kools Gold'

A few plants were toasted during our heat event, but for the most part everything else still looks good. The remaining Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Gold Rush' – and I don't have many anymore – were offended by the sun, but fortunately a newer Dutch selection, 'Kools Gold', is thriving without a blemish. I find it humorous that the Dutch, or at least in the English translation of Promising Conifers by the Dutch Conifer Society, refer to sun scald as getting “burn stains from the sun.” And for shade, they say a plant “prefers half shadow.” The 'Kools Gold' is a fun plant, for when new growth emerges in April it looks like the tree is ornamentally adorned with tiny sparkling suns, as evidenced by the photo above. By May and the first half of June I will admit that 'Gold Rush' presents the more sumptuous butter-yellow foliage, but then, in the real heat of summer, 'Kools Gold' gains its stride and flashes its deep golden color for all to see, and any Oregon gardener would prefer the latter. I think that 'Kools Gold' is an incredible cultivar name, and I'll even brag that it was coined by me, because the introducer – Nelis Kools of Deurne – officially named is 'Golden Guusje' after his pretty blonde daughter, Guusje, but allowed that my designation was probably more appropriate for sales in America. So now all of our labels read 'Kools Gold (AKA Golden Guusje)', as to avoid confusion and to also honor the man – or rather his daughter – who inspired the name. I know that I have hyped 'Kools Gold' many times before, but today I walked past the group strategically located by the road where every customer passes, and who wouldn't want one in their landscape?

Sciadopitys verticillata 'Gold Rush'

Also holding up well in the heat is Sciadopitys verticillata 'Gold Rush'. Hopefully you won't grow confused, but the Metasequoia 'Gold Rush' is a poor choice in Oregon landscapes while the Sciadopitys 'Gold Rush' is an excellent choice. I wish that cultivars of two or more species didn't have the same name – like 'Gold Rush' and Tsuga mertensiana 'Blue Star' and Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star' and many others, but the namer of one possibly has no idea of the existence of the other. I've even done it myself with an attractive seedling from Acer shirasawanum 'Johin' that I proudly named 'Shogun'. It turns out that there was already a cultivar named Acer palmatum 'Shogun', and I believe it was named before mine, so I'll have to change my plant's name. Back to the Sciadopitys, we propagate by grafting onto green “Umbrella pine” rootstock, as I suppose that a 'Gold Rush' on its own roots would be less vigorous. Also it is worth noting that 'Gold Rush' in shade will be colored light green, so it does require a good deal of sun to be gold.

Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker' in the Display Garden

Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'

A planting of seven Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker' is glittering wonderfully in the original Display Garden. This dwarf “Korean fir” is new to the trade, and when my seven plants eventually grow into each other it will look like  I have the largest specimen in the world. The reason that 'Ice Breaker' is so dazzling is because the short needles curve around the stem, revealing their silvery undersides. It originated as a witch's broom mutation in Germany on an Abies koreana 'Silberlocke'. The 'Ice Breaker' is more attractive because there is more silver on the congested bun – more silver per square foot – and also because you look down at it, not sideways or upwards as with 'Silberlocke'. My patch is planted near the office, and when I emerge from the dull lighting inside the shiny glare of the firs is practically blinding. I know from experience that the 'Silberlocke' parent “uncurls” when planted in shade and is therefore less spectacular, and I assume that its progeny would do the same. I have seen thousands of dwarf conifer cultivars (it seems), but no other rivals 'Ice Breaker' in my opinion.

Pinus parviflora 'Tanima no yuki'

Pinus parviflora 'Tanima no yuki'

A short distance beyond the 'Ice Breaker' patch is an old specimen of Pinus parviflora 'Tanima no yuki' planted in full sun. When younger it did burn somewhat when we hit 100 degrees, but this year it is in perfect condition, and I'll admit to being surprised by that. I have never seen a 'Tanima' with a leader – have you? – and they all grow more broad than tall at Buchholz Nursery. The plant shown above is one foot tall by four feet wide, and is probably about twenty years old. I have related before that my Japanese wife corrected the spelling of 'Tanima no yuki' and provided the translation as “snow in the valley.” Prior to that I suspect that every plant in America was spelled rong, so my little sweetheart has provided a valuable service to American horticulture.

Lilium leichtlinii var. maximowiczii

Carl Maximovich
Many of our lilies are in bloom and they seem to love our exceptional heat. One of my favorites is Lilium leichtlinii var. maximowiczii, an Asian species found in China, Korea, Russia and Japan. I got my start from the now defunct Heronswood Nursery, and it was introduced by Dan Hinkley as collection DJH 228. Originally I housed my plant in GH20 where I keep all sorts of non-profit plants. When my back was turned the fertile bulbils (seeds along the stem) would pop off and germinate in other nearby containers, and I always enjoyed these two-for-one events. I suppose that my fondness for leichtlinii is due to its resemblance to our native “Tiger lily," Lilium columbianum, as they are both petite sweethearts when in flower. The species name honors Maximilian Leichtlin (1831-1910), a German grower and hybridizer of bulbous plants. He corresponded and exchanged plants with the botanist J.G. Baker of Kew Gardens, and that's what worked back then to get a species named after yourself. The variety honors Carl Johann Maximovich (1827-1891), a Russian botanist who described and named over 2300 plants that were previously unknown to science. He was a pupil of Alexander von Bunge of Pinus bungeana fame, and he went on to travel around the world from 1853-1857, with a lot of time spent in Japan.

Lilium regale

E. H. Wilson
Another favorite lily is the spectacular, beautifully fragrant Lilium regale. This is commonly known as the “Regal lily” or the “King's lily” and its trumpet flowers are cream-white with a yellow throat on the inside, and flushed with pinkish-purple on the outside. It was discovered in China by E.H. Wilson in 1903 – under a different name – and then later in 1910, and it is considered one of Wilson's best introductions. In 1910 he led an expedition in Sichuan up the Min it cut its way through the mountains, and Wilson referred to the “narrow, smiling valley, surrounded on all sides by fields of golden grain, with the infant Min, a clear limpid stream, winding its way through in a series of graceful curves”...and “in the field the...tribefolk in quaint costumes” were “laughing and singing at their work.” After camping for eight days and marking the location of the plants – to be harvested later in October – Wilson returned to Chengdu.* En route he encountered a rockslide which smashed his right leg, and Wilson gave orders for his camera tripod to be tied to his leg as a makeshift splint. He was sped back to Chengdu, but for a time it was thought that amputation would be necessary; but with some “cutting” and “draining” the infection was halted. It would take three months before he could walk, but at least he kept his leg. Wilson reported to Sargent at the Arnold Arboretum – who sponsored the expedition – that “the accident has put an end to my travels and rendered me a bit of a cripple to the end of my days, but I have been able to wind up my work successfully and in consequence I have no vain regrets.” Back in Boston he was fitted with a special boot and he was able to walk with a cane, and for the next 20 years he walked with what he deemed his “lily limp.”

Chengdu, China

*Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province, China. The best account of Wilson in China, other than his own writings, is by Roy Briggs in 'Chinese' Wilson, A Life of Ernest H. Wilson, and I hope I have not committed plagiarism in retelling the lily story. Sadly, Wilson and his wife Nellie perished in a car accident near Boston, and the only survivor was their little dog, a Boston terrier.
Acer palmatum 'Beni shigitatsu sawa'

Acer palmatum 'Beni shigitatsu sawa'

Acer palmatum 'Beni shigitatsu sawa'

Acer palmatum 'Beni shigitatsu sawa' is newly named in the Vertrees/Gregory Japanese Maples, 4th edition, as in the previous three editions it was called 'Aka shigitatsu sawa'. I'm not privy as to why the name was changed, except that aka and beni both mean “red” in Japanese, but describe different kinds of red. My Japanese wife has explained it to me a number of times, after which I nod in understanding, then forget it all by the next day. I acquired the Vertrees first edition in the late 1970's and was stunned by a photo of the foliage color, and the next winter Mr. Vertrees kindly sent me scionwood. One of the original grafts was planted in the Display Garden, so now it would be 33 years old. After our scalding weeks of heat the leaves have bleached considerably, however the heavy seed set has drawn enthusiasm from garden visitors. There are literally thousands of samaras, and just imagine the variation in offspring should I choose to plant some, for that's what happens in an open garden situation. I don't propagate 'Beni shigitatsu sawa' anymore because there is little demand for it, even though in the first 15 years of Buchholz Nursery I could easily sell all that I had. It was surpassed by the Ghost series I guess, or else customer preferences have changed. I'm happy to keep my old tree even though it is becoming crowded on three sides, but I doubt that I'll get around to updating its garden label.

Sequoia sempervirens 'Kelly's Prostrate'

The “Coast Redwood,” Sequoia sempervirens, is a remarkable species, indeed it is the tallest tree on earth. The current champion was named Hyperion and it measures 115.61 m. (379 feet), but its location is kept secret so that throngs of sight-seers don't trample its root zone. It was discovered in 2006 by two naturalists in a remote area of Redwood National and State Parks in northern California, and is estimated to be (only) 700-800 years old. It has been climbed and researchers have noted woodpecker damage at the top, or else it would be taller. There used to be a prostrate form of S. sempervirens called 'Prostrata' and I used to have one in my collection. The only problem is that it eventually throws up a leader, and when that happens its cultivar name changes to 'Cantab'. But nobody wants to mess with it anymore, especially since we have a new cultivar – 'Kelly's Prostrate' – that stays low. My oldest specimens are ten feet in width and only two feet tall, and I'm fascinated that this version of the tallest species in the world will probably never grow to even waist-high. One must be careful when stating absolutes, however, as there is almost always an exception. In my case I once thought it would be cool to graft 'Kelly's Prostrate' on a standard, and I did so at about eight feet tall. I could just imagine the dome that would form as the outer branches would weigh downward, and of course Buchholz Nursery could sell a product that no one else had, or even dreamed of. Unfortunately, after the fourth year, leaders developed on all of my stock so I had to climb a ladder to prune them off. Ah ha, so I now know how to create the exception to the rule.

Actually most of the nursery looks really good in spite of our heat records; it's just that my brain is programmed to notice the problems. By the time you read this – all three of you – we will have cooled down, a welcome respite for my employees. Besides, you readers from Texas and other hell-holes will claim that I don't know the beginning of hot. Fair enough!


  1. After a decade growing in dappled shade, a Tanima no yuki formed a leader, while another planted at the same time in full sun did not. Perhaps just stretching for light.

  2. You are the epitome of the passionate gardener who's also a gifted writer!
    Thank you, Talon!

  3. I guess I'm the third reader? ;) Thanks for another interesting post. I hope you're given a more moderate second half of summer.

  4. Good nurserymen always stretch the limits of nature and beyond. That is what true gardening is.