Monday, August 10, 2015

Maple Time

Magnolia kobus var. stellata 'Jane Platt'

Last winter we grafted the lovely Magnolia kobus var. stellata 'Jane Platt', and thankfully not too many as I noticed this morning that someone – named “me-no” – got confused and cut the scions off from the Magnolia kobus rootstock. The rubber bands were still covering the graft unions, and I admit that without removing them it is hard to tell a scion apart from the rootstock. So all our effort was for nothing, with no future 'Jane Platt' to sell. And have we ever been similarly confused prior to today? Of course we have, and you can be sure that I charge too much for some plants to make up for our futile moments.

Saya preparing Acer palmatum 'Mikazuki'

But moving on, we are in the thick of our grafting season for Japanese maples, with old-man Buchholz cutting every scion. Bending and stretching for scions can be tiresome, especially in the heat and in muggy greenhouses, but in our type of nursery with a-little-of-this and a-little-of-that, it's not a job that I can safely delegate to others. I do receive help from my daughter, usually in the evening, with scion preparation, i.e. cutting off the leaves, and the little dickens is just about as fast as I am. The ping-pong table in the garage serves as an excellent work surface. Saya would do it without pay as she enjoys the bonding experience, but I give her $5 per hour and I am pleased that she is developing a work ethic, for I have always believed that money indeed does buy happiness.

Acer palmatum 'Celebration'

Acer palmatum 'Celebration'

It is fun to collect scions from new selections such as Acer palmatum 'Celebration', and it is possibly one of our best discoveries ever, with a bright red-purple leaf that stays more vibrant than its parent, 'Purple Ghost'. This originated from a group of seedlings that were germinated in 2007, and it has always stood-out from its brethren from the same crop. The original is planted at Flora Farm in the Northland section where other seedlings are being trialed.

Acer palmatum 'Strawberry Spring'

Guy Maillot, a maple expert from France, visited my trial field last spring and immediately spotted 'Celebration', and he liked it immensely. Another of his favorites was Acer palmatum 'Strawberry Spring' which resulted as a seedling from 'Amber Ghost', but it remains to be seen how it will do in production. This summer is the first year it has been propagated, but it has yet to be “introduced,” and if and when I do, Mr. Maillot will be the first to receive it.

Acer palmatum 'Kamagata'

Acer palmatum 'Kamagata' in autumn

I must repeat again that a cultivar produced by grafting does not always appear exactly the same as the original seedling, and how could it with “borrowed” green rootstock pushing it? Keep in mind that most cultivars (of Japanese maples) are actually the freaks of nature, selected because they look atypical, and that is what attracts collectors afflicted with what is known as “Maple Fever.” For example, consider Acer palmatum 'Kamagata', selected by the late maple author and grower J.D. Vertrees. He described it as a “very delicate appearing dwarf,” but he was observing the original with its relatively feeble roots, which of course are unable to push much top growth. Vertrees didn't live long enough to see the monster that developed from the scions which he sent to me in 1982. I suppose that this borrowed-root phenomena is difficult for the novice to grasp, either that or I do a poor job of explaining.

Acer shirasawanum 'Purple Thunder'

Another new cultivar is Acer shirasawanum 'Purple Thunder' which features deep-purple lobes. It is possibly a hybrid with palmatum, and originated from seed germinated about 2007. That its seed rises above the foliage is why I give it the shirasawanum designation – palmatum dangles beneath – and if I was truly certain that it is a hybrid, which I am not, then its name would be Acer x 'Purple Thunder'. Such detail is perhaps confusing (or boring), but it matters as the shirasawanum species has proven to be more winter-hardy, even when the cultivars are grafted onto palmatum rootstock. 'Purple Thunder' may or may not ever be introduced, but it must initially be propagated before the nurseryman can make that call. Believe me, I squander a lot of company dollars in the process of introducing a worthy cultivar, and the bottom-line – since I patent nothing – is probably a loss. On the other hand my business is thriving while the neighbor's large nursery went bankrupt. Its owner was smarter than me, or at least he was sure of it, with the majority of his plants being branded/patented, but now the bank has to try to unload his failure.

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood'

Acer palmatum 'Fireglow'
Acer palmatum 'O sakazuki'
Every year I consider what to propagate, for I must produce more than “new” plants, except all of them were new plants at one point. The old tried-and-true cultivars still sell, such as Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood'. Due to either stupidity or sleaze, or both, 'Bloodgood', 'Fireglow', 'O sakazuki' and others have been “watered down,” so to speak, and you might be propagating something that is not the true cultivar. A company from New Zealand was notorious for almost-but-not-quite trees that were shipped into America and Europe by the thousands. They knowingly continued, because after all they still had the next crop in their fields, and their “almost” stock trees were the only source of future crops. Interesting that this company and an off-shoot firm both went bankrupt, but the off-shoot has started up again. It's like the real world pushing a large beach ball under the water only to have it pop back up again. I know it's not really important to the vast majority of home owners buying a maple for their yard, but it matters to me, not that I want to come across as a maple policeman.

Acer palmatum 'Inaba shidare'

Acer palmatum 'Inaba shidare'

A couple of customers have inquired, “What's with the labels that say 'Bloodgood Original'?” It's just our code name for one of the first, or the first, 'Bloodgood' in America, and Buchholz Nursery received scions from that tree. In the Vertrees Japanese Maples (first edition), the author hopes that “this cultivar is kept “pure”, for it has very good qualities not found in other red-leafed cultivars. It is suggested (Carville) that this was a selection from A. palmatum atropurpureum seedlings by the Bloodgood Nursery, Long Island, New York. Vrugtman suggests that this cultivar had its origin in Boskoop, Holland, and was propagated by Ebbinge & van Groos (nursery discontinued). It was subsequently exported to the United States where it was named and the propagation expanded.” I supposed that 'Bloodgood' is the most widely grown of any Japanese maple cultivar, and it is remarkable that we're not even sure about its origin. In the 1970's I worked for a large Oregon wholesale nursery that wanted to grow huge quantities of 'Bloodgood', and the only source for such numbers was Holland. Of course the Dutch have been known to cheat too, as they couldn't fill an entire order of 'Inaba shidare', so they substituted with 'Select Red' without mention. My little place in history is that I was the one who detected one label left in the order as 'Select Red', to which the Dutch exporter explained that they were the same, blah blah blah. I have the two planted side-by-side, now 30 years old, and they are absolutely not the same. In any case, neither are being propagated at Buchholz Nursery this year, but maybe I should be the world's maple policeman.

Acer palmatum 'Killarney'

Sometimes I find myself propagating cultivars that are really not in high demand, primarily because I feel an obligation to “keep a few around.” Why I think that I “owe it to horticulture,” and that I seem to possess a “Noah's Ark” mentality speaks to my inadequacy as a bottom-line businessman. But c'mon, each of these “marginal” cultivars has a unique charm or attraction, and sometimes exceedingly so. Acer palmatum 'Killarney' is one-such, and I didn't ever appreciate it appropriately until the day I saw it in autumn at one of my customer's retail nursery. It was peachy-keen at the time and I recalled that happy day when I cut 100 scions this past week. I love the experience that I can make a living by growing trees that I like, but of course the reality is that not all of the ultimate retail customers are moved by my sense of pleasure, or that the trees are appearing the same way as the day when I was so enchanted. I first saw 'Killarney' in England – at Wisley I think – and it was clearly a non-event there – in mid-October. The key to my success with it is that I grow a very modest amount, for it is far better to be sold out than to have too many. I assume that the cultivar was selected in Killarney, Ireland, but I can't find anybody to confirm that. Hopefully a reader will set the record straight.

Acer palmatum 'O sakazuki'

We grafted a few Acer palmatum 'O sakazuki' last week – the true cultivar, not the New Zealand imposter – in spite of the fact that it is not in much demand anymore. No one can question its fantastic, dependable crimson fall color, but otherwise its green spring and summer leaves apparently do not inspire purchase at the local retail garden center. That is a shame since the large green broadly-ovate leaves (with a “cupped” appearance – hence the translated name of “leaf like a sake cup”) are attractive in their own way, even without the famous autumn color. 'O sakazuki's' fall color has been compared to the “burning bush shrub” – Euonymus alatus – a plant from China, Japan and Korea with no redeeming value except for its incredible fall color. 'O sakazuki' is a vigorous cultivar which forms a well-shaped tree without much of the nurseryman's intervention, and I would certainly grow thousands of them if the market allowed, but obviously I don't control any of that.

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

There are a dozen or so maples that are in high demand and we sell out every year, so there is the temptation to grow scads more and swim in the profit. But I have seen such plants taper off from strong sales, and in some instances that occurs after only a year or two. Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa' is certainly the exception, as I have never had enough for over 30 years. Our old champion tree is perfectly sited along the road from the parking area to the office, so that every visitor must walk past it. This cultivar originated in Japan, yet Masayoshi Yano, the famous maple author and collector, has never seen one larger. According to Vertrees 'Mikawa yatsubusa' means “a small cluster of three rivers,” but an English source says that the “tree's leaves have (up to) 8 leaflets each, and it traditionally comes from a region of Shizuoka prefecture.* 'Mikawa' is the name of a region in Shizuoka prefecture. 'Yatsu' is an old fashioned way of counting 8. 'Busa' (fusa) means a 'tuft' like shape.” My Japanese wife sighed when I asked her the meaning, reminding me that I have asked three or four times before. She agrees with the “busa” part, and supposes that the “Mikawa” part refers to a place name. According to Norm Jacobs at Arbutus Garden in Oregon the Japanese name means “shingles on a roof,” and they certainly have the appearance of such with leaves overlapping each other. If you check out Norm describes 'Mikawa yatsubusa' as “wider than tall,” and it grows to 6' tall by 8' wide. In his accompanying photo, however, he is standing next to my specimen which is 12' tall by 16' wide...and still growing.

Mt Fuji (source)

Shizuoka prefecture
*Shizuoka is located in southern Honshu, Japan's largest island, which is also home to Mt. Fuji, Japan's iconic and tallest peak at 3,776m (12,388' and 5 27/64”). I remember travelling by fast-train from Tokyo west to Nara, and we passed remarkably close to Fujisan with the north side clad in ice cream-cone-like snow, but the south side was bare gray rock.

Acer palmatum 'Lemon Lime Lace'

Acer palmatum 'Lemon Lime Lace'

We easily sell out of Acer palmatum 'Lemon Lime Lace', a cultivar which I was initially unimpressed with. I thought the name was kind of corny, but it does describe the foliage color. Its paleness first struck me as a plant that needed some fertilizer, but now I can see how it would add a glow in the garden if sited with a darker backdrop. Vertrees/Gregory say, “The leaves emerge with a very light lemon yellow, becoming lime green in summer, creating a lovely two tone effect from early summer onward. The fall color is orange.” My plants never do darken in summer, and in fall they turn to straw yellow. So, yellow fall color or orange, which? The answer can be: both. Maple fall color can range depending upon the age of the tree, its soil and climate, and I've even seen cultivars vary in color from year to year on the same tree. This delicate-looking dissectum was named by Del Loukes of Oregon.

Acer palmatum 'Summer Gold'

Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream'
Also hot these days is Acer palmatum 'Summer Gold', an upright tree introduced by the Gilardelli Nursery of Italy, the company that also introduced A. p . 'Fireglow', 'Orange Dream' and others. 'Summer Gold's' best feature is that it can grow in full sun in many climates, including Oregon. Many golden maples can be greenish when grown in shade, but 'Summer Gold' stays quite yellow, as evidenced by the photo above, taken in summer in a shaded greenhouse. One of the things that I appreciate about the Italian introducer is that he gives their new maples catchy English names, so they make my job easier to sell them, but the odd thing is that he doesn't speak English.

Sweet Saya and I will be preparing scions again this evening, with a couple hundred each of 'Manyo no sato', 'Spring Delight', 'Mikazuki', but only 25 'Aoyagi gawa' because not many know what it looks like. I give thanks to Saya and to all of my employees, to my customers, and to Flora for her generosity.

"Yeah, we'll get to the cleanup later."

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