Friday, September 25, 2015

Not For Sale

Some things at your local grocery are not for sale, such as the bins that hold the apples and the knives the butcher uses. But of course 99% is for sale, and they don't care if you buy just one bottle of ketchup or all thirty of them. Some customers who visit Buchholz Nursery have the mind-set that every plant we have must be for sale, to them. If they see a row of fifty plants, then certainly we can spare at least ten for them. But maybe all fifty are sold and we're waiting until spring to ship. Or maybe I need to save some as stock plants. Or maybe I bought high-priced lining-out plants, so there would be no profit for a couple of years. Or maybe I just don't like you.

Wollemia nobilis
Wollemia nobilis male cone

Wollemia nobilis female cone

It is often enjoyable to own a nursery where I can surround myself with any type of plant that I want, whether I intend to sell it or not. GH20 contains many such, for example Wollemia nobilis, and at some point it will hit the top of the greenhouse. Then I'll either sell it or get the ladder out annually to prune the top. I paid $100 to acquire it – way too much for a one-gallon pot – but with the understanding that most of the money would go to Wollemi conservation efforts. The National Geographic Society promoted the affair, and my tree is identified as '05580', perhaps suggesting that 5,579 other Americans own one too. Would I sell it for $1,000, say? Of course I would, for I am an avid capitalist who has been poor before.

Wollemia polar caps
Wollemia nobilis new growth

The genus received its name because the small grove was found (1994) in the Wollemi Wilderness, a short distance northwest of Sydney and due west of Mudgee, Australia. Wollemi is an Aboriginal word meaning “look around you, keep your eyes open and watch out.” The specific name nobilis is due to the discoverer, David Nobel, and it's a good thing that David's last name wasn't Kadiddlehopper. Wollemia is not a particularly beautiful tree, looking like close relatives in the Araucariaceae family, but it does feature some interesting characteristics: such as bark resembling bubbling chocolate and white resin at the shoot tips (called “polar caps”). Furthermore, the bright-green new growth contrasts nicely with the older dark-green foliage. Some have dubbed Wollemi as the “botanical find of the century” – sorry Metasequoia, I guess – and all the more amazing that the locale is only a short distance from a city of 4 million people. It's apparent that 4 million Sydnians were not “looking around” with “open eyes” and “watching out.”

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair'

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair'

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair'

I have another way to “make” a tree not for sale, and that's by putting a ridiculous price on it. I did that for the largest Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair' in the world, and more than one potential buyer sighed at my price of $10,000 and declined. I keep this (one of two) original grafts in GH20 and I think it is about 28 years old. It hogs the middle and is a nuisance in many ways, and I have even considered planting it out in the garden. Imagine my surprise when a New Yorker apparently didn't balk at my high price, and next spring it will be making its way east. I'm not at all smug about the deal, especially since I have seven months to go and anything can happen in the meantime. The tree is expensive, but then that is relative, or at least that's what my Uncle Einstein used to say. The original seedling of 'Fairy Hair' was much smaller because it persevered on its own wimpy roots, and I sold it to an ex-hockey player from New Jersey of all people, because he had a nice maple collection and I could tell that he would really appreciate it. The original was never for sale either, by the way, but I'm happy that it has a nice home.

Stewartia monadelpha 'Pendula'

Another plant that I don't want to sell is Stewartia monadelpha 'Pendula', my oldest which I got from Japan about fourteen years ago. Currently it is in a container in front of GH1 by the main road, and everyone who visits the nursery must walk past it. I guess I'm showing off to have it there, but it would kill me if a knucklehead delivery man was to smash into it. It would kill him too. I assume the cultivar comes from Japan, and surely it must have a Japanese name, which I would prefer over 'Pendula'. Maybe my Japanese gifter was just trying to be helpful by describing the weeping habit, but I'm sure an appropriate Japanese name would be more poetic. Besides, a Latin name is invalid these days (since the 1950's). Pendula is from Latin pendere, meaning “hanging” in Old French, and believe me, I know about pendants as my 12-year-old daughter loves jewelry. Maybe I should keep the weeping Stewartia in the middle of her room to straighten her out.

Stewartia pseudocamellia

Stewartia pseudocamellia

Another Stewartia that is (sort of) not for sale is S. pseudocamellia that is over fifty years old. It is priced at $24,000, although I really don't expect anyone to fall that far in love with it. The reason why I am so attached to it is 1) because it came from my “grandfather's” garden and 2) its unusual single-straight trunk begins branching at 18'. We call it the giraffe tree. It is currently in a huge cedar box because I can't find the perfect garden spot for it, and also I fear that by messing with it there's a chance it would die. As regular blog readers know I worry a lot.

Pseudopanax crassifolius

Pseudopanax crassifolius

Moa bird, Megalapteryx didinus
Maori Chief
Years ago I collected a Pseudopanax crassifolius and it's now reaching the top of GH20. Commonly known as “Lancewood,” the crassifolius species comes from New Zealand. To the native Maori people it is known as Horoeka, but I don't know what that word signifies. What is interesting about the foliage in the photos above is that they are of the juvenile form which lasts 15 to 20 years. As the tree matures the leaves change to a shorter, more oval shape; in other words, not as interesting.* One theory as to the development of two kinds of leaves is that it was initially protecting itself against browsing by the moa, a giant bird that roamed New Zealand in prehistoric times. I don't know whether or not that is true but it makes for a good story. Further theory is that the common name lancewood is derived from the small lances apparent when the wood is split. Another possibility is that the early Maori used the young stems to spear wood pigeons which feed on the purplish-black berries, so in either theory it was not named for the appearance of the leaves. A practical feature with the early European settlers was using the leaves as bootlaces, while my daughter uses them cosmetically as fake fingernails.

*Botanically, having very distinct juvenile and adult forms is known as heteroblasty.

Pleione 'Versailles'

Pleione speciosa

Pleione 'Ridgeway'

Pleione 'Alishan'

GH20 also houses a collection of Pleione cultivars, some of which I have been growing for twenty years, but to date I've never sold even one. They are fun to have and I have even grown them outdoors; they survive our winters, but eventually the squirrels find and devour the bulbs. We never seem to devote the time to propagate Pleiones, but maybe that's good, for who knows if I could sell them. There are various theories as to the origin of the name Pleione, which is derived from Greek. The name of the Pleione star can mean “to sail,” and may refer to her mythical status as an Oceanid nymph. Another meaning could be “more,” “full” or “plenty.” Lastly, it might mean “doves,” due to Zeus turning nearby stars (the Pleiades cluster) into a flock of doves as they were pursued by Orion, the great huntsman, across the heavens. The star is no dove, however, as it is 190 times more luminous than our Sun. Pleione is also a Greek girl's name meaning “Goddess with many daughters.” It is commonly called the “window-sill orchid” because in Britain – and in my house too – they are brought inside in late February, and the warmth of the house will produce an early feast of flowers by March.

Manihot esculenta 'Variegata'

Manihot esculenta 'Variegata'

My first encounter with Manihot was at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens a couple of years ago. The place was rife with M. esculenta 'Variegata', and I stared at the first specimen I saw – without a label – for a long time trying to figure it out. I'm not sure where I would place one in my garden, so I'd probably keep it in a container. I asked a tall good-looking female gardener with sweat on her brow what the plant was, and she replied “Manihot.” “Excuse me?” “Manihot, you know, like in tapioca.” No I didn't know. She wiped her brow with her sleeve and went back to her hard work. I still don't have this plant, but if I ever get one it will remind me of her every time I see it, fondly so.

Manihot grahamii

Manihot grahamii

Later in the Duke garden I stumbled into another species of Manihot, grahamii, and I liked it immensely, especially since it is hardy to Zone 7. I ordered one from Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina and later this fall I will plant it in the Display Garden; so no, it's absolutely not for sale. I can expect it to die back to the ground each winter, but it is said (Plant Delights) that it will “quickly resprout and reach 8-10' by the end of the season.” In one photo above, you can see the autumn leaves turning to yellow. M. grahamii is in the Euphorbiaceae family and it is native to Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, so indeed it is a “hardy tropical.” I look forward to its flowers which are pale yellow with purple markings, but my one plant has yet to bloom.

Berberis temolaica

Frank Kingdon Ward
Another plant that I won't sell is Berberis temolaica. I once had a good-sized specimen in the garden, but it was in the wrong place so I dug it out and sold it. After a few years I saw it listed in Gossler Farm Nursery, and I ordered a couple. They are still in the greenhouse which explains why the foliage (above) is greenish, but in full sun the leaves will be bluish-gray, and that is “a delightful blend of colour with its pale-yellow flowers” (G.S. Thomas). Temolaica was discovered in Tibet in 1924 by Frank Kingdon Ward and was initially distributed under the name B. mekongensis, and that name is still considered valid by Kew. My 1976 edition of Krussmann's Manual of Cultivated Trees and Shrubs lists both species, with mekongensis coming from Yunnan, and temolaica from southeast Tibet. Somewhere along the way the Kew botanist Leslie Ahrendt (1903-1969) decided on temolaica, but I don't know why. Do the botanists at Kew ever talk to each other if they say mekongensis is valid? In 1961 Ahrendt wrote in the Journal of the Linnean Society, “The time is fast coming when gardens of any pretentions to beauty will be judged by their collections of Berberia, for there is not any other class of evergreen shrub which affords so many points for interesting observation.” Ok Ms. Ahrendt, but I'll bet that she never worked at a nursery and had to make Berberis's thorny cuttings.

Acer saccharum 'Monumentale'

I have been asked a number of times if my oldest Acer saccharum 'Monumentale' along the main road into the nursery is for sale, and the answer is always “no.” Upon re-consideration, “Make me an offer.” There are a number of upright columnar “sugar maples,” and I think the nomenclature is sketchy. Hillier equates 'Newton Sentry' with 'Columnare' and 'Temple's Upright' with 'Monumentale', while Krussmann claims that 'Newton Sentry'/'Columnare' was introduced in 1885 by F.L. Temple of Shady Hill Nurseries in Massachusetts. Did old Temple select more than one pillarous seedling? Michael Dathe of Newton, MA sets the record straight in Arnoldia (summer, 1983), “Two years after introducing the 'Newton Sentry', found near the Newton Cemetery, Temple also introduced another upright maple, which he called Acer saccharinum [sic] monumentale.” Dathe continues, “For all Temple's hope for his new introduction, 'Newton Sentry' has never become a popular landscape plant. The usual design limitation of columnar trees and its own sticklike appearance in winter for the first 25 years are possible reasons for its lack of popularity.” I disagree with that completely for they are very easy to sell, and the only thing I find difficult is our propagation efforts which are very dismal.

Sciadopitys verticillata 'Mr. Happy'

Another not-for-sale tree that I'll mention is Sciadopitys verticillata 'Mr. Happy', once a normal green rooted cutting from S. v. 'Winter Green' that later developed variegated portions. Everybody wanted to buy it, and of course they did. I resolved the issue by removing the tree from its cedar box and planted it along my long driveway at home. It struggled for the first two years and got beat up by the winter winds, but finally it is taking hold. Propagules from the original are in hot demand, but the rootstock is expensive to buy and our own rooting seems to have taken a dive in recent years. One must select the perfect scion when grafting; if too yellow the result will be a tree that burns, and if completely green you'll have a regular Sciadopitys. From the photos above you can see the shoots that I prefer.

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

Some of my plants will outlive me but some won't. In a sense we are just borrowing them for a while. The largest Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa' (in the world?) is growing in our 'Short Road' section, and visitors have asked if I would consider selling it, and at what price? My answer is always the same, that it is indeed for sale, but you have to buy the whole nursery to get it. Yes, the nursery is always for sale.

You often talk about that Talon, but could you so easily leave me?”



  1. Your incredible plants overcome your "I don't like people" personality. People travel thousands of miles to tour your nursery and we all come away with the same thoughts. Awesome location, awesome plants, I have no idea what is for sale and what isn't, and Talon only deals with people because he has to.

  2. I was so happy to see photos of Betula utilis! I, too, saw it at about 10,000 feet in the Garwahl Himalayas with trunks even larger. At the treeline there was a mix the scrubby ones and Rhododenron of a type I don't know, and then abruptly, grasses. The B. utilis were an exquisite comgination of creams, whites, and peaches, with patches removed here and there most likely for writing upon. Also glad to see you honor Frank K-W, whom my mother met and had tea with in NE India during the great Assam earthquake of 1950 (or should I say, just after in a place where people were taking refuge). This is a great way to let people know about him, and then, perhaps, they'll read some of his wonderful books, and be transported to his intrepid adventures. Thanks much, Rebecca, Dancing Oaks Nursery staff member.