Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Seth's Journey Home

Seth isn't here today – he's taking a long holiday to reunite with his parents in Yoncalla, Oregon. Yoncalla is not well known, but it is a little community in southern Oregon of about 1,000 souls. The men have a median income of $26,806, while the women toil for only $19,412 per year, and 18% of the population is below the poverty line. This town in Douglas County – named after the botanical explorer David Douglas – was a southern diversion off of the Oregon Trail, known as the Applegate Trail. The American Jesse Applegate (1811-1888) was a pioneer who led a large group into the area of Yoncalla, and that is where he died. Seth's middle name is Applegate – his parents chose it – but he doesn't seem to mind. Two other notable citizens of Yoncalla include Rex Applegate, a military officer and author, and Lily Carter, a porn actress.*

*Seth is famous too, at least among members of the horticultural community, and there is not a nurseryman alive who wouldn't want to employ him.

I don't apologize for this brief blogette, because the fact is that with no Seth, no mucho for the blog. Safe travel, Seth, and we'll see you on the flip side.

Happy Thanksgiving, don't gobble too much.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Flamboyant Foliage

In late October I apologized to the visiting Maple Society for I was sorry for the dismal color show. For the most part it was a poor year outside and it appeared that there wouldn't be much inside either. Happily I was rong. This week I am also devouring autumn color because we're near the end, and soon enough I'll be trudging through winter with boring bare sticks instead of flamboyant foliage. Besides I'm not long for this world either. My heart has beat (beated?) over two billion times – you can do the math for yourself – at roughly sixty beats per minute. I'm plenty busy at this time of year, but still I find a little time to goof off with my camera, when the world presents itself through 2" by 3" rectangles.

Acer platanoides 'Princeton Gold' in spring

Acer platanoides 'Princeton Gold' in fall

Acer platanoides 'Rezek'

For the most part I don't care for the “Norway maples,” Acer platanoides, for they grow to a huge size and are not suitable for small gardens or gardens with small spaces. I do have one Acer platanoides 'Princeton Gold' in the Upper Gardens at Flora Farm, and though I like it immensely, at 18 years of age it is crowding out other trees. I'm not sure what I will do about it, possibly nothing. Far more dwarf is A. p. 'Rezek', a seedling sent to me by the late Ed Rezek. 'Rezek' was not its intended official name, but I had to call it something. Mr. Rezek would find other crinkled-leaf seedlings, and he distributed them to his plant friends. Even if they all look similar, they are individual seedlings and no two can be exactly the same. One reasonably knowledgeable nurseryman saw the label and said, “'Rezek', 'Curly Lamppost' – same plant.” No, not same.

Acer nipponicum

Acer nipponicum is a small tree with large textured green leaves that turn to yellow in fall. It is rare in the mountains from Japan's three most southern islands, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. It is also rare in collections, and one reason is that there is no suitable rootstock to graft onto, and believe me I have tried. Maple expert Peter Gregory once suggested that I try A. pseudoplatanus for understock because “it accepts everything;” maybe everything other than A. nipponicum. Even if it was readily available I'm sure that sales wouldn't be strong as there is very little diversity found in the species, and most gardeners would find the plain green tree to be quite boring. The specific name nipponicum comes from the Japanese name nihon (nippon), where someone from Japan is known as Nihonjin. I am a foreigner, or a gaijin. Nihon literally means “the sun's origin,” so thus we have “Land of the Rising Sun.”

Acer palmatum 'Umegae' fall 2015
Acer palmatum 'Umegae' fall 2014

Acer palmatum 'Utsu semi' fall 2015

Acer palmatum 'Samidare' fall 2015

There are three Acer palmatum cultivars – 'Umegae', 'Utsu semi', 'Samidare' – that I like, apparently more than you do, because we can only sell a handful per year. According to Vertrees/Gregory in Japanese Maples, 'Umegae' has been known since 1882 and that it is a round-top bush that may reach 5 m. (16 ft.) tall. My oldest specimen is already 20 ft. tall at 25 years of age, so I imagine that it will double in size whether I am around to see it or not. You can see from the two photos above that this year's autumn color is orange, but in a prior year it was more yellow. 'Utsu semi' and 'Samidare' look alike, and I cannot tell them apart without their labels. No one gets too excited about them in summer, but in autumn you must give them their due. 'Utsu semi' means “grasshopper skin,” so apparently there are green grasshoppers in Japan. Samidare is Japanese for “early spring rain,” while another “spring rain” cultivar is A. palmatum 'Harusame'.

Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream'

Acer palmatum 'Summer Gold'

Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream' is a popular cultivar from the Italian Gilardelli Nursery which came to America in the 1990's. People ask me why it's called 'Orange Dream', shouldn't it be 'Yellow Dream'? Well, the new leaves emerge orange, but soon change to pale yellow. At least Gilardelli gives his introductions – such as 'Fireglow', 'Summer Gold' and 'Red Flash' – catchy English names. Planted in full sun in Oregon, 'Orange Dream' becomes a nightmare with sun scorch, but it will perform better in climates with more humidity. My old specimen in the Display Garden looked the worse for wear this autumn and thankfully most of the leaves are now on the ground. In the greenhouses however, the foliage is fantastic this year. Another Gilardelli introduction Acer palmatum 'Summer Gold' is similar to 'Orange Dream' – perhaps it originated as a seedling from 'Orange Dream' – and it appears to handle Oregon's brutal sun better.

Acer palmatum 'Usu midori' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Usu midori' in fall

Acer palmatum 'Koyasan'

Acer palmatum 'Koyasan'

Acer palmatum 'Usu midori' is a relatively new selection that was found and named in Tokyo in 1988. It is fun to watch the leaves evolve with the season, starting first with a pale red color, then changing to yellow with shades of light green. The yellow portions are rich and buttery, but they can burn if it gets too hot too early, therefore I grow my plants under shadecloth or in a white-poly greenhouse. The latest (2009) Vertrees/Gregory edition of Japanese Maples does not include 'Usu midori' in the main text, but does list it in the section of “cultivars not yet assessed.” Well, I've had plenty of time to assess it and I think it's great, sales are strong especially when customers see it in spring and fall. The cultivar name Usu means “thin” and midori means “green,” not a very poetic name for sure. What is very poetic is Haruki Murakami's female character named “Midori” in his novel Norwegian Wood. In the movie she was thin and very freshly green, and every time I think of 'Usu midori' I can picture her. Another A. palmatum that I like very much is 'Koyasan', introduced by Dick van der Maat from Boskoop, The Netherlands. I'll copy directly from the book of his introductions – De Collection: “This attractive cultivar has small, glossy, bronze-green, palmate leaves which are quite distinctive. They are mainly 5-lobed with narrow ovate, deeply divided lobes with somewhat elongated tips, and relatively large, coarse, irregularly toothed margins. The newly emerging leaves are a bright bronze-red with yellow, sunken, mid-veins and are produced all summer...on and on.” The last sentence is “'Koyasan' forms a small dense mound.” At Buchholz Nursery it grows into a semi-dwarf dense pillar, and that is why I like it. I think it is far more suitable in a small garden than other supposedly-narrow cultivars like 'Red Sentinel' and 'Tsukasa Silhouette'. Like me, van der Maat names his maples with English names and in the case of Koyasan, Japanese as well. Koya means “wild” and san means “hill” or “mountain.”

Magnolia 'Pink Surprise' x 'Red Baron'

Arboretum Wespelaar

A lovely pink is the color of the autumn leaves for Magnolia 'Pink Surprise' x 'Red Baron'. My start came as seeds from the Magnolia Society, donated by the Arboretum Wespelaar in Belgium about twelve years ago. I kept one seedling and gave the others away because I don't have time or space to trial everything that germinates. My seedling has bloomed and it is nice, but I was never able to photograph it. I'm sure that I won't ever name it because there are already a million other Magnolia cultivars in commerce. Well, maybe I will as I am already grafting from the original tree; it's just that I'm not really a Magnolia guy, like I am with maples, so I don't know what else has been introduced that would be better than my tree. Check back with me in about ten years.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Birgit'

Arboretum Kalmthout

The Hamamelis genus is bewitching in autumn, and colors can range from yellow to orange to red to purple, and sometimes all colors appear at the same time. H. x intermedia 'Birgit' is a delightful cultivar which is currently the selection with the darkest purple-red flowers of all, although the blooms are relatively small. It originated with the DeBelders at the Arboretum Kalmthout in Belgium, and claims have been made that it is fragrant. Personally I can't smell anything, so it's best that I became a nurseryman, not a perfumist. I grow many cultivars of “witch hazels,” and in Oregon they bloom from December through March, when other deciduous shrubs are at their worst. What is active at that time of year to pollinate them? Small flies and gnats.

Corylopsis spicata 'Golden Spring'

Like Hamamelis, the somewhat related Corylopsis genus also resides in the Hamamelidaceae family. Corylopsis spicata was first encountered in Japan by P. von Siebold, but Robert Fortune introduced the species to Europe in about 1860. It is a wonderful shrub and all plantsmen say it should be used more. The only cultivar we grow is 'Golden Spring', and it features golden yellow leaves not only in spring but throughout summer as well. Flowers consist of light yellow petals with purple anthers, but they are mostly lost in the beautiful foliage. Perhaps in another's garden the flowers would stand out more, but at Buchholz Nursery we grow 'Golden Spring' exclusively in the greenhouses where they receive shaded protection. It originated from the Yamaguchi Plantsman's Nursery in Japan, but was obviously renamed once it got to Europe and America. I wonder what is its Japanese name?

Lindera umbellata

Lindera umbellata

Lindera obtusiloba

I used to dabble with the Lindera genus – there are about 100 species – but stopped propagating a dozen years ago due to poor sales. I like the easy-to-grow L. umbellata, so named because the yellow flowers appear in short umbels along with the leaves. It is attractive in spring and summer with its green leaves that are glaucous beneath, and then turn spectacularly yellow and orange in fall. I have only one specimen left, planted down by the pond, and its size has been reduced in the past because the narrow branches are favored by visiting beaver. I hired a trapper last summer who caught two of the nefarious rodents, and he charged $100 for each which I considered a good deal because they can ruin more than $100's worth of trees in a short time. My one specimen of Lindera obtusiloba is planted in the middle of the original Display Garden, and the beavers know better than to stray that far away from water.

Pseudolarix amabilis

Taxodium ascendens 'Nutans'

Glyptostrobus pensilis

Don't forget the conifers for autumn color. The larches are straw-yellow now, Pseudolarix is colored yellow-to-orange, the Taxodiums are burnt-orange and my one specimen of Glyptostrobus pensilis is also burnt-orange. The fantastic colors last for about three weeks, then they all go “dead” for the winter. Taxodium is a frustrating genus because it doesn't really hit its stride until July, when the foliage is certainly established, and then they begin to “die” too soon in November. A visitor saw our group planting of Taxodium distichum 'Peve Minaret' in June and he asked if they were all dying. “No, no” I said, “they just haven't leafed out yet.” And today, again they look like they are dying, with the foliage looking a gloomy brown. I have never seen them with a crisp-orange color, so maybe that cultivar is just a boring plant for fall color. Report to me if you have a different experience.

Pinus mugo 'Ophir'

Pinus mugo 'Carsten's Winter Gold'

Pinus mugo 'Carsten's Winter Gold'

Pinus mugo 'Golden Glow'

Pinus thunbergii 'War Bonnet'

Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph'

There is an endless array of pines that turn from green in summer to shocking gold in the fall. It is the two-leaved species (two needles per fascicle) that do so, while the five-leaved don't change much. Pinus contorta, thunbergii, sylvestris and mugo all have cultivars that are most impressive in fall, and don't forget P. virginiana 'Wate's Golden'. The important thing is that the gold color must be sharp, and 'Wate's Golden' certainly is, but its witch's broom mutation called 'Wate's Golden Broom' is quite dull (in Oregon), so I edited it from my landscape. Shine or perish! For the P. mugo species I like 'Ophir' and 'Carsten's Winter Gold' but there are many others, and I saw one in Holland – 'Golden Glow' – that was brilliantly golden in October and was much more dense than the two others I mentioned. Umm...how to get it to my nursery? Pinus thunbergii 'War Bonnet' is a beautiful golden-green selection with long lustrous needles. Somehow I acquired it, but I don't remember from where. Probably the most golden of the sylvestris species is 'Gold Coin', a selection from R.S. Corley from the United Kingdom in the late 1970's. The most famous of all of the winter-gold pines must be Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph' – its brilliance is unrivaled – a “lodge-pole pine” (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) that was discovered by Doug Will in the Wallowa Wilderness of eastern Oregon. Mr. Will initially thought that the bright golden apparition in the distance was some form of plastic garbage, but on approaching...discovered that it was actually a pine tree. He was able to dislodge it with an axe – which was probably illegal in a wilderness area – but thankfully it was a reward for horticulture. The only curse of 'Chief Joseph' is that most of us find it difficult to propagate.

Miscanthus sinensis

At the edge of the pond I have a huge clump of Miscanthus sinensis, and at 20 years of age the flowers rise to 12' tall. I don't fertilize or prune it, but the grass is obviously happy at the boggy edge. It is known in Japan as the “Susuki grass,” but it occurs elsewhere in eastern Asia, and in China of course. It is a genus in the Poaceae family, and received its Latin name from the Greek word for “stalk” and “flower.” Some blades are colored yellow now, but they will all turn to brown after a hard freeze. I don't mind having dead grass stalks at the pond, it makes it look more natural and wild.

I wrote this blog earlier in the week and took the photos last Saturday. And sure enough we received a soaker with strong winds a few days later. Now it's bare branches on many deciduous trees and the leaf-party is over. That's ok and now it's the conifers turn to shine.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Wandering Through the Greenhouses

We are well into the thick of autumn. It's foggy, it rains often – sometimes exceedingly so – but we go about our business as usual. Soon the crew will toil in our gardens, raking up leaves and pruning back the perennials. There's no slack in the work this fall, but last Saturday I squandered almost two hours to wander through the greenhouses and admire the beautiful foliage. None of us happily looks forward to winter, except ice skaters maybe, but come with me now and we'll soak in the radiance of autumn.

Stewartia monadelpha 'Pendula'

Stewartia monadelpha is commonly known as the "Tall Stewartia," but I prefer another common name, "Orange-bark Stewartia." S. monadelpha forms a small tree with green leaves and white flowers that feature stamens with violet anthers. The species is native to Japan and South Korea and it is usually an understory tree where roots are protected from hot sun. On the other hand I have a large specimen that is in full sun at the entrance to my home driveway which was gifted to me by my "grandfather," and I suppose it to be at least 40 years old. The genus was named by Linnaeus in 1753 to honor John Stuart, but an error occurred when Linnaeus was given the name of Stewart, and to this day we live with the "mistake." I received the weeping selection (above) from Japan years ago under the name of Stewartia monadelpha 'Pendula' – maybe the Japanese sender was trying to be helpful by indicating that it "weeps," but I would prefer to have the original Japanese name if it has one. I'm tempted to rename it 'Orange Flow' or 'Lava Flow', or something like that, but alas I have already sold it as 'Pendula' and I would be in violation of what I preach.

Viburnum foetidum 'Tenkai zaki'

In the same package from Japan that contained the weeping Stewartia I found two plants of Viburnum foetidum 'Tenkai zaki', and great – I thought – for who doesn't want another Viburnum in the garden? Besides, Viburnum when you can mulch them? To my surprise my plants are now blooming pure white, along with brown-red leaves and red berries, and I am happy after all to have acquired this "snowball" (schneeballart in German). I have steered clear of Viburnum for the most part because they are on the hot list for Phytophthora ramorum, or the "Sudden Oak Death," but so far the horrible disease has never showed up at my nursery. I have never seen 'Tenkai zaki' at another nursery or garden, unless I have supplied them, but I know it occurs on a few European plant lists, with the "z" inkorrectly capitalized. The generic name Viburnum is from Latin for "Wayfaring tree," except that it originally referred to V. lantana. Foetidum simply means "stinky," which is mirizliva in Bulgarian, stinkig in German, nioi in Japanese and omkhii evgui in Mongolian. I asked my Japanese wife the meaning of "Tenkai zaki." As usual she stared at me with a helpless look, repeating the name over and over, then finally pronounced that she needed to see the characters. And as usual I groaned. So she pondered some more...and said that zaki and saki can be used interchangeably, and saki means "flower." I thought hana was "flower," and she said yes to that too. Then she revealed that Sakiko – her sister – literally means "flower-child," and I never knew that before. The foetidum species is semi-evergreen and is native to the Himalaya and western China. It was introduced to horticulture by E.H. Wilson in 1901, and won an Award of Merit in 1937.

Hydrangea 'Everlasting Garnet'

Hydrangea 'Everlasting Noblesse'

Hydrangea 'Everlasting Revolution'

Moving along...the Hydrangeas are changing from green to reddish. Last year at this time we received a sharp cold snap and the leaves went from green to mush, so I'm pleased with the show this year. I'm not really a Hydrangea guy – they seem better suited next to grandma's house. I bought a handful of three different cultivars, all patented with names that sound alike. I don't know what got into me, especially since I can't propagate them, but just about every one has been sold for next spring delivery so I guess I did alright. Also I put some in the garden which was probably the primary reason why I bought the starts in the first place. I find solace in the habit of other plantsmen who do the same, with those who share the same affliction. First discovered in Japan, the generic name comes from Greek hydor for "water" and angos for a "jar" or "vessel," and I suppose that has to do with the cup-shaped flowers, or perhaps due to the hollow stems. Linnaeus had an obsession with Latin, and in that language he named it hydor "water" and angeion "vessel" or "capsule." Hydrangea shows various medical potentials, such as an anti-diabetic or an antimalarial cure, but the best use is of a beverage made from fermented leaves of H. macrophylla var. thunbergii called Amacha. The name is derived from amai for "sweet, tasty" and cha for "tea," and it is used to celebrate Buddha's birthday – on April 18th to the Japanese – where Buddha statues are adorned with flowers and are then bathed with Amacha.

Illicium parviflorum 'Florida Sunshine'

Persea thunbergii

My one plant of Illicium parviflorum 'Florida Sunshine' is not "displaying" fall color because it has looked this yellow all summer. It originated as a seedling raised by Charles Webb and was introduced by Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina, and that is where I got my start. The species parviflorum is native to Florida where it is commonly known as "yellow anise tree" or "swamp star anise," and the leaves and flowers give off a pleasant licorice scent, but don't eat them as they are poisonous. I. parviflorum can be found growing in areas containing the "Sweet bay," Magnolia virginiana and "Swamp bay," Persea thunbergii. I have seen the Persea only once in my life and that was at the Rhododendron Species Garden in Washington state, and the tree showed off wonderfully with its luxurious spring growth. The generic name of Illicium is derived from Latin illicio, to "entice," but I don't know if that refers to the flowers, fruit or smell.

Cornus florida 'Autumn Gold'

The late Dennis Dodge of Connecticut had a wonderful plant collection and he was very generous with me and with others. He asked me about five years ago if I would like scions of Cornus florida 'Autumn Gold'. "Aha, a golden florida, huh?" He proceeded to describe it – what a great plant it was – so I said "yes" and "thanks." I originally decided that I wouldn't grow the florida species early in my career for it was susceptible to the anthracnose disease, while Cornus kousa is more resistant to it. So I amassed a collection of about 35 kousa cultivars with nary a florida at the nursery. But boy – now I'm sure glad that I said "yes" because 'Autumn Gold's' foliage color is absolutely delicious in spring, summer and fall. Hillier's latest edition does not list 'Autumn Gold' and the internet provides scant information – except that a Dutch nursery lists it – but sadly Mr. Dodge is no longer with us so I probably will never learn more. Plants are like people: you can never know them fully; and I'm frequently amused by botanists who endeavor to stuff plants into neat cubbyholes where all is supposedly known. By the way, no one is impressed with the flowers of C. florida, but rather with the four bracts that surround the true flower, and they can range from white to pink to red. One of the important features of the florida species is that it flowers about six weeks before the C. kousas, thus the flowers and bracts appear before the green foliage gets in the way, so they express themselves precociously.*

*Precocious means "exceptionally early in development" or "exhibiting mature qualities at an unusually early age."

Mukdenia rossii

x Mukgenia 'Nova Flame'

Mukdenia rossii 'Crimson Fans'

I have a 30-year-old plant of Mukdenia rossii (formerly Aceriphyllum rossii) that faithfully flowers every summer and then the leaves turn to glossy orange, red and purple in the fall and winter. And also I grow a number of Bergenia cultivars, such as 'Angel Kiss', 'Baby Doll', 'Flirt', 'Lunar Glow', 'Pink Dragonfly' and 'Sakura'. I never gave second-thought to the similarity of the two genera until I acquired an intergeneric hybrid named x Mukgenia rossii. Both are in the Saxifragaceae family, with Mukdenia the male parent and Bergenia the female. Sales have been strong for the 'Nova Flame' cultivar, but keep in mind that a hybrid is not guaranteed to be better than the parents. Mukgenia is too new for me to form an opinion, but initially I prefer Mukdenia rossii 'Karasuba' ('Crimson Fans') over the 'Nova Flame'. I think I'll plant the two side-by-side, and you're all invited to come over and pass judgement.

Acer japonicum 'Green Cascade'

Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium'

Acer japonicum 'O taki'

Acer japonicum 'Ao jutan'

All right now: I'll stop beating around the bush(es) and get to the maples, for that was my primary reason to wander into the greenhouses. The structures can range from 100' to 165' long, but by just standing at the entrance the Acer japonicums absolutely shout out – scream – with vibrant color. They really out-perform the palmatums and they provide the most regal colors of any plant in fall. Rich yellows, oranges, reds and purples throb on small wide-canopied trees, and some of my favorites are 'Oregon Fern', 'Green Cascade', 'Abby's Weeping', 'Aconitifolium' and 'O taki'. Of course others too, such as 'Ao jutan' and 'Ogura yama' – ok, all of them. The fantastic foliar presentation is the highlight for all maple enthusiasts, but surprisingly sales with japonicums are meek compared to the palmatums; and I have come to conclude that palmatums are "spring trees" while japonicums are "fall trees" and spring always outsells fall. Spring foliage is fresh, but fleeting, while fall colors are drenched with emotion, especially since the drama of winter is just around the corner.

Acer pictum 'Usu gumo'

Acer pictum 'Usu gumo'

Acer pictum 'Usu gumo'

In the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs, Acer pictum Thunb is described as "A medium sized tree with palmately 5-7 lobed leaves which usually turn bright yellow in autumn. Japan, China, Korean peninsula. Introduced 1881 by Charles Maries." For Acer mono Hillier advises us to see A. pictum subsp. pictum f. ambiguum. In DeBeaulieu's An Illustrated Guide to Maples, there is no mention of A. pictum at all, and he lists the cultivar 'Usugumo' as an Acer mono. Confused? Two different European experts who apparently don't agree, and extra odd that DeBeaulieu uses a photo of Acer pictum/mono taken at Hillier's arboretum. At Flora Farm I have a specimen labeled as Acer truncatum ssp. mono which I received from an Oregon wholesale nursery that no longer offers it. I don't have an opinion about the muddle, except for when it comes to choosing a rootstock for pictum/mono 'Usugumo'. DeBeaulieu says that you can propagate A. mono onto A. platanoides. Vertrees concurs. I tried a number of times without one single graft take, but by using truncatum or truncatum ssp. mono I experience a high rate of success. So is 'Usugumo' a cultivar of pictum or mono or something else? Hey, I know – let's ask an Asian! The Japanese author Masayoshi Yano in Book for Maples lists 'Usu gumo' (two words) as Acer pictum f. ambiguum, but I don't know if I can cram all of that on a label, so I'll continue with just Acer pictum. Yano says that 'Usu gumo' was introduced in 1882, but it remains rare in the American trade. My oldest specimen is planted in full sun and it is only 10' tall by 6' wide in 20 years.

Acer sieboldianum 'Kumoi nishiki'

Acer sieboldianum 'Kumoi nishiki'

Another variegated maple is Acer sieboldianum 'Kumoi nishiki', and its fall color can be yellow, orange and red, and sometimes all these colors are present. The cultivar was selected in Japan and was distributed throughout Europe by Guy Maillot of France. I've had it long enough to have 10' trees, but surprisingly it never made it into Yano's book or the Vertrees 2009 Japanese Maples. Collectors and growers are familiar with the word nishiki, for there are a lot of them – 'Oridono nishiki', 'Taimen nishiki', 'Toyama nishiki' etc. – and it usually refers to variegation, but not always. The word kumoi is not simple to understand, but kumo is "cloud," but with the "i" it's like the "cloud staying" – according to my wife – but she points out that there was a book about kumoi nishiki in the 1920's, and that there was also a crazy kumoi nishiki in Japanese kabuki theater. Japanese names are just not so simple to be sure about, even when you do have the characters.

Acer sieboldianum 'Seki no kegon'

Acer sieboldianum 'Seki no kegon'

Another A. sieboldianum cultivar, 'Seki no kegon', is also not in the Yano or Vertrees books. It is a vigorous, spreading, somewhat weeping selection that I received in a one-gallon pot only about five years ago. I sold it last spring in a 45-gallon pot and it had grown to 4' tall by 7' wide in such a short time. It wasn't for sale, but M.S. from New York had to have it in his collection, so bye bye. I don't know who named 'Seki no kegon', but maybe it reminded him of a reclining Buddha. Haruko researched the phrase, sighed and then said "it is too deep to tell." I thought that was the end of it, but she continued to explain that kegon is a Buddhist word that means something like a "pure heart," an elevated state that adherents attempt to achieve. Seki probably means "gate," "no" means "of" – so we have "gate of the pure heart." Maybe, always maybe. Poor Haruko exhausts herself trying to help out with my damn blog. We also grow A. sieboldianum 'Sode no uchi'. I don't know the meaning of that name, but I sensed that I had already imposed enough on my wife, but if a reader has the answer I would like to know. For what it's worth, the Vertrees/Gregory lists 'Sode no uchi' as a cultivar of A. sieboldianum, while Yano says that the species is tenuifolium, and I wonder what fine little details separate these two similar species. Yano reports that 'Sode no uchi' was known since 1688, long before Linnaeus and other botanists even had a system of classification.

It's interesting that many green Acer palmatum cultivars change to orange or red in the fall, while some red or purple cultivars change to yellow. Sometimes many colors are present on the same tree. Every year the fall colors can be different besides. Or a one-gallon in a pot in the greenhouse can be different from a 10 gal in another greenhouse – and maybe both different than an older specimen in the garden. Just as with Japanese name meanings, the autumn colors are not so simple to know. I think the leaves enjoy surprising us with their elusive personalities, that autumn is a fun game for them. They deserve their fun for they had to endure the brutal heat of summer, and it's easy to be gay because they don't have to freeze in winter.

Below are some cultivars showing foliage in spring, then again in fall.

Acer palmatum 'Blonde Beauty' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Blonde Beauty' in fall

Acer palmatum 'Kuro hime' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Kuro hime' in fall

Acer shirasawanum 'Plum Wine' in spring

Acer shirasawanum 'Plum Wine' in fall

Acer palmatum 'Green Tea' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Green Tea' in fall

Acer palmatum 'Green Tea' in fall

Acer shirasawanum 'Sensu' in spring

Acer shirasawanum 'Sensu' in fall

Acer palmatum 'Green Twinkle' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Green Twinkle' in fall

Acer palmatum 'Emerald Isle' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Emerald Isle' in fall

Acer palmatum 'Koyamadani nishiki' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Koyamadani nishiki' in fall

Acer shirasawanum 'Bronze Age' in spring

Acer shirasawanum 'Bronze Age' in fall

Acer palmatum 'Yellow Threads' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Yellow Threads' in fall

Acer palmatum 'Usu midori' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Usu midori' in fall

Acer palmatum 'Usu midori' in fall

Acer palmatum 'Strawberry Spring' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Strawberry Spring' in fall

Acer palmatum 'Dark Knight' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Dark Knight' in fall

Acer palmatum 'Jubilee' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Jubilee' in fall

Acer palmatum 'Little Sango' in spring
Acer palmatum 'Little Sango' in fall

Acer palmatum 'Geisha' in spring

Acer palmatum 'Geisha' in fall


After I left the nursery I was treated with an interesting sky on my way home. Inside, fruit flies were hovering over the pumpkin, and I said it was time to throw it out. My wife and both daughters simultaneously groaned in disbelief. "How can you dare to throw away Sammy's pumpkin!"