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. 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.

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