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!"


  1. I found your blog through "Pins." I really love the pictures and find your comments interesting and informative. Thank You. I will be buying one of those mugo pines for fall color soon.

  2. Beautiful images, fun to read. Thank you for the translations Haruko.