Friday, January 22, 2016

Keeping Floristically Fresh

In The Garden – an English magazine I subscribe to – I read a review of A Natural History of English Gardening by Min Wood (the reviewer) who wrote, “Many people have no closer encounter with nature than a wasp lurking on the rim of a glass of chardonnay. Gardeners are more fortunate. For us, nature is a much-loved, if sometimes belligerent partner.”

Partner, eh? I have a lot of plants in my “garden,” but I'm certainly no partner with nature. Gardeners can afford to consider nature as a partner, where losing a tree or trees doesn't much affect their net domestic happiness. Look, Flora has admonished me in the past for whining about my relationship with nature; she reminds me that I was never coerced into horticulture, that I went into my nursery career by my own volition; but truthfully I would say that I stumbled into horticulture because I was unfit to enter into anything else. I won't go so far as to say that I am a victim of nature, but the belligerent bitch has slapped me around on numerous occasions. But ya, I love her from time to time too.

Mother Nature
In other words, though I direct a huge garden, the Flora Wonder Arboretum, I am first a nurseryman who must feed my family – and my employees' families – with the sale of plants. Day after day, year after year...with no end in sight. I never developed an exit strategy because of the constant presence of impending circumstances, situations where imminent business survival outweighed any long-term strategy. So, I am not a partner with nature, but I do deal with her. And with people too. Notice that I designate nature as feminine, and maybe that's from the common term of “Mother Nature,” but never in my life have I ever been in control of anything feminine; it is not possible.

Plant life on earth

The origin of the word “mother” is from Old English modor, and that from Proto-Germanic moder, and that ultimately from Proto-Indo-European mehter. The word nature is derived from Latin natura for “essential qualities” or “innate disposition,” and it is a translation of the earlier Greek word physics. Over 90% of the total biomass on Earth is plant life, which we animals require for our existence. More than 2 million species of plant and animal life have been identified as of 2006, but of course new species are constantly being added while others disappear forever.

The same can be said for my nursery, with new species coming and others leaving. They “leave” by natural death, execution via chainsaw, or when I knowingly/unknowingly sell my last tree. I got over my Noah's Ark mentality some years back, where with every plant I wanted to keep at least one. Now, with far fewer years remaining in my career than have passed, I have a less acquisitive nature while I have grown more inquisitive hopefully. Actually, just seeing a new (to me) species somewhere, to make its acquaintance so to speak, satisfies my lust, and I don't have to find room for it in the garden. I am only “borrowing” trees anyway, as I hope that all trees on my property will outlive me.

Halesia tetraptera

A tree that left my sphere of influence years ago was Halesia tetraptera. I liked it, but somehow it was finally gone, but just as well as the species is now considered to be of the H. carolina group. I was unable to sell the “silverbells” worth a damn, and it was a shame to see them finish flowering in Oregon before we shipped east. No retail customer wants to unload a Buchholz truck and have a tree sit there until it blooms the following year, and only then would someone buy it.

Stephen Hales
The name Halesia is derived from New Latin for Stephen Hales, a 1700's English physiologist. Hales lived a long 83 years, born in Kent in 1677 and died in Teddington in 1761. Typical of his learned day, he was an English clergyman who contributed to the fields of botany and chemistry besides physiology. Somebody had to first understand the measurement of blood pressure, and indeed it was Hales. Apparently, “He bled a sheep to death and then led a gun-barrel from the neck vessels into the still-beating heart. Through this, he filled the hollow chambers with molten wax and then measured from the resultant cast the volume of the heartbeat and the minute-volume of the heart, which he calculated from the pulse-beat.”

The Halesia genus was named for Hales by John Ellis in 1759. The classical scholar Thomas Twining (1735-1804) penned the verse:

Green Teddington's serene retreat
For Philosophic studies meet,
Where the good Pastor Stephen Hales
Weighed moisture in a pair of scales,
to lingering death put Mares and Dogs,
And stripped the Skins from living Frogs,
Nature, he loved, her Works intent
To search or sometimes to torment.”

Halesia carolina

Hales was not beloved by all, and the poet Alexander Pope said of Hales, “He commits most of these barbarities with the thought of its being of use to man.” I love the Halesia genus more than you do, apparently, and hopefully I haven't disserviced it with an unfair depiction of Stephen Hales's life. I was most pleased to see the Halesia genus in the Carolina wild, and though I no longer grow it, I continue to admire it in the gardens of others.

Keteleeria davidiana var. davidiana
Keteleeria davidiana 'Collector's Red'

Also terminated from the Buchholz scene is Keteleeria davidiana, and I grew the cultivar 'Collector's Red', given to me by the late Bill Janssen of Washington state who supposed its spring growth was more reddish than the type. Maybe that is the characteristic of the species, or not, I don't know as I've never studied other Keteleeria in the spring. I successfully propagated it via rooted cuttings in the winter, and sold all of the offspring since I reasoned it wouldn't be hardy for me in Oregon. One winter about 20 years ago we received an Arctic blast with 0 degrees F plus 30 MPH winds.* My 'Collector's Red' perished in its pot even though the species is listed as hardy to USDA zone 7, or 0 degrees F. Bets are off for hardiness when the roots are above ground. Imagine my surprise when I saw a large tree at Plant Delights Nursery in Charlotte, North Carolina, when the low of 5 degrees F was recorded in 2014. I would have been better off with my plant in the ground. 'Collector's Red' is gone, Mr. Janssen is gone and I'll never have another in the collection.

*The same winter I had Picea pungens cultivars above ground in 1 gallon pots, can-tight in beds of 10 pots wide. They were grafted onto Picea abies – hardiness to USDA zone 2, -50 degrees F – but the outer row on both sides died. The asshole owner of T----- Nursery in Portland called me in summer and demanded to know what rootstock I used because the spruce he purchased had all died. I replied, “Picea abies.” “No it wasn't,” he countered. “Yes it was, that's the only rootstock I have ever used for spruce.” “No it wasn't, I want my money back.” “Nope” – phone slams. And now he is dead too, and I didn't attend the funeral.

Euonymus oxyphyllus

I used to grow a number of Euonymus species, and one of my favorites was oxyphyllus. Sales were slow because no one comes to me for “cheap” trees, as all species of Euonymus are deemed to be low-priced but mine were not. At some point I had only one left and a customer saw it ablaze in fall and wanted to buy it. Alright, I reasoned, since I don't plan to propagate it anymore – adios to E. oxyphyllus. The species name is derived from Greek for leaves that are “sharp, acute” pointed. The term Euonymus was coined by Linnaeus from the Latin name of the “spindle tree,” and that originated from Greek euonumos meaning “of good name.”

Euonymus sieboldianus

No more Euonymus sieboldianus either, for pretty much the same story as above.

Leucadendron argenteum

Leucadendron argenteum

I lost a Leucadendron argenteum when the heater failed in GH20. Known as the “silver tree” due to its foliage, the species is native to South Africa where it is called Silwerboom in Afrikaans. I bought my tree at a retail nursery in California after seeing the species at the Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco and later at the Santa Cruz Botanic Garden. One can burn a lot of pixels when photographing the tree as the light dances off the evergreen leaves and every angle gives you something interesting. Even under the white poly in GH20 it was a shimmering show-off. The silver tree's leaves feel soft and silky, and the leaf color is due to soft hairs. I won't go out of my way to replace my Leucadendron, but it was fun while it lasted.

Pinellia tripartita 'Free Tibet'

Dracunculus vulgaris

Amorphophallus titanum

Sir David Attenborough with Amorphophallus titanum
Ok, enough for the extinct species at Buchholz Nursery, I'll discuss some relatively new additions. I had never seen nor knew anything about Pinellia tripartita until a year ago when I purchased the cultivar 'Free Tibet' from Plant Delights Nursery. Pinellia is in the Araceae family, commonly known as aroids, with Philodendron perhaps its most well-known member. With Pinellia its “flower” is known as the spadix, and it is housed in a modified leaf known as the spathe. The photo above doesn't show it, but 'Free Tibet' is attractive with yellow and yellow/green variegated leaves. We also recently acquired a related genus, Dracunculus vulgaris, which bloomed last summer. The flowers stink to high-heaven which is their way of attracting pollinating insects, but they disintegrate within a few days. The most impressive aroid is the huge species Amorphophallus titanum whose flower can reach over 10' tall and whose “fragrance” smells like rotting meat. It is native to Sumatra and Indonesia and in the latter it is known as bunga (for flower) bangkai (for corpse). Scientifically Amorphophallus is from Greek amorphos meaning “without form, misshapen” and phallos meaning “phallus” and titanum meaning “giant.” I remember seeing the program where naturalist Sir David Attenborough, in his series The Private Life of Plants, showed the flowering of the “titan arum” – a name he coined as he felt the word Amorphophallus was not appropriate for family television.

Silene davidii

Silene virginica

Silene davidii is native to Sichuan and was named for the prolific French missionary Armand David. It grows in high alpine meadows where it forms low mats with pretty purple-pinkish flowers in summer. In spite of its alpine home it is easily grown and propagated at Buchholz Nursery – altitude 200'. A word of caution though – in winter the green foliage turns blond-brown and you're sure the plant is dead. However by early spring tiny specks of green begin to appear within the “dead” mat, and these expand until it is totally green again. The word silene (pronounced “syleenee”) is derived from Latin silenus viscaria and that refers to a “catchfly” plant, one which has a viscid secretion on the stem and calyx that can trap small insects, but Silene is not carnivorous however. One wonders about the connection in the Pastorals of Virgil where “the old silene sings about the chaos and organization of the world,” and what that has to do with the genus in question. Silene virginica is the “fire pink,” a short-lived perennial from eastern America, from Ontario, Canada south to Florida where it grows in open woods and rocky slopes. Its principal pollinator is the ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris), and I remember when my Japanese wife was thrilled to see her first hummingbird – not on a fire-red Silene – but on my plastic-red hummingbird feeder. You just don't have that kind of fun in Tokyo.

Acer pubipalmatum

Tim and Matt Nichols
Acer pubipalmatum is a species I knew absolutely nothing about until I saw it at Arboretum Wespelaar in Belgium a few years ago. It can best be described as the Chinese “Japanese maple,” and indeed Acer palmatum is an acceptable rootstock. To quote from Mr. – the Nichols Boys from North Carolina, the source for my new plant – “Acer pubipalmatum is a rare Chinese maple...This Chinese tree leafs out in the early spring with a pubescent bluish green leaf. Midsummer flushes are bright to deep red. Fall colors are more amazing than 'Osakazuki' with a bright fire-ry [sic] red. Acer pubipalmatum is estimated to get 15' in 20 years. Mature specimens have white striations in the bark giving an addled year-round and especially winter interest.” Usually when a nurseryman sings the praises of a plant it is because he has a crop that is slow to sell, but those of us who know the Nichols Boys understand that if they recommend a particular species it is for valid reasons.

Rhododendron orbiculare

Rhododendron yuefengense

Rhododendron yuefengense

I acquired a Rhododendron yuefengense from the Rhododendron Species Foundation in Washington state two years ago, based solely on its cheerfully-green rounded leaves. They described that its origin is from southwest China (1800-2150 m.) and that its corolla is “funnel-campanulate,” i.e. bell-shaped. My favorite Rhododendron species is probably R. orbiculare, and R. yuefengense can be considered a R. orbiculare on steroids. When I saw the yuef. in flower the following spring I suppose my “favorite” Rhododendron had changed. Scottish expert Kenneth Cox relates that “more than 50 new species of Rhododendron have been introduced from the wild since 1981 and some are significant garden plants, worthy of cultivation,” and R. yuefengense is one of the best recent discoveries. Remember that a species of Rhododendron can vary in the wild, as with most plants, and the keen plant collector will seek out the “best” form to introduce into our gardens. For example, for R. orbiculare I have two selections – one that I identify as 'Edinburgh' and the other as 'Exbury', even though they are not really cultivars.

Salix magnifica

Salix magnifica

It's fun to discuss my “new” plants, but in the case of Salix magnifica it is not “new,” but rather “renewed.” I grew it for many years and admired it greatly, but it was difficult to find buyers. My last tree disappeared via sales – which later I regretted – and a dozen years passed before I found it again at Gossler Farms Nursery in Oregon. It is native to Sichuan, China where it grows at an altitude of 6,000 to nearly 10,000 feet. When first collected by E.H. Wilson it was thought to be a Magnolia...until it Salixly flowered, and later it proved to be dioecious with male and female catkins on separate plants. S. magnifica is grown mainly for its bold foliage and it possesses the largest leaves of any willow.

I don't know if my new plants are necessarily better than my departed, but at least it's a change of scenery that keeps me floristically fresh, and energetic with my difficult career. Not whining, of course, about the career.

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