Friday, February 19, 2016

Undiminished Beauty

Spring is upon us in Oregon thank God, and last week I reported on those plants that were in flower. I think I have blogged upon that for three or four years in a row, every February. Well, I celebrate every February, then. I don't remember everything I did a year – or two or three years – ago. When I tell a joke or launch into a story, the groans from my wife and children are an indication that I have done so before. They look at each Pops is losing it. So, I repeat myself I guess, but hopefully I remain true with the same story, but hopefully I remain true with the same story.

If I live to the age of 79 – the American national average – I will be very pleased to do so. While I was generally aware of the season of spring as a youth and as a young adult, I wasn't totally attuned to it until my horticultural career began...42 years ago, when growing plants became my vocation. The gift is that you get a certain allotment of springs, but a number you'll never know, except I realize that there will be far less to come than I've already had. I inhale especially the smell of the awakened earth, the color of emerging shoots and flowers and the sounds of kids running through the trees and the birds singing every time they pause. At my age it is all vibrant and good and I look forward to this spring playing out.

But not so fast, my friends. This morning was sunny and cheerful, but by afternoon the temperature dropped by ten degrees and I got caught in a chilling downpour. So Mother Nature was teasing me, reminding me that at this point we are still closer to winter than to summer. The February afternoon cold enveloped me and I had to put on an additional coat. The good news is that we are already shipping plants: a full truck to Seattle, one to Virginia, one to British Columbia etc. That leads to invoicing customers, and it's nice to find checks in my mail besides four pieces of junk mail and five bills for me to pay every day. When our plants are shipped to our independent retail stores it opens up space for next year's crop, and it doesn't take long to fill the gaps. Every now and then we get compliments, and I happily receive them as validation that we are doing something well, that our dog and pony show is worth all of the effort. XYZ Nursery emails: “Hello Eric and Talon,

I received your well packed truck with no issues. All the plants look fantastic and we are starting to sell them already...even these gloomy days cannot diminish their beauty.”

Warm regards,


Acer palmatum 'Rising Stars'(tm) series

Acer palmatum 'Rising Stars'(tm) series

Acer palmatum 'Rising Stars'(tm) series

Acer palmatum 'Rising Stars'(tm) series

Wow! It is so easy to please me. So what did this customer get with such “undiminished beauty?” Let's look at some of the order. First of all, Acer palmatum 'Rising Stars'(tm) Series in 10-gallon pots. These are seedlings from named varieties, where the mother tree is known, but we don't know its pollination source. Sometimes these look better than the mother tree and sometimes a little more plain. At the retail garden center some shop for named cultivars only, but I think that most gardeners buy when they are visually impressed with a tree, and its official cultivar name is secondary. Also I feel it would be cumbersome to name the parent, for example as Acer palmatum 'Seedling from Purple Ghost' because the unsophisticated gardener might conclude that he is purchasing the real 'Purple Ghost'. I get a real kick out of my maple seedlings, and if I was independently wealthy I would change from normal nursery production to seedling evaluation only. As I said in my promotional email earlier this week, “Add some fun to your spring order!”

Punica granatum 'Sarasa shibori'

Haruko's wedding kimono
We also shipped Punica granatum 'Sarasa shibori', a pomegranate grown for its rumpled orange flowers with white edging. Sarasa refers to a “beautiful figured fabric” and shibori means the “tie-dyed white” of the edging. If nothing else, sarasa shibori is a beautiful-sounding pair of words, and the Japanese are excellent at naming plants. Many thanks to my wife Haruko for helping with the translations, besides of all of the other stuff she does, for she has deeply broadened my world. She explains that one would see an example of sarasa shibori in a traditional kimono.* The word kimono is derived from ki “wear” and mono “thing,” and it was originally a Chinese garment that eventually made its way to Japan as early as the 5th century AD. We grow Acer palmatum 'Beni kosode' and kosode is a single kimono formerly considered underwear, so the maple is “red underwear” then. We grow Acer sieboldianum 'Sode no uchi' and sode refers to a kimono's sleeve, and Acer palmatum 'Komon nishiki' with komon meaning a “fine pattern kimono.”

Kusumoto Takako

*A most alluring photo of a woman in a kimono is Kusumoto Takako, the granddaughter of Philipp Franz von Siebold and a Nagasaki courtesan.

Acer palmatum 'Green Tea'

Acer palmatum 'Festival'

Ok, back to my customer's order. They got Acer palmatums 'Green Tea' and 'Festival', two of our recent selections, but they can't know much about either of them. Both are worthy cultivars in my opinion, but I know that sales will never be overwhelming. 'Festival' is stout-limbed and vigorous, with the main event being its outstanding autumn color. 'Green Tea' is also quite vigorous, and it is an 'Osakazuki'-type of tree. New growth is reddish before it settles down to a sweet pea-soup color in summer. With thousands of seedlings to choose from, the two that became 'Festival' and 'Green Tea' greatly impressed me, but I know from visitor comments that everyone chooses a different one as their favorite. In spring every tree is outstanding, but by mid-summer they mostly look tired, and we then prune off most of the new growth to build caliper. By the end of August they usually shoot out a foot of new growth, and they are once again stunning. If an independent analyst was to look at our seedling program, he probably would conclude that the time and money involved does not make economic sense, that we would be better off just sticking to the basics. But alas, it is my nursery and I would rather live with the richness of beauty, even if I must die poor.

Cardiocrinum giganteum var. yunnanense

Cardiocrinum seed

Cardiocrinum seed pods

My customer prefers to remain nameless because XYZ doesn't want competing nurseries to know their wholesale source. That's fine with me, but on the other hand we have other customers who blog to their gardeners that a truck of Buchholz plants arrived today, and come and get them. What gardener wouldn't want to buy Cardiocrinum giganteum var. yunnanense. This is the “giant Himalayan lily” which is from China's Yunnan province, but its range is far more extensive than just Yunnan. Sometimes there will be as many as 20-30 large trumpets on a single stalk, the outside of the flower being white and the inside streaked with purple-red. Nathaniel Wallich – of Pinus wallichiana fame – first described the plant in 1824, and it was originally introduced as Lilium giganteum, and indeed the flower-stalks can rise to ten-to-twelve feet tall in just a few months. Cardiocrinum is a small genus in the Liliaceae family, and it received its name  from Greek kardio for “heart” and krinum for “lily” due to its large heart-shaped leaves. The stalk and seed pods make an excellent dried specimen, and we've had one in our guest bathroom for years, keeping company with the watermelon man.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Chirimen'

Ten Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Chirimen' in a 3 gallon pot were shipped. They were of good size, and about seven years old, and we only charged $36 apiece – about equal to the cost to produce them. We sold out the first day of releasing our specimen availability I might add. 'Chirimen' was most likely selected and named in Japan, however Oakdene Nursery in England takes credit for its origin and introduction, and Cedar Lodge Nursery in Australia does also. Its name is due to wrinkly silk crepe fabric that you would find on Japanese kimonos, not unlike the shibori mentioned earlier, and I really doubt that an English nurseryman or one from Australia would know anything about kimonos. In the maple world there is an Acer palmatum 'Chirimen nishiki', a small green linearlobum with delicate light yellow variegation on some of the lobes. The Chamaecyparis features delicate, almost thread-like foliage – but it is not juvenile, it stays that way always. I think I would have left chirimen out of the equation if I discovered it, but I won't take the time to propose a better name. The thing is: I have never seen another hinoki quite like it. Fortunately 'Chirimen' is easy to propagate and grow.

Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine'

Cornus kousa 'Ohkan'

I don't think Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine' was ever on our sales list, but XYZ saw them when visiting last summer, and due to our long-time successful relationship I relented and sold a few in 7 gal pots. My intention was to grow all of them for three or four years more, when the wholesale value would be about $200. Oh well, I suppose a dollar in the hand is better than keeping it on the bush. Davidia cultivars can be rooted, as in 'Sonoma', but I like to put the variegated ones on green seedling rootstock for added vigor. 'Lady Sunshine' would be ideally sited with afternoon shade, but it might hold up in full sun in areas with high summer humidity. I've had visitors gasp when they encounter 'Lady Sunshine' for the first time, and I wish that E.H. Wilson, the Englishman who first collected massive amounts of Davidia seed in China, could come back for one day to see it and the other cultivars. While we're at it, how about Beethoven comes back for a day so he would know we still love his music 200 years later, then maybe he wouldn't have been so grumpy. 'Lady Sunshine' was discovered and introduced by Crispin Silva of Molalla, Oregon, a plantsman with a number of excellent selections, such as Styrax japonicus 'Frosted Emerald' and 'Fragrant Fountain' and Acer palmatum 'Sir Happy' which is the most dwarf Japanese maple that I have seen. He is also responsible for Cornus kousa 'Summer Gold', a selection that he patented. Unfortunately for Mr. Silva, an identical cultivar – 'Ohkan' – was sent to me from Japan at about the same time, so my customers are not burdened with a royalty fee.

Schefflera delavayi

Schefflera macrophylla

Schefflera macrophylla

Of course my mysterious – though sophisticated – customer wanted a liberal amount of Schefflera delavayi, because for some reason that plant is currently the bee's knees of horticulture. Myself, I just don't see it, and I think its appeal will soon wane, especially when I saw a large specimen at Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina a couple of years ago. It looked dreadfully sloppy even though all of their other plants were well-tended. The Schefflera genus is of interest because all of us previously knew it as a house plant. According to The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014), “Has formed plants to 6m tall in some Cornish gardens. Introduced by Edward Needham in the early 1990's. China Vietnam.” From Yunnan and Vietnam comes Schefflera macrophylla, and I have seen it growing in the conservatory at the Rhododendron Species Foundation in Washington state. Whenever it nears the top of the structure they cut it back to the ground and it resprouts quickly.

Ginkgo biloba 'Troll'

Ginkgo biloba 'Spring Grove'

Ginkgo biloba 'Mariken'

Ginkgo biloba 'Mariken'

Seed of Ginkgo biloba 'Autumn Gold'

Begonia 'Escargot'
Pocket gopher
I can't detect much difference in Ginkgo biloba 'Troll', 'Spring Grove' or 'Mariken', but my customer ordered the former two. All three originated as witch's broom mutations, and their leaves are different than a regular Ginkgo. Even though all are bi-lobed, the leaves are more round and the lobes spiral around to touch each other, and the pattern reminds me of Begonia 'Escargot'. Plants are lush in our greenhouses, and the green leaves have a bluish hue to them, but regardless whether grown inside or out, autumn color is a rich butter-yellow. Virtually all plant authorities will remind you that Ginkgo is immune to disease and pests, and I think the experts say so because they repeat what has been said before. But with my boots-on-the-ground approach to horticulture, I can attest that the Oregon pocket gopher loves to feed on Ginkgo roots, and I have lost many dollars to the nefarious rodents. Another myth is that “male and female strobili occur on separate plants” (Hillier). Maybe most of the time, but I have three 35-year-old 'Autumn Gold' – supposedly a male clone – that all produce fruits. We have a couple of options here: that 'Autumn Gold' never really was a male selection, or that it changed sex. Animals have been known to change sex in response to stress, as a means for survival. To date I've never seen fruit on any of the witch's broom selections, but please report if you have.

Thuja plicata 'Whipcord'

Thuja plicata 'Whipcord'

Thuja plicata 'Filifera Nana' in summer

Thuja plicata 'Filifera Nana' in winter

Also shipped was Thuja plicata 'Whipcord', a selection of the “western red cedar” with glossy-green thread-like foliage. It grows into a mound, and when young it is neat and tidy and makes for a great container plant. I'm glad that none of my customers have seen the original seedling at Drake's Crossing Nursery near Silverton, Oregon, for it is a most hideous sight, and no one would ever want one if they saw what it can grow into. Sales for 'Whipcord' are strong, nevertheless, and it has replaced the old T.p. 'Filifera Nana' which we used to grow. So, 'Whipcord's' name is better and also it stays green in winter, unlike the yellow-bronze of 'Filifera Nana'. It's interesting that the three most-cultivated species of Thuja – occidentalis, orientalis (Platycladus) and plicata – all feature one or more cultivars with whipcord foliage. If you put sunglasses on 'Whipcord' you could create a Dr. Seuss type of creature. The name thuja is derived from Greek thya for an unrelated African tree with aromatic wood. Plicata is from Latin plicare, referring to the pattern of its leaves which are “folded in plaits” or “braided.”

Rubus spectabilis 'Golden Ruby'

Rubus spectabilis 'Golden Ruby'

Let's see, what else? We sent some Rubus spectabilis 'Golden Ruby', a cheery yellow form of our native bramble in the rose family. The species is commonly known as “salmonberry” due to the yellow-orange fruits which resemble the flesh of a salmon, while another name-theory is that the berries were mixed with salmon roe and eaten by indigenous peoples. The raspberry-like fruits are insipid in any case, but that never stops me from eating them. “Golden Ruby” is a clever name, and it's obvious why it was coined when you see the ruby-colored flower sitting atop the golden leaves. I planted a bush in the shade at the edge of my woods along the creek, and it is about 8' tall and wide, but it has never fruited. Also, the foliage is merely greenish yellow because of the shade, so morning sun with afternoon shade is the best place to plant one. The generic name Rubus means “blackberry” in Latin, derived from the word ruber for red. The specific name spectabilis is odd because there's absolutely nothing spectacular about the suckering shrub with prickly stems. The species was introduced into Britain by David Douglas in 1827. Rubus spectabilis was named by Frederick Traugott Pursh (1774-1820), a German-American botanist who studied the plants collected on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Poor Pursh died penniless in Montreal from ill health due to alcoholism, and his funeral expenses were funded by his friends.

My good customer bought a lot of plants and I look forward to a check in the mail. I was also pleased that ten different plants on order were my own introductions, proof that the buyer made smart choices. Choices of undiminished beauty.

1 comment:

  1. So what's so wrong about promoting sole use of our native plants? The nursery industry had made it fashionable to grow the exotic 'non-native' plants , for the most part replacing native plants that are critical for the survival of our native insects and animals...You seem rarely to speak about the virtues of our wonderfully endangered native plants now , thanks to your philosophy that non-natives are OK because people want them. This industry has failed in recognizing it's duty to keep our environment healthy... Your list of offerings is based on their ability to generate revenues and that is based on the fact that you also control the offerings. Talk about the evils of BIG BOX are not much better.