Friday, May 27, 2016

A Plant Journey with Grandfather

Schreiner Iris field

A few days ago my Grandfather and I headed down the Willamette Valley to inspect the riot of colors at the Schreiner Iris Garden. After that we went the short distance to Sebright Gardens, a retail nursery adjoining a fascinating arboretum. We were due for rain but it all held off until we were ready to go home anyway. Grandfather is 81, so he sort of feels entitled to special weather treatment, because when younger he toiled in his fields in every kind of weather as a one-man Rhododendron nursery.

Schreiner Display Garden

Acres of Iris in bloom can be seen from the interstate, and it's a sight that rivals the tulip fields in other locations. The Schreiner display garden, however, is more secluded – a couple of acres of flower beds surrounded by walls of trees ranging from conifers to dogwoods to chestnuts. One slowly strolls the grass walkways and the visitor stops to admire the Iris color or color combination that he prefers. It was cloudy, nevertheless certain hybrids had the ability to glow, and I'll remind you that the word photograph is derived from the Greek words meaning to “write with light.”
Allium species

Eremurus species

Paeonia 'Lauren'

Lupinus species

Pause-a-moment seats

The beds contained more than Iris, for example giant Alliums, Aquilegias, pansies, lupines and more competed for attention. Really it was sensory overload, but now and then I'll allow myself to indulge, just as I sometimes do at wine or sake tasting events, where at the end I can't really remember which concoction I liked the best. If I have any Iris preference though, I think it is toward the simple, and I was particularly attracted to the yellows. The wildly-variegated hybrids shouted the loudest of course, but my simple kind of beauty – just as with women – is the type without all of the fuss and makeup.

Iris 'Here Comes The Sun'

Iris 'Dusky Challenger'

The colored part of the eye is the iris, which means “rainbow” in Greek, and Iris was also the Greek goddess of the rainbow, linking heaven and earth. No wonder the hybrids of the genus come in so many colors. As far as I could tell, the garden contained no straight species, and does anyone know of an Iris species garden without hybrids? I think it would be no less beautiful. Iris grow naturally in many parts of the world. Purple Iris were planted over the graves of Greek women to summon the goddess to guide the dead on their journey. For others the meaning of the Iris includes faith, hope and wisdom. In France the Fleur de lis was linked to the monarchy, and in other parts of the world the dark blue or purple Iris can denote royalty. Maybe I was attracted to the yellow Iris because it can be a symbol of passion.

Note the cultivar names of the Irises depicted below, for they are of the same cutesy-poo ilk as Hostas, roses, daylilies etc.

Iris 'Blueberry Parfait'

Iris 'Brilliant Idea'

Iris 'Dancing In Pink'

Iris 'Dangerous Mood'

Iris 'Dreaming Of Rio'

Iris 'Peggy Anne'

Iris 'Sunrise Elegy'
Iris 'Take Five'


Sebright Gardens

Acer rubrum 'Vanity'

A Sebright path

Sebright is a more subtle experience when it comes to the use of color in a garden, yet no wavelength is excluded. Start out with Acer rubrum 'Vanity', and really, what an appropriate name for this gaudy “Red maple” cultivar. Their specimen was neatly shaped and attractive, but I have seen it elsewhere as an overwhelming thug that can spread more wide than tall. The colors – the reds – quiet down by mid summer, and even though I have grown 'Vanity' for a number of years, I really can't remember if anything impressive occurs in fall. Even though we live with someone or something for years, that doesn't necessarily guarantee that we remember the details of their existence, as the vagueness for some never sharpens into memorable focus.

Hosta 'Avocado'

Hosta 'Love Pat'

Hosta 'Midnight Sun'

Hosta 'Mouse Tracks' 

Hosta 'Silver Threads and Golden Needles'

Hosta 'Blue Mouse Ears'

Waves of Hostas

Hosta retail tunnel
Waves of Hostas thrive in the Sebright shade, and I wonder if their garden might host the highest density of slugs in the world. Just as with the Iris earlier, the Hostas are saddled with darling names such as 'Avocado', 'Love Pat', 'Midnight Sun', 'Mouse Tracks', 'Silver Threads and Golden Needles' etc. I'm not really a Hosta kind of guy, but I do grow some such as 'Blue Mouse Ears' and 'Teenie Weenie Bikini', however the latter is spelled. Frequently gardeners who favor Japanese maples in their landscape will accompany them with Hostas and ferns, and in the Sebright greenhouse – a tunnel that extends over 300' – that is what they offer at the retail level. Hostas are native to Asia, and they are known in Japan as giboshi, while in Britain they have been referred to as plantain lilies. The genus was once classified in the Liliaceae family, but now it is placed in the Asparagaceae, and yes you can eat them. Austrian botanist Leopold Trattinnick named the genus in 1812 in honor of a fellow Austrian botanist, Thomas Host.

Cinnamomum porrectum (parthenoxylon)

My eyes latched onto an interesting shrub and from a distance I took it to be a Eucalyptus, a genus whose foliage I hate. But this plant was more refined with long blue-green leaves. The label read Cinnamomum porrectum (parthenoxylon), and it was the first time that I had ever seen it as the “cinnamons” are not considered hardy in Oregon. The label confused me – was the species porrectum or parthenoxylon? I looked it up and both are considered valid species. Was this a hybrid, or did the specific name change from one to the other? Parthenoxylon – Greek for “virgin wood” – is native to south and east Asia where it is commonly known as “Selasian wood,” “Saffrol oil” or “Martaban camphor wood.” The Cinnamomum genus is in the Lauraceae family, and it is comprised of about 270 species, most of which are aromatic. C. verum is the “true Cinnamomum,” although other species can produce the tasty spice, and it is the inner bark that is harvested. It is fun to visit unusual plant collections and to find new species. We had a mild winter last year, but I plan to revisit after a cold one to see how their Cinnamomum fares.

Zantedeschia 'Edge of Night'

Another new plant to me was the colorful Zantedeschia 'Edge of Night'. The genus is known as the “Arum lily” or the “Calla lily,” but it is only related to them, and they are native to east and south Africa. The species and hybrids are sadly only hardy to USDA zone 8, or 10 degrees above zero. I'm anxious to return this summer to see the spathe-shaped flowers with their central spadix, to see what colors the 'Edge of Night' displays, though I have a feeling that it will be a very dark color. The name of the genus was given by the German botanist Kurt Sprengel (1766-1833) in honor of the Italian botanist Giovanni Zantedeschi (1773-1846).

Acer palmatum 'Susan'

At Sebright I discovered Acer palmatum 'Susan', which I do not have and had never seen before today. But with its small leaves and a woman's name my mind instantly turned to Dick van der Maat of Boskoop, The Netherlands – he has introduced others somewhat like 'Susan'. And sure enough, it was one of his “girls;” and as I've said before, no one ever tires of another pretty girl. In De Collection van der Maat states, “This dwarf has very small light green palmatum-type leaves in the spring, becoming a shiny mid-green for the summer, and turning yellow in the fall. It forms a dense round bush up to 3 ft. or so (1m) in height. Because of the small leaves, plant size and shape, it is well suited for bonsai culture.” Well, so much for the “3' or so” because the Sebright tree is already 5-6 feet tall, and I imagine that it will mature to at least 12-15 feet tall.* I have been to van der Maat's Nursery – a long narrow rectangle of land situated alongside a long narrow canal, as is usually the case in Boskoop. A few years ago I arranged for him to visit Oregon maple nurseries and he gave a talk at the Portland Japanese Garden. Dick is a good guy.

*Of course there could be more than one 'Susan' in the trade.

Coniogramme intermedia 'Shishi'

Continuing with the “new” (for me) was a small fern, Coniogramme intermedia 'Shishi', and to learn more about the strange dwarf one can do no better than to consult Sue Olsen's Encyclopedia of Garden Ferns. I already know that 'Shishi' means “lion” in Japanese, as in the maple, Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira', so I suspected that the intermediate species would be native to Japan. Sue's book indicates that besides Japan, its range extends to the “deep forests” of “Sakhalin, the Kuriles, eastern Asia, and the Himalayas.” [At first I wanted to leave out the comma after “eastern Asia” and to refer to the plural as the “Himalaya” without the “s,” but hey – it's not my book, and I assume that Sue and Timber Press know what's best.] In any case it does not like to “dry out” and “needs vigilance against the slugs and snails that can come to feed on the foliage.” Even though the heavily-crested cultivar 'Shishi' is interesting, I would like to acquire just the straight species of the “bamboo fern.” Sue remarks that “the genus name is derived from conio, dusky, and gramme, line, in reference to the soral pattern.” I love her comment that, “Only a few species [of Coniogramme] are temperate and currently in cultivation, and these are surrounded by taxonomic question marks,”...because I cheer for a nature that is not so easily cubbyholed.

Selaginella braunii

The Sebright garden contained a tiny example of Selaginella braunii, the “Braun's spikemoss” or the “Chinese lace fern, arborvitae fern.” Sue nails it when she mentions that, “On the US West Coast, plants could easily pass for young seedlings of western red cedar (Thuja plicata),” however S. braunii is native to China and India. We also have a Selaginella species native to the Northwest USA, S. douglasii, which I have seen, and the species can be found on “partially shaded rocks, mossy crags, and riverbanks in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.” Sue informs us that there are 700 to 750 species of “spikemoss,” and they are so-named because of their “narrow, stalked structure,” and that the name comes from “the combination of ella, little, with selago, a species now classified as Huperzia selago.” I must only dabble with the ferns and Selaginella because of the “sponge phenomena,” whereby my limited brain capacity is already full, and the addition of more data means that some previous knowledge must necessarily exit, and that is why a visit to Sebright is somewhat dangerous.

Pterstyrax hispida

Pterstyrax hispida is a tree I have seen before – it can get large – but Sebright's was blooming, and the panicles of small flowers were glorious with the sun as backlight. The hispida species is native to China and Japan and was first described by Philipp von Siebold, then introduced to Europe in 1875. I wonder if horticulture will ever discover a pink-flowered form, as has occurred with Styrax japonicus. The generic name pter is from Greek pteris or pterid for “fern,” from pteron for “feather” or “wing.” Styrax is a genus in the Styracaceae family (the storax family) which features white flowers in drooping racemes. Storax is also a fragrant balsam derived from the bark of Liquidambar orientalis, a member of the Hamamelaceae family, also called “Levant storax.” Hispida is a common name in botany, as in Robinia hispida, Smilax hispida, Stachy hispida – the “hispid hedge-nettle” – and means “hairy, bristly, rough.”

Styrax japonicus 'Evening Light'

Styrax japonicus 'Pink Trinket'
Styrax japonicus 'Snow Drops'
Styrax japonicus 'Pink Trinket'
Also in the Styraceae family is Styrax japonicus 'Evening Light', a purple-leaved cultivar with contrasting white bell-shaped flowers, best viewed from beneath. In Europe there exists another purple-foliage selection, 'Purple Dress', but it is one with pink flowers. Sebright had an attractive specimen of 'Evening Light', but sadly for nurseries like mine, it is apparently patented, and a license is required for propagation. As usual I'm screwed because my company is too small for anyone to bother with, but by the same token I don't plan to be overly generous with my dwarf white-flowered Styrax, and especially with my compact pink-flowered Styrax. I'll share them with other “little guys” like myself, and the big-goon companies can hog the royalties from their patented plants. Actually if I was wealthy with a lot of time on my hands, I would be inclined to legally challenge the entire concept of patenting plants. Can nature really be prostituted with patents?

Firmiana simplex

Sebright planted a young sapling of Firmiana simplex in their newest garden, and I have previously seen trees of it in European arboreta. I have steered clear of it, not knowing what I would be getting into. Hillier describes the genus – in the Malvaceae family – as “A small genus of about 8 species of trees with large, lobed leaves. Found from New Guinea to SE Asia and in tropical Africa.” Ha, another non-hardy tree that is “commonly grown in the Mediterranean areas and S Europe.” As you can see the leaves are somewhat maple-like, but not quite as large as Acer macrophyllum. I'll leave Firmiana for Sebright to grow, but I'll return at some point to see the “curious fruits consisting of a leaf-like blade with pea-sized seeds borne around the edges near the base” (Hillier). Firmiana simplex used to be known as Sterculia platanifolia, indicating that the flowers or foliage emit a fragrance, as Sterculius was the Roman goddess of smell. I have grown Acer sterculiaceum, and maple author Peter Gregory shared the specific name meaning with me. One would expect the Romans to have a god for “smell,” but in truth he was the god of manure due to the unpleasant smell of the “tropical chestnut,” Sterculia foetida.

Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Irene Paterson'

Pittosporum is a genus of evergreen shrubs or small trees, except that they are not reliably hardy in Oregon. P. tenuifolium is one of the more hardy, and Sebright's garden was showing off with 'Irene Paterson', a strongly variegated selection. If I owned the shrub I would house it in GH20 and not risk losing it outdoors, but Sebright's owners garden with more bravado than I do. I have visited some California retail nurseries where many cultivars of Pittosporum are offered, but I always resist. The late James Paterson, former Deputy Director of Parks in Dunedin, found the variegated shrub in the wild near Christchurch, New Zealand, and dutifully named it after his wife. The Pittosporums are commonly called “cheesewoods,” and the fruit is a woody capsule with seeds coated with a sticky substance. The generic name is due to the sticky seeds, from Greek pitta meaning “pitch” and spora meaning “seed.” The specific name is derived from Latin tenu meaning “slender” and foli meaning “leaves” in reference to the more slender leaves of this species. In New Zealand it is commonly known as kohuhu and black matipo, and by other Maori names kohukohu and tawhiwhi.

Pinus sylvestris 'Green Penguin'

A conifer that I had never seen before is Pinus sylvestris 'Green Penguin', but I used to grow similar cultivars such as 'Globosa Viridis' and 'Moseri', where the dark-green older foliage would sprout short light-green tufts in summer. It was almost as if the plant was in bloom. I stared at 'Green Penguin' for a while, trying to figure out the reason for its name. The only thing I could suppose is that it was selected in northern Minnesota in the late 1990's, and therefore it might be hardy enough to survive in Antarctica. I like the narrow form of 'Green Penguin' but I don't think I'll seek it out; and as far as a product to produce in my nursery, forget about it as no one comes to me for Scot's pine anymore.

Feijoa sellowiana (Acca)

I saw Feijoa sellowiana at Sebright, but I think it was last fall. I looked for it again as I retraced their garden paths but it eluded me this May. It is a plant I would like to try, but I don't know of anyone local who offers it. It is a fruiting tree from South America, nicknamed the "pineapple guava" although it is not a true guava, and it is said to taste like pineapple, apple and mint. I have had many Brazilian trainees in the past, and one currently, so I have developed an ear for Portuguese to go along with my "Spanglish," and Feijoa sounds so Brazilian. For example: Saint Paul is Sao Paulo in Portuguese. The German botanist Ernst Berger named the plant after Joao da Silva Feijo, a Portuguese naturalist. The specific name honors Friedrich Sellow, a German who first collect specimens in southern Brazil. For valid historical reasons of nomenclatural precedence, which I won't go into, the genus in the Myrtaceae family is now known as Acca. Rules are rules of course, and I try to be botanically current, but sometimes I just don't feel like changing, so I'll probably stick with the Feijoa name.

Arisaema taiwanense

Popping above and arching over the Hostas was Arisaema taiwanense, the "Taiwan cobra lily." The radial leaf features long slender leaflets ending in a wispy thread. The flower develops a black-purple hood with a wicked-looking thread-like tongue, and frankly it scares the hell out of my wife* who is certain that the devil – in snake form – is involved. The name Arisaema is derived from Latin (from Greek) aris for "arum" and Greek haima for "blood" from the red-spotted leaves of some species.

Sarracenia leucophylla

*I can understand her aversion, and the poor girl is also fearful of the Sarracenia genus.

Ginkgo biloba 'Spring Grove'

Sebright Gardens

Colobanthus quitensis
The Sebright garden/arboretum sits at a minor elevation, but enough so that one can look south and enjoy the bucolic country setting of Oregon's famous Willamette Valley. They enjoy wonderful gardening soil and a benign climate and so their plants prosper, and even when they tempt the Fates of Hardiness I cheer for their success. The visitor will discover old specimens – such as Ginkgo biloba 'Spring Grove' – that reveal that the garden has been around for a long time. It didn't just spontaneously emerge, but rather every plant was nourished with drops of sweat when planted – and the owners can probably tell you every story about every plant. School children should visit Sebright, for a geography lesson could be learned from the fact that they grow a plant from six of the seven of the world's continents. By coincidence they are scheduled to visit me on the day that this blog is posted, so I will present them with an Antarctic plant – Colobanthus quitensis – one of only two flowering plants from the most southern continent – so they can demonstrate to the kids that plants grown in Oregon can literally represent the entire world.


  1. OK, I'll bite.....what is the second flowering plant in Antarctica?
    Stu Garrett, MD

    1. deschampias Antarctica (hair grass)

  2. You're thinking too much. 'Green Penguin' is simply shaped like a penguin.