This past Saturday and Sunday we endured a couple of 100 degree days and both set records for the dates. David and Jose were charged with keeping the plants moist, and when I surveyed my realm on Monday it appeared that the boys kept everything wet, green and growing. Plants still look fresh on this spring's side of the solstice, but afterwards in July and August they often become dreadful.
|Basketball Court Garden|
Visitors walking from the parking lot to our office used to walk past a mini basketball court, the site where my son and I held nightly battles under the lights. The physicality was intense, and on more than one occasion one of us would end up crying our way back to the house. At this point I have no hops left, so we converted the court into a shaded garden, and even when it is 100 degrees outside the visitor will find respite from the heat and delight himself by discovering many cool plants. Lets take a look at some of the flora found therein.
|Pinellia tripartita 'Free Tibet'|
Three years ago I knew absolutely nothing about a genus called Pinellia, and for those of you who don't know it I am happy to make the introduction. We grow the species tripartita which is from southern Japan, the Ryukyu Islands and Hong Kong, and then further...the cultivar 'Free Tibet', the name of which is baffling. The common name would be the “Free Tibet Asian Green Dragon.” My start came from Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina, and they say that the variegated cultivar (the leaves) was “developed by aroid enthusiast Bob Lauf in collaboration with noted monocot geneticist Dr. Janice Zale. Bob crossed two forms of Pinellia tripartita, Pinellia 'Dragon Tails' and 'Atropurpurea', to come up with a plant with yellow and green irregularly variegated foliage that's topped all summer with 18” tall flower spikes with maroon spathe interiors.” I fell for the plant based solely on their description, and I'm sure glad I did. Furthermore they suggest that it is hardy to USDA zone 5a. Hey, concerning the name 'Free Tibet', maybe I have the answer: could it be due to the purple spathe and the yellow portions of the leaf, the purple and yellow colors worn by Tibetan monks?
|Paul Guillaume Farges|
*I have written before about male (supposedly) Ginkgo biloba cultivars that produce fruit. I have four trees of 'Autumn Gold' that are 38 years old and were purchased from a nationally recognized wholesale nursery. All four bear fruit. I wish someone would scientifically investigate and either prove me correct or shut me up forever.
|Rhododendron x 'Pink Snowflakes'|
The star of the court planting in early spring was Rhododendron x 'Pink Snowflakes', a very slow-growing hybrid between R. racemosum and R. moupinense. Red buds begin to swell at the end of winter, and they give way to tiny pink flowers with darker reddish-purple spotting. My bush is 10-12 years old and stands about 2' in height and width, and it seemed like it was adorned with a thousand blossoms. The glossy-bronze new growth – at best only 3” long – will be removed next week and we will attempt to root them. 'Pink Snowflakes' is a delightful plant and it is hardy to 0 degrees F.
|Rhododendron sargentianum x myrtifolium|
Rhododendron sargentianum is a dwarf species from high elevations in Sichuan, China. It was first discovered by E.H. Wilson while he was plant hunting for Veitch & Sons Nursery in 1903-04, and later in 1908 and 1910 while he was with C.S. Sargent at the Arnold Arboretum. Rhododendron myrtifolium's specific epithet refers to “leaves like a myrtle.” It is a compact or creeping shrub from the mountains of Bulgaria, Slovenia, Romania and southwest Russia at 5,000 - 8,000'. We grow the hybrid of these two species in our new court and it is a sparkling little addition. We're not really Rhododendron growers, but for the cute “alpine” species I guess we are.
Rhododendron forrestii var. repens
My Grandfather refers to our converted basketball court as the “fernery,” and indeed we are growing a number of species in it. Woodwardia unigemmata is a favorite, although it's hardy to only 10 degrees above zero, but I don't worry about that as I have already gotten my money's worth. The genus (of a dozen or so species) was named for British botanist Thomas Woodward, while the specific name means “single-jeweled” for its bubile that forms at the tip of the frond. Woodward (1745-1820) was honored by Sir James Edward Smith with the generic name, as Woodward was active in the Linnean Society of London and he co-authored the Observations on the British Fuci in 1797. Fuci is plural of Fucus, an olive-brown seaweed or algae in the genus Fucus, having branching fronds and often air bladders. The name is derived from Greek phykos for “orchil,” any of several lichens from which a violet dye is obtained. In any case my Woodwardia's brown-red new growth is especially attractive in contrast to its older green fronds.
|Bletilla x yokohama 'Kate'|
Bletilla x yokohama 'Kate' is in the shady court, although it is a tough little terrestrial orchid that can be grown outside in full sun. The genus of Bletilla is native to eastern Asia, yet they are hardy to USDA zone 6, minus 10 degrees. Anyone can succeed with them as long as they are planted in well-drained soil. 'Kate' originated as a cross of Bletilla striata 'Big Bob' with B. formosana, and it features lavender flowers with a dark purple lip surrounding a yellow throat. We have been building up our stock to propagate 'Kate', but my heart sank when I learned this spring that it is patented. Damn!
I had to have a few conifers in the little garden, and one which draws a lot of attention is Tsuga mertensiana 'Blue Star'. It was raised from rooted cuttings and perhaps due to that, it and its brethren are completely prostrate. I like the flat blue carpet that has developed, and I'm also amused that a number of plantsmen can't identify it. 'Blue Star' was selected by L. Konijn of the Netherlands, a nursery famous for other introductions such as Abies koreana 'Golden Glow', Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Graciosa', Pinus leucodermis 'Satellit' and others.
Another attractive conifer “holding court” is Cedrus brevifolia 'Kenwith'. It is a cute dwarf that was selected by Gordon Haddow at Kenwith Nursery in England. The brevifolia species is the “Cyprus cedar” and it is native to the Troodos Mountains in the center of the island.* These mountains are famous for geologic features as Cyprus was created by the African continental plate slamming into Europe, and it is home to many of the world's oldest trees. I won't have to worry about 'Kenwith' outgrowing its spot since it grows to about 2' tall by 1' wide in 10 years.
*I suspect that 90% or more of all American high school graduates would be unable to locate Cypress on a world map. It is an island country off the coasts of Syria and Turkey, but then these high schoolers wouldn't know where they are either. Hunter/gatherers were active on the island from around 10,000 BC which led to the extinction of dwarf hippos and dwarf elephants. The grave of a human body with a cat is estimate to be 9,500 years old, which long predates the Egyptian civilization's fixation with a feline-human association by thousands of years.
I have nothing against Spiraea, in fact I have a number of cultivars scattered throughout the gardens. It's just that they are so easy to propagate that the huge nurseries grow them by the millions for cheap, so I don't. But one that we have that they don't grow, Spiraea morrisonicola, is a cute dwarf species that we planted in the sunny portion of the old court. There are a number of plants with the specific epithet morrisonicola, and that is an indication that they are native to, or near, Mt. Morrison in Taiwan. The peak rises to nearly 13,000' and is now known as Yushan, literally “Jade Mountain.” Often the same species of flora will begin large at the mountain's base and then grow ever more dwarf as one ascends, but Spiraea morrisonicola remains small even in the lush low conditions at Buchholz Nursery. The generic name is derived from the Greek speiraia for a “privet,” except that Spiraea is in the rose family, while privet (Ligustrum) is a flowering plant in the olive family.
I first encountered Ypsilandra thibetica at the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Federal Way, Washington, and fortunately they had pots of it in their sales area. It is a member of the Melanthiaceae family along with Paris and Trilliums. Its pretty white blossoms appear in March when little else is going on. The Chinese evergreen perennial is a recent introduction although the genus was first described in 1888 by Adrien Franchett (1834-1900) a French botanist. Franchett was in the right place at the right time, and he is famous for describing the flora of China and Japan based on the collections of French missionaries such as Armand David, Pierre Delavay, Paul Guillaume Farges, Jean-Andre Soulie and others. The 19th century must have been an exciting time for French botanists who were at the forefront of scientific inquiry, and the English absolutely hated it when they beat them with a plant introduction such as Davidia involucrata.
Campanula latiloba 'Alba' is an exuberant perennial with stalks of the most pure-white flowers ever, rising to 2-3 feet. But damn, a whipper-wind arrived one afternoon and laid them sideways. So the court had a sideways mess, but still the blooms were beautiful. Our start came from Far Reaches Farm in northern Washington state, and you should buy it and other stuff from them too. Campanula is Latin for “little bell” and the common name for the genus in the Campanulaceae family is known as “bellflower.” The latifolia species name refers to its wide leaves, and it is native to Europe and all the way east to Kashmir. In subsequent years I will be sure to stake the flower stems to that they don't flop onto everything else.
I will cease now, I don't want to overstay my welcome with my shaded mini-garden. It was designed to be fun for us at Buchholz Nursery, and for our visitors who head for the office, but invariably get drawn in. It won't take long before it becomes a crowded jungle, and at some point we'll probably ask ourselves, “Damn, why did we plant that!”