Friday, June 10, 2016

Our New Shade Garden

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?

Arisaema fargesii

Arisaema consanguineum

Paul Guillaume Farges
Related to the Pinellia genus is Arisaema, as both genera are in the arum family (Araceae), and they look more or less alike anyway. The latter is commonly known as “Jack in the pulpit” in America and “cobra lily” in Asia. Of the 150 or so species we have planted just three in our shaded garden – flavum, fargesii and consanguineum. One interesting trait of the Arisaemas – which is trending popular these days – is that they change sex*; the plants are typically male when small, and female or hermaphrodite when large, and they can go back and forth several times in their life of twenty or so years. A. flavum comes from practically everywhere in the wide world, from the Arabian Peninsula to Tibet. The specific name (I guess) is due to the yellow coloring of the spathe or to the pale yellow color of the fruits. It is considered a famine food and is eaten during periods of crop failure, and it apparently has a relatively acceptable taste to the Konso people of the Great Rift Valley in Africa. I am tempted to nibble on a leaf or flower to further the science, but I don't want to suffer or die in the process. A. fargesii is a Chinese species and the specific name commemorates Father Paul Guillaume Farges (1844-1912), a French missionary and botanist who sent back to Paris over 4,000 plant specimens, many new to science. The specific name consanguineum refers to having the same ancestry or descent, related by blood, but I don't know what that has to do with the cobra lily. Arisaema's tubers are cultivated in China, and the herb is named tiannanxing which refers to the star-like (xing) shape of the leaves and “southern heaven” (tiannan) which indicates a region where it was gathered. In America the Natives would roast or boil A. triphyllum and consume it as a starch-rich food.

The fruit of the "male" Ginkgo biloba 'Autumn Gold'

*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 '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

George Forrest
Rhododendron forrestii was discovered by George Forrest in 1905 in China, on the divide between the Mekong and Salween rivers, then twelve years later R. forrestii var. repens was found in the same locality. It forms a carpet to about 4” tall, and a ten-year-old plant is usually less than 18” wide. Our oldest repens was planted in a display box with other companions, then foolishly left in full sun where it fried when we hit 100 degrees a few years ago. Even though it was near the office door we totally forgot to protect it, but now it has recovered in our new display. The small flowers are a beautiful red, but I've never seen it bloom prolifically. Still, I love the species, and the great George Forrest will always be one of my Heroes of Horticulture.

Woodwardia unigemmata

Woodwardia unigemmata

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.

Asplenium trichomanes

Unlike the flopping fronds of the Woodwardia, Asplenium trichomanes is tidy and cute. According to Sue Olsen in Encyclopedia of Garden Ferns the common name is “Maidenhair spleenwort,” while the botanic epithet means “soft or thin hair,” and even Theophrastus – the Greek father of botany – termed it as “hair madness.” Hm, I describe the fern as “tidy and cute” but old Theo (371-287 BC) thinks it is “hair madness,” so maybe A. trichomanes was just having a bad hair day.

Dryopteris wallichiana

Nathaniel Wallich
Another in the fernery is Dryopteris wallichiana or “Wallich's wood fern,” named for the Danish botanist Nathaniel Wallich (1786-1854). My plant will grow large, too large for its site...but I'll worry about that later. Wallich (1786-1845) was a surgeon and botanist who worked in India, eventually for the East India Company. He was involved in the early development of the Calcutta Botanical Garden, a collection I once visited on a humid sweltering day. There are dozens of species named for Wallich, besides the fern, and some include Pinus wallichiana, Lilium wallichianum, Rhododendron wallichii, Sorbus wallichii and Taxus wallichiana. Wallich was in the wrong place when the British took over many Danish colonies due to the Danish alliance with Napoleonic France. Wallich was imprisoned, but was later released on the merit of his scholarship.

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!

Tsuga mertensiana 'Blue Star'

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.

Cedrus brevifolia 'Kenwith'

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.

Spiraea morrisonicola

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.

Ypsilandra thibetica

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'

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.

Roscoea auriculata

Roscoea cautleyoides 'Jeffrey Thomas'

Roscoea scillifolia

William Roscoe
Roscoea is a genus of 18 species in the ginger family and comes from China and the Himalaya. They appear similar to irises, though they are not related, while the flowers appear like orchids. R. cautleyoides' name honors Sir Proby Thomas Cautley (1802-1871), an English paleontologist, and is native to Yunnan and Sichuan. We grow the cultivar 'Jeffrey Thomas' which differs from the type with lighter pale cream flowers with larger lips. R. auriculata comes from Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal and I have seen it blooming in Sikkim. The specific name auriculata refers to the two ear-shaped outgrowths on the stem. R. scillifolia is said (Dancing Oaks) to be extinct in China where it was endemic. Flowers are light purple-pink and small, but cute. Our plant went to seed last year and now we have a larger clump, but I hope it's not too much of a good thing. The generic name Roscoea honors William Roscoe (1753-1831) who was the founder of the Liverpool Botanic Garden in 1802. Roscoe wore a lot of hats in his career such as poet, pub owner, art collector and more, and he is quoted as saying, “If I were now asked whom I consider to be the happiest of the human race, I should answer, those who cultivate the earth by their own hands.”

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!”

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