Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Viburnum When You Can Mulch Them?

Roger Gossler
Well-known plantsman Roger Gossler was interviewed last Saturday on a local garden radio show, In the Garden with Mike Darcy. The subject was color in the garden, and Roger enthused about bark, berries and colorful leaves. Viburnum dilatatum from Japan was mentioned as a wonderful autumn plant, and Mike – who occasionally dumbs down to serve the audience – asked Roger what was the common name. Roger didn't know, but it is the “Linden Viburnum” because the leaves resemble the Tilia (lime) genus, and I had the answer in 10 seconds...coming from Roger's book The Gossler Guide to the Best Hardy Shrubs. C'mon Rog, read your own book!

Viburnum dilatatum 'Variegated'

I don't produce dilatatum, for no matter how "wonderful" it is, it is still considered a cheap shrub with a relatively low “shelf-life,” meaning that it gets large fast and there is no market for its large size. Besides, the genus is notorious for susceptibility to SOD (sudden oak death) and it is also a magnet for root weevils. The specific name dilatatum – given by Carl Peter Thunberg – comes from Latin dilatatus meaning to “spread out,” and in time the bush can hog a lot of lateral space. In any case it is wonderful if the neighbors grow one, and you can look at it over the fence.

Sambucus racemosa 'Sutherland Gold'

Iceman Ötzi
I have read that Viburnums are shrubs or trees in the Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle) family in Hillier's Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2nd edition), but by the 2014 (8th edition) the genus has been moved into the Adoxaceae family. Other members include Adoxa, Sinadoxa, Tetradoxa – which I know nothing about – and Sambucus, which I do know something about. I grow a few cultivars of the latter in the gardens, and S. racemosa is native to my woods on both properties. Evidence accepted for the botanic move would bore you stiff, as it does me. My late grandmother used to make Sambucus (elderberry) jam and my late father made elderberry wine, and both were very tasty. As for Viburnums, Englishman John Lindley called them “a miserable food for savage nations.” Though Native Americans were no more savage than the English, they used Viburnum for food, medicine and tea. Also called “arrow-wood,” the Neolithic Iceman Ötzi, found frozen in the Alps in 1991, was carrying arrows made from V. lantana. The Roman Virgil (70-19 BC) wrote of lenta viburna, with lenta meaning “pliant” or “flexible” and viburna perhaps meaning a “path,” and indeed Viburnum branches usually do bend easily.

Viburnum bitchiuense

Another Vib from Japan is the species bitchiuense which was first described by Makino, the Father of Japanese Botany in 1911. I grow one in the Flora Wonder Arboretum, and it forms a medium-size shrub with a garden-worthy narrow upright habit. Light pink flower clusters appear in April and they are pleasantly fragrant; some other V. species actually stink, especially when brought into the house. The suffix ense refers to a place of origin in botany, while Bitchiu (or Bishiu) belongs to the “mountain-front circuit,” comprising eight provinces in ancient Japan.

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn'

Commonly found in Western gardens is V. x bodnantense, the hybrid between V. farreri and V. grandiflorum. According to Hillier, “A splendid hybrid first raised at the RBG Edinburgh in 1933 and later at Bodnant, N wales in 1935.” So even with war looming in Europe, British gardeners still had time to breed bushes. 'Dawn' is vigorous and fairly hardy (USDA zone 6) and it produces fragrant flowers from October to November. When I alluded earlier to Vibs stinking up the house, I was thinking of 'Dawn' – somehow it smells ok out of doors, but not so inside and my wife tossed a bouquet into the trash after just a few hours. One 'Dawn' grew too large for its place in the garden so I cut it down. It refused to die and sent up new shoots which flowered; so every couple of years we play the chainsaw game.

Viburnum carlesii

William Richard Carles
V. carlesii is the Korean viburnum, a small deciduous shrub with a round form. Flowers appear in May and are sweetly scented; a blind man would assume he is smelling a Daphne. They are pinkish when in bud, but they open to snow-white in full flower, and later the fruits evolve from red to black. V. carlesii was named by botanist Hemsley for William Richard Carles (1849-1929) who collected plants in the 1880's in Korea. He was actually the British Vice Consul in China from 1867 to 1900, but he made a couple of trips into the Korean interior and sent the loot back to the Royal Botanic Garden. Carles wrote Life in Corea, the first account by a Westerner who actually set foot in the region. The wonderfully fragrant “Korean spice bush” was named carlesii unbeknownst to the plant hunter, and what a nice honor.

Viburnum davidii 'Longleaf'

Armand David
Viburnum davidii is a low-spreading Chinese evergreen shrub that was named for the missionary Armand David, and it was introduced into Europe by E.H. Wilson in 1904. The cultivar 'Longleaf' is more vigorous than the type, and my largest specimens are 2' tall and 6' wide at 16 years of age. V. davidii blooms in June, but the dull-white flowers are nothing special in my opinion; nevertheless it received an Award of Merit for its flowers in 1912 and again in 1971 for its turquoise-blue fruit. Since the berries are not very plentiful, one could say that it is primarily planted for its glossy green leaves and that it serves a utilitarian purpose. Sadly, in America, it is often put into parking-lot spaces without irrigation, and little brats and their tattooed moms trample on the poor things. My well-behaved children were taught at an early age to never take a shortcut through the flora, that if people did that at my nursery I would go bankrupt and they would be put into foster care or worse.

Viburnum furcatum

I've never grown V. furcatum, but I would if I ever saw one for sale. I think the photos above were taken at Arboretum Trompenburg in Rotterdam on a rainy October day. Hillier says that it flowers in May, which I have never seen, but that flowers resemble a lacecap hydrangea. I would grow it for the rich-purple autumnal hue even if it never flowered. Hillier deems the species to be of “elegant charm; an excellent woodland plant.” It is commonly called the “forked Viburnum,” as furcatum is derived from Latin furcatus for “forked,” and it is native to Japan, Korea and Russia.

Viburnum lantanoides

V. lantanoides is a New England native commonly called the “Hobble bush,” and it thrives in woodland conditions. This shrub can grow to 12' tall and the pendulous branches take root where they touch the ground. They present obstacles for walkers, hence the common name. Flowers are white to pink and appear in May-June and the fruit is a red drupe* that turns to black when ripe.

*From Greek dryppa for “overripe olive.” In botany it is a fleshy fruit with thin skin and a central stone containing the seed – as in a plum, cherry, almond or olive.

Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum 'Mariesii'

Charles Maries
What was once V. mariesii is now encumbered with the current name of V. plicatum f. tomentosum 'Mariesii'. V. plicatum is the “Japanese snowball bush,” while forma tomentosum is commonly called the “doublefile viburnum.” The specific epithet comes from the Latin plicatum meaning “pleated” or “folded,” referring to the leaf veins, while Latin tomentosum means “woolly” due to fine hairs on young stems and leaf undersides. The cultivar honors the English plant-hunter Charles Maries (1851-1902) who toiled in Japan, China and Taiwan for the Veitch Nursery. Maries was prolific and discovered over 500 new species* which he introduced to England. Back to the bush, 'Mariesii' is noted for white flowers borne on horizontal branches. Give it plenty of space as I have seen specimens about 12' tall by 15' wide.

*Some of Maries introductions include:
Abies mariesii
Abies veitchii
Abies sachalinensis
Acer davidii
Acer maximowiczianum
Actinidia kolomikta
Cryptomeria japonica
Daphne genkwa
Enkianthus campanulatus
Pseudolarix amabilis
Abies mariesii

Abies vietchii 'Glauca'

Abies sachalinensis

Acer davidii

Acer maximowiczianum

Actinidia kolomikta

Cryptomeria japonica

Daphne genkwa 'Hackenberry Group'

Enkianthus campanulatus 'Showy Lantern'

Pseudolarix amabilis


Viburnum plicatum 'Popcorn'

Viburnum plicatum 'Kearns Pink'

Viburnum plicatum 'Kearns Pink'

Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum 'Pink Beauty'

Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum 'Pink Beauty'

V. plicatum 'Popcorn' is a show-off in May-June and our 5' compact specimen can be seen from a long distance away. According to Hillier it is a “particularly fine selection, producing a profusion of flowers earlier than other f. plicatum cultivars, and that its foliage remains “fresh throughout the summer.” I don't grow V.p. 'Kearns Pink' but I was impressed with it at Shadow Nursery in Tennessee a couple of springs ago. The “pink” was faint and I wonder how it compares with a Gossler favorite, V.p. 'Pink Beauty' – which remember is a lacecap variety – versus the snowball shape of the 'Kearns Pink' flower.

Viburnum opulus 'Nanum'

Viburnum opulus 'Nanum'

Viburnum opulus 'Leonard's Dwarf'

Viburnum opulus 'Aureum'

V. opulus is known as the “European cranberry bush” and it is native to such diverse locales like Europe, NW Africa, Asia Minor, the Caucasus and central Asia. It is a deciduous shrub, except that my V.o. 'Nanum' is perfectly green today. When I first acquired it I wasn't aware of how poorly it flowers, and the bush in the photo above has had twenty years to prove itself. 'Leonard's Dwarf' is a much faster cultivar, but it is planted behind the pond and I don't recall ever seeing it flower. Maybe its blooms are sparse also. V.o. 'Aureum' is my favorite of the cranberry bushes. I have sited it perfectly: enough sun for the foliage to be a strong yellow, and enough shade so that the leaves don't burn.

There, there you have a blog on Viburnums, something a week ago I thought I would never write. I don't think I have ever propagated or sold a Viburnum in my entire career. It is far from my favorite of all woody plants, but a few in the genus are nice additions to the landscape. I suppose the main reason for the Viburnum blog is to tease Roger about forgetting the common name when he was on the radio show.

By the way I didn't make up the joke about "Viburnum when you can mulch them?" That originated eons ago along with "There are two certainties in life: death and Taxus." I know, nurserymen should stick to their day jobs.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Arnold Arboretum

I was in the Boston area last month and I was very excited to finally visit the Arnold Arboretum. The layout was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and in my opinion he did a heck of a job. The arboretum was named for James Arnold (1781-1868), a Massachusetts whaling merchant, and its mission was to increase knowledge of woody plants through research, and then to pass on the knowledge through education.

Sorbus sargentiana

Juniperus chinensis var. sargentii

Magnolia sargentiana var. robusta

Charles S. Sargent
E.H. Wilson
The Arnold was established in 1872 and Charles Sprague Sargent was appointed director. Sargent is honored with botanical names such as Sorbus sargentiana, Rhododendron sargentianum, Juniperus chinensis var. sargentii, Magnolia sargentiana var. robusta and others. I am particularly interested in the institution because the great plant hunter E.H. “Chinese” Wilson was lured away from the English Veitch Nursery firm to collect for the Arnold, and then to work there. Sadly, Wilson and his wife died in a car accident in 1930.

Fagus sylvatica

Saya with Fagus sylvatica

The collection contains about 4,000 taxa* on 281 acres. Buchholz Nursery – even excluding Flora Farm – has grown at least 4,000 taxa also, but on one-tenth the acreage. The difference is that I abandon many if they don't sell, and secondly, my plants are miniature compared to the humongous specimens in the Arnold. We parked our car near the Fagus entrance, then worked our way to the oaks, and the overwhelming impression for me was just how large the trees were. One Fagus displayed two lower branches that swept out at an incredible distance, and I borrow my daughter's photo of it.

*Taxa is plural of taxon, and it's a group of one or more populations of an organism or organisms believed by taxonomists to form a unit.

Quercus alba

Quercus x exacta (imbricaria x palustris)

Quercus shumardii var. schneckii

Joseph Rock and Saya

I took photos of the trees with giddy excitement until my camera reported that my photo card was full. Damn – I took too many pictures of the Statue of Liberty and atop the Empire State Building back in New York, but not to worry because my wife had my backup camera in her pack. The only problem was that she had previously raced ahead with daughter Harumi for the bathroom in the visitor center. At the last second Saya looked at me, took pity I think, and decided to stay back with me. So there we were, Saya and myself, in the oak section. We had worked out a tree-encounter system where I would stand back and take a photo of a huge tree, and Saya in her energetic youth would run up to the label, then back to me to report: “Queerkus owlba” or “Queerkus x exacta” or “Queerkus shumardii var. schneckii” etc. We even discovered that the renowned plant-hunter Joseph Rock was still alive and roaming through the arboretum and he graciously posed with Saya.

But again, my camera wasn't working after that and I wanted to record all of the wonderful specimens. In some respects I was happy that my camera card was full, that I could then wander freely throughout the collection without an assignment. I don't know why, anyway, that I feel compelled to document all that I see, and I confess that it is an obsession that would possibly benefit with therapeutic counseling. On the other hand, at my age, I might never return to the Arnold again, and I desperately wanted to track down my wife. We agreed to meet at a pond down the hill, so Saya and I took a cross country short-cut. In spite of the arboretum map depicting a pond, we never did find it. So: no pond,* no wife, no camera; but at least I still had Saya. Dear Saya, thanks for staying back with me.

*No pond because the East Coast was experiencing a drought, and the “pond” was indeed there, but empty.

Hmm: no camera, no wife. The wife wasn't so important I reasoned, and that eventually we would meet back at the car. And – oh well – so much for recording the Arnold, and I would continue to enjoy the park without purpose. Near the Hunnewell Visitor Center Saya and I took an obscure narrow path through the trees, and to our astonishment there was Haruko and Harumi walking towards us. What a miracle, how impossible! I scolded Haruko – “Don't ever abandon me like that again!” As to the backup camera I discovered that it had no power. I was too casual and I should have checked it before. Was I in a dream? I finally made it to the venerable Arnold Arboretum, then find that I am paralyzed. Last week I had a dream that I was searching for my car at night at my daughter's school, but it just wasn't there. I was sick with worry. Then, still in my dream, I realized that I couldn't find my car because I was in my car. Relieved, I woke up.

Buchholz in front of the Hunnewell building

We arrived at the Hunnewell building which I had seen before in photos. It was designed by architect Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow Jr. – what a great name – and was constructed in 1892 with funds donated by H.H. Hunnewell. Harumi wanted to take my photo in front of the building with her cell phone. Hey, wait a minute, we have a camera after all!
Phellodendron amurense var. amurense

Phellodendron amurense var. amurense

I'm not a gadget guy, not at all, and I trusted Harumi with her phone camera better than myself. Actually we had fun. I would direct her into position while looking at her screen...wait for the large Indian family to pass...ok, take it. I thought we did particularly well with a beautiful Phellodendron amurense, the Amur cork tree from northeast Asia.

Overall, though, my photos don't do the Arnold justice. I subscribe to Arnoldia, the magazine of the Arnold Arboretum, and it often contains outstanding photos of their collection, especially since they can take them at all seasons. Well, we had a train to catch, and our brief stint would have to suffice. Our New York/Massachusetts trip was wonderful, and all four of us will have lifetime memories.

Below are a few more plant photos from the Arnold...

Acer henryi

Metasequoia glyptostroboides

Betula schmidtii

Juglans regia

Ulmus parvifolia 'Pendens'

Cornus kousa

Cornus kousa

Platanus x hispanica

Quercus lyrata
Quercus x sargentii (prinus x robur)

Acer mono