Friday, January 27, 2017

Cute as a Button


Some women are beautiful, even stunningly so, but they might not be particularly cute*...and vice versa. Our family's cats, two sisters, were cute as kittens, but now they're just cats. Sammy our Wonder Dog was cute as a puppy, and he's actually still pretty cute after nearly eight years old.

*The word cute originated as an abbreviated form of “acute” and meant “cunning” or “quick-witted.” Don't get cute with me, now.


I wasn't very impressed with my wife (Haruko) when I first met her, which is odd when you consider that she was a healthy well-formed Japanese woman of twenty two, and I was an old (single) codger in my upper forties. Eventually I watched her interact with other people and she was always smiling, always happy, and so was everybody else. She displayed a cute personality with a child-like – but not childish – sense of wonder and enjoyment with the world. I don't know why I was initially blind to her because she was the very definition of cute, then and even more so today, and I would much rather have a cute and happy wife than a classically beautiful one.

Acer shirasawanum 'Kawaii'

Anyway, when you first encounter some plants they make you smile. They're cute – cute as a button. When Haruko first saw an unnamed maple seedling – likely a palmatum-shirasawanum hybrid – she exclaimed, “Ahh kawaii,” Japanese for “loveable,” “cute” or “adorable,” and thus the seedling received its name. The orange-red of the 'Kawaii' leaf glows in certain settings, but you would never consider it deep or dazzling. If I have any complaint with 'Kawaii' it's that it is slow and gangly when young – it takes a number of years before you can achieve a full bush...which will likely be more wide than tall. Recently a customer complained that his 10-gallon tree for $80.00 was way too small, way too small for the price. He was right, except that it was at least three years older than our other $80.00 10-gallon maples. I never overreact with just one complaint and I'll continue to grow a few 'Kawaii' even though they're not really profitable for me, and as far as I know it is the first and only red shirasawanum “laceleaf.” It was named and introduced by Buchholz Nursery, however we did not discover it. That would be Jim Baggett of Corvallis, Oregon, in his open garden with his seed coming – if I recall correctly – from Acer shirasawanum 'Palmatifolium' – itself, a likely shirasawanum-palmatum hybrid. For what it's worth, the seed of 'Kawaii' rises above the foliage, per the shirasawanum species.

Pinus leucodermis 'Schmidtii'

Theodor von Heldreich
One person remarked – I think in a Conifer Society publication – that Pinus leucodermis 'Schmidtii' was the most wonderful of all dwarf conifers. I felt sorry for him with his limited view. True, it is a lustrous green ball that especially shines in the winter garden, but I invite you to examine one as I have, and I wonder if we'll both conclude that it's “useful” rather than “wonderful,” that perhaps it is even a little boring. Certainly it is not cute, at least not to me, and it would never be the bride of my conifers. I use the cultivar name found in the trade, although the original plant was found in the Czech Republic in the wild in 1926 by Eugen Smidt, not Schmidt. Hillier in Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014) lists it as 'Smidtii', and furthermore that the specific identity is not leucodermis (“white bark”), but is more appropriately that of heldreichii. The latter name is for German botanist Theodor von Heldreich (1822-1902) who was a good friend of Charles Darwin, and who discovered seven new genera and 700 new species of plants, a tenth of which bear his name. In any case, I still grow lots of 'Schmidtii' and they sell well and they are easy to grow, except a little slow.

Pinus parviflora 'Bonny'

Pinus parviflora 'Bonny'

A far more interesting pine than 'Schmidtii' for me is Pinus parviflora 'Bonny'. This choice little imp features tiny gray-blue recurved needles, and a slow, compact upright habit. There are lots of dwarf parviflora buns or squat buns, but none as cute as 'Bonny'. Please note that 'Bonny' is not the same as the larger broad, Pinus parviflora 'Bonnie Bergman'. Bonnie, Bonny or Bonne is a girl's name which means “pretty” and it was derived from Middle French bonne for “good,” as in a good and beautiful girl. Bonny is related to Latin bonus meaning something good that is more than what was expected or required. Pinus parviflora 'Bonny' is a bonus in a rock garden, trough or container, and it will grow to 3' tall by 2' wide in 10 years.

Pinus mugo 'Mr. Wood'

Another cute pine is the diminutive Pinus mugo 'Mr. Wood', and it too features tiny recurved blue needles. A seedling was given to me about twenty years ago by the late Edsal Wood, a very generous plantsman with an eye for the unusual. He grew thousands of seedlings, in particular hemlocks, but he gave away the fun stuff because he made an adequate living with his Woods' Rooting Hormone – which we still use – and other chemicals. I honestly thought Edsal was mistaken when he handed me the mugo for it more resembled a very refined Pinus parviflora. It was only three inches tall in a little pot, but when I got home I pulled off a fascicle and indeed it consisted of two needles, not the five of a parviflora.

Years later I came across a Pinus mugo 'Fish Hook' that was introduced by Larry Stanley of Stanley and Sons Nursery of Oregon. Some conifer aficionados insisted that 'Mr. Wood' was just a renaming of 'Fish Hook', and shame on that Buchholz cad for doing so. But rong! It turns out that Edsal gave another (sister) seedling to Larry about the same time, and while they are similar, they are absolutely two different clones. I'll take my hat off to Larry for he chose the better cultivar name, and I'm always harping against using a person's name for a cultivar. But I never intended to name mine 'Mr. Wood' – that was just a temporary code name so I could keep track of it. At some point I gave away or sold a few, so with the horse out of the barn the name must stick.

Rhododendron 'Pink Snowflakes'

Rhododendron 'Pink Snowflakes'

I think that 'Pink Snowflakes' is the cutest dwarf Rhododendron that I grow, even though I have other cultivars that are far more dwarf. Tiny flowers are about 1 1/2” across and colored soft pink with darker pink spotting, and when in bloom one young (male) plantsman called it a “chick magnet,” as you could easily attract girls with it as with a cute puppy. The parentage is R. racemosum x R. moupinense and it is hardy to about 0 degrees F, USDA zone 7. 'Pink Snowflakes' has been around for a long time – hybridized by R.W. Scott in 1968 – but for some reason it is seldom commercially available, maybe because it is so dwarf. Our oldest (12-14 years) is only two feet tall by one and a half feet wide and it is planted in our converted basketball court garden. It is even attractive on this rainy January day because of its swelling red buds, and I'll bet that there's at least two hundred of them on the small bush.

Ilex x 'Rock Garden'

I never thought of Ilex x 'Rock Garden' as being “cute.” It is a diminutive dense evergreen with a very slow rate of growth. After about twenty years my original plant finally produced berries, and this year the basketball-sized specimen is adorned with about 25 of them. So it's a cute plant after all. Hollies are dioecious (separate male and female plants), so x 'Rock Garden' is female and requires a male pollinator for fruit production. My x 'Rock Garden' grows in isolation, quite a distance away from any other holly, so I wonder how the male gets the job done. The parentage is complex and involves I. aquipernyi (itself a hybrid of I. aquifolium) native to England, and I. pernyi native to China and I. integra native to Japan, China and Korea. If you're young and see one for sale you should buy it; but also buy a statue of a cat to accompany it, for when it finally berries you don't want the damn birds to devour the fruit.

Salvia x jamensis 'Hot Lips'

I am not a Salvia kind of guy, and I know very little about the usually tender genus with at least 800 species. But there is a hybrid, x jamensis, (S. greggii x S. microphylla), that was discovered near the village of Jame, Coahuila, Mexico and it has resulted in a number of cultivars. Definitely cute are the flowers of 'Hot Lips', and the 5' bush blooms prolifically throughout the summer. My friend Gerald gave me my start, and he has one himself planted out in his Vancouver, Washington garden. 'Hot Lips' is barely hardy in Oregon, and we've already plunged to 3 degrees F this winter, and I keep mine in GH20. I'm curious how his will fare as he gardens with more reckless abandon than I do. He is older is one reason, and also his garden is overplanted anyway, and he can stand to have a few less plants.

Abies koreana 'Alpine Star'

Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker' is not cute, not at all, even though it is impressively dazzling. I don't think most of the dwarf Abies – which usually originate as witch's broom mutations – are cute. One exception is Abies koreana 'Alpine Star'; and what a great name as the white buds twinkle against the dark foliage like tiny stars in the night sky. My start came via a circuitous route that maybe originated in Europe. It is also possible that 'Alpine Star' was an American introduction which which was sent to Europe by someone, and then it came back to America again. Did you follow that? Some collectors or growers assume that if they see a plant in our photo library, then we must have it for sale. Not so. In one case I took a photo in Deurne, The Netherlands, but I didn't grow that plant. A year later someone in Boskoop, The Netherlands, requested that I send him a start. That type of thing occurs at least once a year.

Bletilla striata 'Kuchibeni'

Bletilla striata 'Murasaki shikibu'

Bletilla x yokohama 'Kate'
Bletilla ochracea

The Bletillas have all died back to the ground, and when the leaves reemerge in spring the uninitiated gardener will have no clue about the pretty orchid flowers that are to follow. Their charm is that they are small, but an established clump can bloom for months and show off with hundreds of flowers. Bletillas are terrestrial orchids with about ten recognized species, and in recent times new hybrids and cultivars are appearing on the market and they're blessed with alluring names such as 'Chinese Butterfly', 'Kuchibeni' (red lips), 'Sweet Lips' and 'Murasaki shikibu'.* Visitors to our gardens are particularly taken with B. x yokohama 'Kate', a hybrid of B. striata 'Big Bob' with B. formosana. Bletillas are much easier to grow – at least in my garden – than the literature would suggest. They are supposed to excel in a woodland setting with afternoon shade, but here they thrive in full sun with irrigation. They are also easy to grow in containers, and we use the same potting soil and fertilizer that we use for our maples and conifers. I predict that some day there will be hundreds of cultivars just as we have with Japanese maples.

*I'll repeat the explanation of Murasaki shikibu's name from a blog written in February of last year:

Murasaki Shikibu

Murasaki (purple) refers to the heroine of the old The Tale of Genji and to the book's author, Murasaki Shikibu. Both are fake names used in the Heian period (794-1185) because it was then considered vulgar to address people by their personal name. The real name of the author is lost, and Murasaki was the heroine she created, and Shikibu after her father's official rank. In olden times, and even today, the Japanese use a lot of smoke and mirrors when dealing with each other. In old Japanese poetry the relationship between the deep purple of the violet and the lavender of the wisteria led to the revered name Murasaki. Thanks to wife Haruko for the explanation, and maybe she should be writing the Flora Wonder Blog.”

The generic name honors Luis Blet, an 18th century Spanish pharmacist and botanist.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Butterball'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Rezek'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Maureen'

I think Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Butterball' is a cute bun, more so than the similarly-growing green bun cultivars. It seems to have a cheerful attitude, a sunny disposition, and a group of them always draws admiration from Buchholz Nursery visitors. I first became aware of 'Butterball' when I saw it growing at Linssen Nursery in Holland, but I received my start from the late Dennis Dodge of Connecticut. It was originally discovered and named by the late Ed Rezek of the USA, for he liked to germinate the seed from other dwarf hinokies, and he is also known for 'Maureen' (after his wife), and a very tight green upright – given to me as a seedling – which I never got around to officially naming...except to call it 'Rezek'. Everybody loves the plant when they see it, except they must wonder why I “named” a plant as 'Rezek'. Compared to the thousands of C.o. 'Nana Gracilis' grown every year, 'Rezek' is more impressive with a more tight, chiseled appearance. 'Butterball', 'Maureen' and 'Rezek' illustrate the wide array of offspring that can result from just one mother tree.

Dianthus 'Inshriach Dazzler'

Dianthus 'Blue Hills'

Dianthus 'Dainty Dame'

My grandfather
The Dianthus genus consists of cultivars that are undeniably cute, especially the little miniatures. The genus name comes from Greek dios for “heavenly” or “of Zeus” and anthos for “flower.” Christians believe that the first Dianthus bloomed on earth when Mary wept for Jesus as he carried his cross. Dianthus are commonly called “pinks” as some species do flower that color. It is uncertain why they are also commonly called “carnations,” but one theory is that it is from Latin caro for “flesh” as in the incarnation of Christ. Another theory is that it is a corruption of coronation due to the crown-like look of the flower petals. My (real) grandfather was a large masculine man – he was the starting guard for Penn State in the Rose Bowl of 1923 – yet he regularly wore a carnation from his garden on his lapel. We grow and sell Dianthus individually in our “alpine plant” group, or combine them with maples and dwarf conifers in our troughs and pumice gardens.

Felicia amelloides

Years ago I had a pot of Felicia amelloides in GH20 since the species is only hardy to USDA zone 9. It was mighty cute when in flower, and then later I realized that I couldn't find it anymore. How could it disappear? Did it die and an employee throw it out? Or did a visitor or employee love it as much as I did and take it home? If I saw one at a garden center I would probably buy one again, inspired by the photo above of a nice specimen taken in southern California a few years ago. The amelloides species is evergreen and is native to South Africa and its specific name refers to its aster-like (amellus) flowers. I don't know who named the Felicia genus – one source suggests it was named after Herr Felix, mayor of Regensburg on the Danube about 1845. Another possibility is that it is from Latin felix meaning “happy,” which is the origin I prefer as it is a cute, happy-looking plant, or rather it makes the viewer happy when looking at it.

Globularia cordifolia

Another cute daisy is Globularia cordifolia, a miniature evergreen shrub from central and southern Europe. It forms a dense mat with tiny spoon-shaped leaves*, and some companies champion its use as a groundcover that you can step on. I wouldn't do it when it is blooming, however, as the globe-shaped flowers rise a few inches above the foliage.

*Cordifolia means “heart-shaped” leaves, but I like the “tiny green spoon” description better.

Leptospermum scoparium 'Kiwi'

There are dozens of other plants that define “cute,” but I'll finish with Leptospermum scoparium 'Kiwi', a dwarf form with tiny crimson flowers. The species is known as Manuka or the New Zealand Tea Tree. It is not at all related to the common tea, Camellia sinensis, but got its name when Captain Cook and his crew used the aromatic leaves to make a “tea,” believing it would protect them from scurvy...which didn't work. Instead they should have sought out Manuka honey, produced by bees pollinating the Leptospermum, for its nutritional content is up to four times that of normal flower honeys. 'Kiwi' makes a wonderful container plant, but too bad it is saddled with the difficult generic name of Leptospermum, a Greek word from Leptos for “thin” and sperma meaning “seed.” Also it is only hardy to USDA zone 8, or 10 degrees above 0F. Don't let that stop you, though; it is attractive enough that you can buy a new one every year.

Back to Haruko – all who know her find her to be cute. I won't be around but I can imagine her at 90 – an obaachan – still making people happy.

1 comment:

  1. Cute is as cute does--Haruko is special. D+M agree!