Friday, March 10, 2017

The First Buchholz Catalog

For the first three years since the founding of Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery I had a few plants for sale – rooted cuttings and 1-year grafts – and they were listed on a single sheet of paper which was folded in thirds and mailed to potential customers. Those were the years (1980-1983) before the world had email or fax machines. My first real catalog was a cute little thing with two staples and consisted of twenty pages. It was distinguished by the artwork of friend Elizabeth Bishop, and I always loved it when I could exchange my plants for her art.

The cover of the 1984-85 Wholesale Catalog shows a stooped old geezer hand-in-hand with a young child, and it sure looks like we are walking past a “mountain hemlock,” my favorite conifer. Wait! What? – who is the “me” in the “we” – the child or the old man? I was told that I was both, that the leading and nurturing of the child is like a nurseryman tending to his young plants. And also Ms. Bishop projected that I would have a life-long affair with my trees, with nature. Right: now I am old, but perhaps not as serene as the old duffer.

I miss the catalog days, as now all business is conducted on our website. The old catalogs seem more personal and friendly than looking sideways at a computer monitor. I don't Kindle – or whatever it's called when you read a book on a device, because I would rather hold print on paper. I'm the kind of guy who prefers to annually kill a real tree at Christmas rather than reuse an artificial tree, though the latter would be more simple and cost effective.

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Let's look back at what I was selling thirty-some years ago. I was able to peddle the “Dwarf balsam fir,” Abies balsamea 'Nana' as rooted cuttings for $0.25 apiece, and I made good money on them as nearly everything rooted. I described it then as a “slow growing dwarf with dark green needles.” Now, on our website, I elaborate and advise that it is “perfect for a rock garden.” I should rethink that comment because I have since seen an old specimen about 4' tall by 7' wide. In Oregon the balsamea 'Nana' also prefers PM shade to look its best. It's not that it burns – if given adequate moisture – but the lush green color bleaches out as soon as we reach 100 degrees. Once considered a staple of dwarf conifers, one seldom sees them for sale, at least not in Oregon retail nurseries. I sold my last 'Nana' pot a couple of years ago, and nothing remains in the nursery landscape either. Actually that's sad because I remember how pretty the fresh green spring growth was in contrast with the old dark green needles. I hate how “business” often gets in the way of fun, and I think I'll seek out the fir again and put at least one back into the garden.

In 1984-85 I was gaining momentum with maples, listing 57 species and cultivars for sale, with the vast majority being Acer palmatum cultivars. For some reason author, collector and maple guru J.D. Vertrees took an interest in me and helped me to acquire the beginning of my collection. $3.75 was a lot to ask, I thought, for 'Aoyagi', 'Butterfly', 'Higasayama', 'Orido nishiki' (now 'Oridono nishiki'), 'Sekimori' and others as a 1-year graft, but customers willingly forked over their payments. The Vertrees Japanese Maples book was in print and my wholesale customers and the gardening public went into a frenzy, much as the Europeans did with the tulip in the 1600's. My prices were sober, however, with the stalwarts such as 'Bloodgood', 'Viridis', 'Garnet', 'Crimson Queen', 'Ever Red' etc., those that would be grown commercially by the it would turn out, and those went for $2.50 for a 1-year graft.

Acer palmatum 'Red Filigree Lace'

Acer palmatum 'Red Filigree Lace'

I had not acquired Acer palmatum 'Red Filigree Lace' by 1984-85, a delicate laceleaf that Vertrees enthused about in his 1978 first-edition of Japanese Maples. I think that was about the time that nurseryman John Mitsch of Oregon sold stock plants to Iseli Nursery, also of Oregon. Then we heard that someone snuck in at night and stole a few. Eventually another Oregon nursery was offering 'Ruby Lace' which was identical to 'Red Filigree Lace'. Hmm. I bought a start of 'Ruby Lace' and in 1984-85 I was selling grafts for a whopping $5.75. About eight years later when I compared the two “cultivars” side-by-side I dropped the 'Ruby Lace' charade and changed my labels to the proper 'Red Filigree Lace'. I grow the latter today, but not so many because they are so slow, and are often one-sided. The largest 'Red Filigree Lace' in the world is planted near the Buchholz Nursery office and it stands 11' tall by 7-8' wide. Maple enthusiasts are stupefied by its size because it would seem to take a couple of hundred years to grow that large. I readily confess, however, that I “cheated,” that I grafted fifteen or so scions into the top branches of an old 'Bloodgood' specimen about 30 years ago, so I created my big monster in record time.

Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis

I could sell birches in the early years, but I doubt that now anyone would buy them from me. I first discovered Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis – which I misspelled with an m in the catalog – in the garden of the late Dr. Corbin of Portland, Oregon. He was a connoisseur of large-growing birches, and fortunately he owned a large estate on which to house them. Nevertheless the birch canopies would merge into the large Magnolias that he also collected. The tops of the Betula were scrappy but the orange-pink exfoliating trunks were attractive. Corbin's was a garden I would not have wanted, but at least his large trees afforded a good deal of shade in the summer. I have a small section at Flora Farm that is named FFCorbin. It contains a couple of specimens of Magnolia 'Caerhay's Belle', the starts of which came from the doctor's garden, plus a number of Japanese maples that his daughter wanted to get rid of so she could plant plum trees in their stead.

Cedrus libani 'Pendula'

Cedrus libani 'Green Prince'

I see that we listed Cedrus libani 'Pendula' and 'Nana' in 1984-85. I was never certain of the species with the 'Pendula', whether it was deodara or libani, but I bought it as the latter from a reputable conifer nursery in 1980 when it was already eight years old. The original is still here; in fact my parking spot at the nursery is right next to it. I came to learn that one had to be careful with the 'Nana', for some nurseries were selling it as if it was the same clone as 'Green Prince'. After I successfully segregated my stock trees – 'Green Prince' was more dwarf with darker foliage – I got rid of 'Nana' never to propagate it again. I wasn't selling grafts of 'Green Prince' in 1984-85 because I was building up my scion stock, but would do so soon thereafter. I may have the largest 'Green Prince' in the world, but I didn't create it by “cheating” like I did with the 'Red Filigree Lace' mentioned earlier. My specimen is about 45 years old and it has matured into a broad pyramidal tree, much more formal than the “irregular-shape” often described in the literature.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Wisselii'

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana rootstock with Chamaecyparis obtusa scions

I see that we were selling 1-year grafts of Chamaecyparis lawsoniana cultivars, and this was before the development of C. l. 'DR', or the disease resistant clone from Oregon State University that we currently graft onto. In 1984-85 we used Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd' which prevented the Phytophthora lateralis problem on the lawson species, and while the grafts would “take” and “live,” all of the cultivars – even the dwarves – would greatly outgrow the rootstocks. With the larger growing cultivars such as 'Wisselii', one needed serious staking to keep the concoction from tipping over in winter storms. The only C. lawsoniana-on-'Smaragd' remaining in the garden is one specimen of 'Minima Glauca', a boring selection (from 1863) with compressed blue-green foliage. For what it's worth, one can also graft lawsoniana cultivars onto non-disease-prone Chamaecyparis pisifera, but with the same top over-growth as with 'Smaragd' rootstock. Least anyone in the humid Midwest or East Coast gets too excited about lawsoniana cultivars, even if a perfect rootstock existed, the tops might not be too happy growing there anyway. Kind of like with me: I have been to the Carolinas in the spring and in the fall and I thought I was almost in heaven, but I know that if I was ever stuck there in the summer I would rather die.

Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star'

In 1984-85 I had a catalog and plants to sell, but what I didn't have was money. After the down payment on my (empty) property and an annual mortgage due, I had no money to buy pots, fertilizer, media etc. I worked full-time for other nurseries then came home at night to pot seedlings and graft plants. Yes, I spent long hours outside with a headlamp, but at least I was spared stupid programs on TV. But I did scrounge up enough money to buy 300 'Skyrocket' juniper, 4' tall in one-gallon pots at a dollar each.* The juniper nursery was facing hard times and the owner must have been puzzled why a start-up nursery would have a market for junipers that he couldn't sell. What he didn't know was that we would top graft them, and we would sell a one-gallon liner (for $3.50) of Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star', J. horizontalis 'Wiltoni' and J. procumbens 'Nana, all of which was a new concept, a new product for the nursery industry. Later we would grow thousands of top-grafted juniper for other wholesale growers, and even today many continue, though likely with smaller numbers. There was little profit for us with the enterprise because they required a lot of labor, room and stock trees, and we discontinued the practice in about 2000.

*Actually the experience was the first time that I was cheated in the nursery business. After the agreed price of one dollar each (on Saturday) my (then) wife arranged a truck (on Monday) to pick them up, and she had to go into their field and load herself. When she returned to their office to pay, after being fully loaded, she was told that the price was $1.50, and that news was delivered by the secretary as the owner had slipped out the back. My wife fumed and began to unload, but was told she had to do it back out in the field to avoid an additional handling charge. A week later another nurseryman intervened, for he wanted some top-grafts too, so we got them for one dollar after all. An interesting side bar to the story is that the cheater was “religious” – he sang in his church choir. A saying became popular with others who also dealt with him, since his last name was Gold, that “All that is Gold does not glitter.”

Pinus pinea

Pinus patula

I see that we were listing many hardy pines as 1-year grafts, but for some reason we were also offering Pinus pinea seedlings – the “Italian Stone Pine” – in pots for $2.50. The only market for the zone 8 species (10 degrees F) was California, and perhaps I fancied that some rich Californian would want to lay out his own Appian Way. The biggest problem was that the pine seeds were cheap – $5.00 maybe – but that all one thousand germinated. I potted one hundred and threw the rest away, and we actually were able to sell about half. When they got too big for the pots they were transplanted in one-gallons. They all perished outside in a cold winter because we had too little room at the Inn. The same poor-production planning also occurred with Pinus patula, the “Mexican weeping pine,” where too many germinated and most were thrown out. The zone 8 P. patula does survive in Oregon winters when grafted onto hardy Pinus sylvestris, and my Grandfather has a beautiful specimen in his garden with the Scot's rootstock.

Pinus parviflora 'Aoi'

Everyone loves the Japanese Pinus parviflora species, and in 1984-85 I was listing 'Glauca' at $2.50 each, and it was popular enough that I sold about 500 grafts (with P. strobus as rootstock). I also had obtained stock of the “new” P. p. 'Adcock's Dwarf' and I was able to sell grafts for $3.50 each. Actually there was nothing “new” about 'Adcock's Dwarf' for it originated as a seedling in the Sir Harold Hillier Garden in 1961 and was named for the propagator Graham Adcock. What I liked best about it is that grafts took nearly 100%; what I didn't like is that the cultivar would develop a needle drop in April due to our wet springs. New healthy growth would quickly follow, but imagine explaining that to your garden-center customers every year. So we discontinued 'Adcock's Dwarf' for better-behaving (and more blue) dwarf cultivars such as 'Aoi', 'Blue Lou', 'Kobe' etc.

Pinus parviflora 'Adcock's Dwarf'

For years I did keep a large specimen of 'Adcock's Dwarf' in a wood box even though we were no longer selling young plants. This specimen was grafted at about 2' tall on a vigorous P. strobus rootstock. Within twenty years it had formed a ball about 6' tall by 5' wide. The eminent – some would say arrogant – JRP van Hoey Smith was visiting one day when he saw that the label on my pine said 'Adcock's Dwarf'. He spat and sputtered and could barely contain himself because I obviously had a mistake, that 'Adcock's Dwarf' could never grow so large. If there was to be a debate I could see that it would be one-sided, so I just thanked him for setting me straight. Later that winter he sent me “correct” scions, and I grafted a few and grew them along side my “rong” scions, and of course they were identical. One could learn an important lesson about plants with this experience, that growing conditions in Oregon might be superior to The Netherlands for certain plants. Also, a “pushed” – watered and fertilized – pine in a container might grow twice as fast as yours in the ground at your European arboretum. And finally, maybe Buchholz with his German ancestry is twice as capable of growing pines than any Dutchman. Ok...the last statement was blasphemous and I didn't really mean it.

Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii'

A tree that has always fascinated me is Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii' and I have blogged about it before.* The cultivar is a disaster if topped-grafted on any rootstock because the contorted top will outgrow and consume its feeble trunk. Grafting on ground level is better, but you'll always be fighting rootstock suckers. Therefore, I reasoned in 1984-85 that one should root 'Camperdownii' and then train it up to the desired height so it could form its dome. The elm roots, but only a few come away vigorously while others just sit there with small leaves and no new growth. Propagators hate half-assed crops, and we would rather that most thrive or that all die. I eventually tired of my crummy crop and decided to dump them rather than to nurse them along.

*One can learn more by typing Camperdownii in the white search box on the home page of the Flora Wonder Blog, but finish this blog first.

Paging through past Buchholz literature is like stumbling upon one's old high school yearbook. Who was I then and what was I doing? Mainly, I think, I was just trying to survive.

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