Styrax japonicus 'Evening Lights'
It is understandable why the first pioneers in Oregon migrated to the wonderful farmland soils of the Willamette Valley, and on our trip we passed numerous crops of wheat, fescue, onions and corn. I don't hate Hostas, but I certainly wouldn't drive an hour and a half to see them, but it turns out that Sebright's certifiable plant nerd, Thomas Johnson, has long been in the process (since 2000) of amassing a world-renowned plant collection...presented on beautifully-tended grounds. His plants range from conifers to evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs, some fairly well-known but many oddballs that make you wonder: where did he get this, or where did he get that? Most of the plants looked super lush and vigorous, and at first I couldn't identify an Edgeworthia chrysantha – which I've grown forever – for its enormous leaves. Also, plants relatively new to horticulture, such as Styrax japonicus 'Evening Lights' can be seen at a surprisingly large size.
Let me report on some of the garden gems that impressed me:
|Aesculus hippocastanum 'Wisselink'|
|Aesculus hippocastanum 'Wisselink'|
The “variegated horse chestnut,” Aesculus hippocastanum 'Wisselink' was found by William Wisselink as a chance seedling near the Dutch village of Aalten. I've only seen it in two gardens: the Bellevue Botanic Garden near Seattle and today at Sebright. Surprisingly the beautiful cultivar is not listed in the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014), nor in Krussmann's Manual of Cultivated Broad-Leaved Trees and Shrubs (1984), nor in Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles (1982), perhaps the three most stalwart of publications for the horticulturalist and gardener. My visit to Sebright was in mid June, with overcast skies and a warm drizzle, and the 'Wisselink' positively lit up the landscape. I would walk on coals to get a start of this.
Cornus kousa 'Tri-splendor'
Another shiner was Cornus kousa 'Tri-Splendor', and my Grandfather and I both admired it from across the lawn. Gramps asked if I grew that cultivar and my answer was “Hell no, it's the competition,” meaning that it and another variegated kousa, 'Wolf Eyes', compete world-wide in sales with my 'Summer Fun'. My selection is better, though, with larger leaves...without the wavy margins that turn crisp-colored and roll upward in hot weather. Nurseries both large and small now produce thousands of 'Summer Fun', but it doesn't do me any good as the cultivar is patentless.
By the way the original 'Summer Fun' is at the nursery and I see it daily from out the office window. It originated as a mutant branch off of a Cornus kousa var. chinensis rootstock that was growing in GH14. I don't deserve any credit for its discovery because how could one miss it? I left a portion of the green on the seedling for a few years until I was able to successfully propagate the mutation, and then I boldly cut off all of the green. It is not surprising that I have grafted plants – on green kousa rootstock – that are now larger than the original 'Summer Fun'.
|Daphniphyllum teijsmannii 'Variegated'|
A very exciting thing about Sebright Gardens is that Thomas is expanding the plantings; and he has to since he keeps gathering more and more, and thankfully some are from me. In a new bed he showed me a large-size bush of Daphniphyllum teijsmannii 'Variegated'* that he bought from me the year before. I don't actually remember the sale – the sell – but I have one left at my nursery of the same age and size. The origin of this cultivar, for me, was the return of a favored Japanese intern named Atsuo Nakada who shoved plants in his shoes, socks and underwear for me when he visited about ten years ago. Then, he revisited a few years ago and he did the Japanese Aaaaahaaaa Jump-Back – like he was having a mock heart attack at the Daphniphyllum's size – which humored me greatly. Anyway Thomas now has one of the two original specimens in his new bed, and – as well as the money I made – I was pleased to see it thriving in a most estimable garden. Thomas and I each have one, then, and are they the first or largest in America?
*God, the nomenclature from Japan can be frustrating, because it must have a Japanese cultivar name – not 'Variegated'!
A glossy-green sapling greeted me in one of the newly planted beds. It was Firmiana simplex, the “Chinese parasol tree,” and though I loved its large shiny leaves Thomas should know that it can grow up to (and perhaps exceed) 50' tall. Also it is known as an aggressive species and is considered by some to be a weed as the self-fertile seeds can spread rapidly where conditions are favorable. But who am I to spoil his fun? From a distance it could easily be mistaken for our native Acer macrophyllum, but instead it is a member of the Malvaceae family. I guess the Firmiana exemplifies what I've described about some of the contents in Sebright's collection: though I have never seen Firmiana grown wholesale nor offered retail, yet somehow Thomas acquired it for his garden.
It's easy to cheer for Sebright because they are bold enough to try growing questionably hardy plants; I can enjoy them, in other words, at their expense. One such is Magnolia lotungensis (zone 8) which is commonly called the “Eastern Joy Lotus Tree.” The southeastern China native is also known botanically as Parakmeria lotungensis and Magnolia nitida var. lotungensis. It needs considerable room because in the wild it can attain 100' tall. The tree is evergreen but in Oregon that is not always an attribute, as battered and discolored leaves persist throughout winter until new growth pushes them off in spring. The species is considered Endangered due to logging and deforestation by the IUCN Red List, and it is estimated that less than 2,500 mature trees still exist, so it is a good thing that M. lotungensis is being propagated and grown in the Western world, and that Sebright has at least one in its garden.
Acer crataegifolium 'Veitchii'
It was fun to see Acer crataegifolium 'Veitchii', a cultivar I used to root, or graft onto any stripe-bark species. Sales were never great for it though, so I discontinued its production, content to have just one in the collection. I transplanted my specimen into the Maple Field at Flora Farm...and it resented the move. The following spring the green leaves appeared with virtually no other color. That was the same spring that Masayoshi Yano, the Japanese maple collector and author, came to visit. As we were walking through the field he paused silently at the 'Veitchii', glanced down at the label, then back up at the tree, then down at the label again, then up to me. Through an interpreter I stuttered that it really was 'Veitchii', and I rummaged through the bush until I found a leaf with a hint of white. It remained without variegation for yet another spring, then finally colored normally the third. On the fourth spring it didn't leaf out at all – it was dead. The crataegifolium species (“Hawthorne maple”) was introduced from Japan in 1879 by Charles Maries, and 'Veitchii' was introduced soon after in 1881. The closeness of these two dates makes me wonder if Maries brought the variegated selection back from Japan too, or was it later discovered in England? I have no answer to that question, except in my research I consulted DeBeaulieu's An Illustrated Guide to Maples and received his opinion that 'Veitchii' is “quite difficult to propagate.” I never found it so.
I wasn't surprised to find Emmenopterys henryi in the Sebright garden; it is rare in cultivation, and I only see it in European and American arboreta. I'm not sure why it's not more common – perhaps it's a hardiness issue – but when introduced in 1907 by E.H. “Chinese” Wilson, he called it “one of the most strikingly beautiful trees of Chinese forests.” I know that it is slow to flower – it took over 75 years at Wakehurst Place in England – so collecting seed outside of China would be problematic. But the young shoots look like the type of wood that would strike roots under mist in summer, and I wonder if anyone has tried. Emmenopterys* is a mouthful to pronounce for the lay gardener, but it means “persistent wings” in reference to the flower bracts that stay attached to the seed capsules. The specific epithet honors Augustine Henry (1857-1930) who was an Asian customs inspector for the British and who made important plant collections in China. Though now endemic to China, fossils from the Eocene show that it once grew in western North America and Europe.
*It was described and named by Professor Daniel Oliver who was Keeper of the Kew Herbarium.
|Jermyn's House, Hiller Arboretum|
Hydrangea aspera 'Plum Passion'
A group of Hydrangea aspera featured purple-green foliage, and I knew it was 'Plum Passion', the recent Dan Hinkley/Monrovia (Lowes Box Store) introduction that was discovered by Mikinori Ogisu in central China. I'll probably never grow it as the flowers didn't impress me when I saw them last year. Besides, I don't care for the cultivar name, which Monrovia also used for a Nandina a few years ago. Were they in such passion that they forgot?
|Lysimachia paridiformis var. stenophylla|
|Lysimachia paridiformis var. stenophylla|
Also collected in the wild in China by Mikinori Ogisu is Lysimachia paridiformis var. stenophylla. It is a shade-lover and thrives in moist soil, and Sebright's was sited perfectly. We were too early to see the yellow flowers which will crowd into a central cluster later this summer, but even in June the evergreen foliage was lush and cheerful. Lysimachia is a member of the Primulaceae family and is commonly called the “Chinese loosestrife.” The botanical name is Latinized Greek for “ending strife,” as well as the common name, but I can't find out how that came about. Another, more familiar species of Lysimachia is nummularia* which is commonly known as “Creeping Jenny.”
*The specific epithet comes from the Greek word nummus for “coin” due to the round leaf-shape; others say it is because of the color and roundness of the yellow flower.
Another Chinese plant was Carpinus fangiana, the “Monkeytail hornbeam.” It is a luxurious-looking species with very large leaves, and once established it will produce long ornamental female flowers. C. fangiana was named after Fang Wen Pei (1899-1983), a famous botanist who collected over 20,000 specimens in western China and who discovered over 100 new species.
A Dactylorhiza maculata, the “Heath Spotted orchid” was in flower; it spikes to about 24” above the ground – “look at me, look at me.” I used to grow this European (also Iceland) orchid – or rather, I had one plant of it – but I think mine was poorly sited since they are native to bogs and moist pastures and mine was in neither. The generic name Dactylorhiza refers to the terrestrial orchid's 2 tubers which are divided like fingers, while the specific name maculata refers to the spots on the leaves.
|Pinus uncinata 'Parade Kissen'|
|Pinus uncinata 'Pixie'|
|Pinus sylvestris 'Green Penguin'|
There are a number of conifers in the garden, some new selections, some old standbys like Abies pinsapo 'Glauca', and some interesting little miniatures from Europe. A couple of teenies were Pinus uncinata 'Parade Kissen' (“Parade Cushion”) and Pinus uncinata 'Pixie'. An interesting upright narrowly-compact dwarf pine was Pinus sylvestris 'Green Penguin', which was selected at J Farms in Oregon about 17 years ago. The tree produces normal – though short – needles, but in late summer an additional lighter-green twisted juvenile flush occurs. This phenomenon is not unique to 'Green Penguin', for it happens with a few other pines such as Pinus sylvestris 'Globosa Viridis', but 'Green Penguin' is more garden-worthy because of its pillar shape.
|Taxodium distichum 'Hursley Park'|
A large Taxodium distichum 'Hursley Park' – some have it 'Hurly' or 'Hursly) – demonstrates that it is not a dwarf as frequently stated.
Ginkgo biloba 'Spring Grove'
Another “conifer” that initially shocked me at its size was Ginkgo biloba 'Spring Grove', for it is also considered to be dwarf. It originated as a witch's broom mutation on a male Ginkgo in Spring Grove Cemetery in Ohio. One explanation for its size is that there was more than one broom propagated, which begs the question: which witch's broom? We only grow one of the brooms – 'Spring Grove W.B. 87' – and that leads me to wonder if there are at least 86 more? In any case my clone only reaches the size of a basketball in 8-10 years.
Thomas wasn't so fortunate with his Cinnamomum porrectum, and I saw that it had been edited from the landscape due to our cold winter. It had impressed me greatly the year before with its graceful evergreen leaves that are much more elegant than your typical Eucalyptus. C. porrectum is commonly known as “Thep Taro” and is found mainly in southern Thailand. It is an aromatic tree and is used medicinally as a heart tonic, antioxidant, antibacterial and for a lot of other problems. The Cinnamomum – which of course wouldn't be hardy in Oregon – exemplifies the plant collector's lust for the exotic and a strong case of hardiness-zone denial. Even though global warming didn't quite work out and the tree perished, at least Thomas was able to enjoy it for a season or two. Another way of looking at it is that all gardeners have a relationship with their trees, some casual and some intense. In all cases either the tree or the gardener will die, one before the other, so at best the gardener is only “borrowing” his tree...or the tree his gardener. I remind myself of that every December when my family and I go out to cut a Christmas tree: that we'll only be able to borrow it for three weeks, and God bless the tree farmer who worked hard to provide a nice one for our home.