Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Doctors Three

The late Dr. Forrest Bump of – yep – Forest Grove, Oregon was an interesting man. He was our family doctor but he was equally famous in our community as a plantsman, in particular as an expert on Rhododendrons. While his patients sat waiting he might well have been attending a Rhododendron conference in Scotland or traipsing through the forests of Sikkim in search of plants for his garden.

Dr. Bump was well-known for his generosity. He invited me to visit his garden “anytime,” whether he was there or not, and he was delighted when I was interested enough to take cuttings. For him the purpose of plants was to analyze and understand them, to study how they evolved into such fascinating creatures, and then to make sure the visitor had something to take home for his own garden. It would not be hard to imagine Dr. Bump in a toga and sandals discoursing with Theophrastus or Aristotle about whether or not a particular Rhododendron possessed a soul.

Acer palmatum 'Tiger Rose'

Acer palmatum 'Miwa'

Dr. Bump's garden was rather crowded, weedy and wild, but he never seemed to worry about its overall appearance, for he was more focused on the individual contents therein. The greenhouse sagged, its poly torn and flapping, and flats of maple seedlings vied with liverwort to gain purchase; indeed a story of survival of the fittest. One success was the remarkable discovery of a seedling from Acer palmatum 'Azuma murasaki' that he went on to name 'Tiger Rose'. The “tiger” part was due to the stripes found on the reticulated leaves, and the “rose” part was because one early spring morning the foliage displayed a decidedly pinkish hue, and Bump's wife was named Rose besides. At about the same time as he selected and named 'Tiger Rose' I had discovered and introduced Acer palmatum 'Miwa', which I probably would not have done had I known that 'Tiger Rose' was on the horizon. 'Miwa' is a nice name, though, and in Japanese mi means “beautiful” and wa means “peace.” I take that to mean subtle beauty and Miwa makes for a lovely Japanese girl's name; in fact I had a nice Miwa-person encounter years ago, and it was my wife who suggested the name for the maple.

Dr. Mossman with Betula ermanii

Rhododendron occidentale

Rhododendron x 'Taurus'

Acer palmatum 'White Peaches'

Acer palmatum 'White Peaches'

Acer palmatum 'Peaches & Cream'

Another doctor acquaintance was the late Dr. Frank Mossman, and he was no less the plantsman. He was famous for deciduous azalea (Rhododendron occidentale) research and promotion, and it was Mossman who crossed R. strigillosum with R. Jean Marie de Montague to create the fantastic R. x 'Taurus'. He was one of the first – or the first – in America to acquire Acer palmatum 'Peaches and Cream', a variegated maple cultivar from Arnold Teese in Australia who used A. p. 'Shigitatsu sawa' as the seed parent, crossed with A. p. 'Beni shigitatsu sawa' as the pollen source. A dozen or so years later I came across a glowing specimen of 'Peaches and Cream' – or so the label read – in Dr. Bump's garden on a glorious spring day. His source was Dr. Mossman, but Bump's plant appeared more white than the strain I was used to. When quizzed, both doctors independently shrugged their shoulders… like I was the one with the dubious eyesight. I shouldn't say that there is, or can be, two different strains for a cultivar, because it either is, or is not the real 'Peaches and Cream'. Nevertheless, Bump had a more white version. I keep the progeny separate from the Mossman grafts and call the former 'White Peaches' and the latter as 'Peaches and Cream'.

Acer palmatum 'First Ghost'

One explanation for the possibility of two 'Peaches and Creams' occurred on a maple in my landscape, a selection eventually named A.p. 'First Ghost'. It originated as a mutant branch at the top of A.p. 'Aka shigitatsu sawa' (which was eventually renamed A.p. 'Beni shigitatsu sawa'). After a few years of growth I saw the 'Beni s. s.' one evening just before dark, and it looked for all the world like a ghost hovering over a darker tree. At first my propagules were simply named 'Ghost', then changed (before any were sold) to 'First Ghost' when I realized I had developed a “ghost” series. Did you follow that?, that the separate – and now stable – 'First Ghost' originated from a certain part of the original 'Beni shigitatsu sawa', and that 'White Peaches' possibly originated in a similar mutant fashion. This isn't necessarily my theory, and certainly I have no dog in the fight; and it is entirely possible that someone just screwed up a label at some point.

My experience with doctors, by the way, is that they (want) tend to slot phenomena into precise cubbyholes. But like a rebellious child, plants have a mind of their own; and the nurseryman “cannot stop them, but can only hope to contain them.” About 30 years ago a defensive college football lineman – who went onto a long and lucrative professional career – was asked if and how he would be able to stop the offensive prowess of his opponent. He implied that it would be no problem, that he was able to “stop the world from spinning.”

Magnolia macrophylla

Magnolia macrophylla

Dr. Mossman gave me my start of Magnolia macrophylla, and I couldn't believe the flower and leaf size when I encountered it in his garden. He wisely advised me to plant mine in an area protected from the wind, least the leaves tear and tatter, so I planted it at the bottom of my southern woods where the tall fir (Pseudotsuga) trees protect it. Before I had met Dr. Mossman I was already a “veteran” of horticulture, having worked in a wholesale nursery for about six years, and at the time I assumed that I knew just about everything about plants. But I realized how shallow I really was after a walk through his large landscape with a few acres of Betula, Acer, Magnolia, Rhododendrons and much more. Like Dr. Bump's, Mossman's landscape was rough, and the plant identification was solely in the brain of the good doctor…who almost remembered everything…

Rhododendron williamsianum

Rhododendron williamsianum

Dr. Mossman had a couple of Dr. Seuss-like creations planted near his house, where the mop-headed Rhododendron williamsianum was top-grafted at about 5-6' tall. He said his only regret was that he didn't use a more ornamentally impressive species for the trunk, like R. thomsonii.

Acer pentaphyllum

I learned from Mossman that certain Acer species were compatible, and one could successfully graft two amazingly diverse species – Acer pentaphyllum and Acer griseum, both from China – onto Acer rubrum from North America. Indeed, it was from Mossman that I got my start of the rare Acer pentaphyllum, and I now have more in my nursery than exists in the wild in China. We also found it easy to root from softwood cuttings under mist in the summer, though a cutting-grown crop was not as uniform as one using A. rubrum rootstock.

Abies bracteata

Abies bracteata 'Corbin'

Dr. Corbin was the third of the “Three Wise Men,” and though none of these doctors followed any star to find me, Dr. Corbin also allowed me to collect starts from his garden, which I valued more than gold, frankincense or myrrh. One tree that he was particularly fond of was Abies bracteata, the “Bristle-cone fir” from the coastal mountains of mid-California. He would point out the small cones at the top – about 50' up – with their long thin bracts, and he longed to have one in hand but they always disintegrated on the tree. He was in his 70's at the time, too old to climb, and I supposed that he thought I would be able to ascend to gather cones, but I prudently kept my feet on the ground.

Magnolia x 'Burncoose'
Magnolia x 'Caerhay's Surprise'

Dr. Corbin was also well-known for his Magnolias, and in fact the Magnolia Society would gather in his garden. Though climbing the Abies bracteata was too risky, he did climb up into his Magnolia trees and graft scions of newly acquired cultivars. With the boost from a large mother tree, his M. x 'Burncoose' or M. x 'Caerhays Surprise' would flower after a couple of years, as all old gardeners know that their time on earth is limited.

Haruko with Magnolia x 'Caerhay's Belle'

Dr. Corbin was particularly proud of his Magnolia x 'Caerhays Belle' which produced huge blossoms. He proudly showed off a photo of his great granddaughter with a flower as big as her face which was featured in Sunset magazine. I don't have access to that photo so I substituted one of my wife, Haruko.

Magnolia x 'Caerhay's Belle' in the Corbin Section at Flora Farm

I have a couple of 'Caerhay's Belle' near my house, the starts coming from Corbin's garden, and the area is known in the Flora Wonder Arboretum as the “Corbin section.” When he passed away his daughter moved onto the property. While she professed to love the trees, her passion didn't match the doctor's and in one area she wanted to remove a number of larger Acer palmatum cultivars so she could plant plum trees in their stead. I volunteered to dig and preserve the trees to which she agreed. These were planted near the 'Caerhays Belle', hence a “Corbin section.” Mrs. Corbin outlived her husband by six or seven years, and she seemed pleased when we brought her out to see her trees, though she too has now passed.

Who knows what will happen to any of the trees that came from the doctors' gardens? We don't possess them for eternity ourselves, but we can share them with other and they can live on in that way. My time, and my children's time with them will be relatively short, but the trees have been great friends of the family.

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