Friday, September 22, 2017

Arrivals and Departures

It's not that I express a ruthless capitalistic bent, but it's true that I will occasionally peddle a tree for profit when my heart cries out to not do so. The largest of this, the first or original of that, the last one of something else... they have appeared on the Buchholz Nursery sales list and I try to not wince once one is loaded onto the truck and the back doors are closed. The tree goes off to someone else, and like with a child leaving home I must adjust to the situation and adapt to the absence that its departure creates.

Consider the late Mary Cornish's poem Numbers, where she explains, “Even subtraction is never loss, just addition somewhere else...”

I like the generosity of numbers.
The way, for example,
they are willing to count
anything or anyone:
two pickles, one door to the room,
eight dancers dressed as swans.

I like the domesticity of addition--
add two cups of milk and stir--
the sense of plenty: six plums
on the ground, three more
falling from the tree.

And multiplication's school
of fish times fish,
whose silver bodies breed
beneath the shadow
of a boat.

Even subtraction is never loss,
just addition somewhere else:
five sparrows take away two,
the two in someone else's
garden now.

There's an amplitude to long division,
as it opens Chinese take-out
box by paper box,
inside every folded cookie
a new fortune.

And I never fail to be surprised
by the gift of an odd remainder,
footloose at the end:
forty-seven divided by eleven equals four,
with three remaining.

Three boys beyond their mothers' call,
two Italians off to the sea,
one sock that isn't anywhere you look.

Acer palmatum 'Corallinum'

I don't know about the two Italians off to the sea, but I've always had at least one sock missing. Still, I don't let the selling-off of my arbor assets paralyze me. Once an office employee lamented when I announced that x company had just purchased a favorite tree, “Oh, how could you sell that? I just love it.” I responded with, “Me too, but I sold it to finance your next payroll check,” and I probably displayed a sardonic smirk on my face with the explanation. The tree in question was an Acer palmatum 'Corallinum' specimen planted just south of the office, and I got a couple thousand dollars for it. I'm now glad that it's gone, especially since it was planted too close to the road and the nearby parking lot. It was always a source of tension for me, because knucklehead delivery drivers, or my own employees even, might have backed a truck into it and smashed it to smithereens – such has occurred elsewhere on the property! In any case I still sort of possess it – at least digitally – and at least my photographic memory remains safe from delivery trucks.

Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Pendulum'

How could anyone separate himself from the sage characters depicted above? These three “Weeping Giant Redwoods” graced the very eastern border of the nursery – the Beyond Section – along with about 20 others, and as anyone who has ever grown them knows: no two look alike. But this group of three seemed to possess a spirit that went beyond that of normal plant life. When the “hedge” reached 15-20' tall, an Oregon re-wholesale nursery proposed to buy the lot, which would include their labor to dig, and with no required guarantee on my part that the plants would survive. My three friends had begun to change after the year of the photograph anyway, and new growth made them different, like they had no connection with each other any more. Their spirit had departed and they became mere trees to harvest, and surely I needed all of the cash I could get. It took two days for their removal, which also included the company filling in the craters. I stayed away the entire time, then sauntered out alone to inspect the grounds the following Sunday. The buyers had performed as promised, short of one broken water valve that we had to repair, but I was left feeling empty, like I hadn't given my old friends enough time to regroup or to form other connections with each regain their spirit.

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood'

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' made its appearance in Oregon nurseries in the mid-to-late 1970's, and although no one knows for certain the cultivar's origin, Vertrees in Japanese Maples suggests that “it appears to have been cultivated in the United States since well before World War II.” In any case it quickly became popular and is now the standard by which other similar cultivars are compared. Catchy name too. I suspect that it is the cultivar grown in the largest number – whether by rooted cuttings or by grafting – in the world. Unfortunately it has become a generic name where its seedling progeny have been offered for sale to me as 'Bloodgood' “at a good price.” I declined as any seedling – even if dark red with 'Bloodgood' as the mother tree – still is not a true 'Bloodgood'.

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood'

The 'Bloodgood' above was the first I acquired – from a reputable source and originally from Holland. It grew near the office and displayed a particularly attractive canopy. A wheeler-dealer middle-man from Oregon saw it and wanted to buy it. “It's not for sale,” I said. “For $500 he countered?” “Ok sold.” The only problem was that it was April 25th and the tree was already in leaf. The buyer said he had experience digging trees in leaf, and that it should be ok if the rootball was sufficiently large. So with the money up-front we dug the tree, and apparently it did survive. I could afford to part with it because I had developed enough propagation stock from it, and sort of like with loaves and fishes I could still supply my multitude of customers with one-year-grafts. At one point, when we were America's preferred source of maple liners, we produced over 20,000 per year...all offspring from the one original tree.

Ginkgo biloba 'Jade Butterflies'

In the stead of the harvested 'Bloodgood' I planted a Ginkgo biloba 'Jade Butterflies'. Most consider it to be dwarf, but mine grew into a vigorous dense cone to about 16' tall. I didn't want to sell it because of its fantastic shape, but it was sandwiched between two fast-growing upright maples. Eventually the two maples – Acer palmatum 'Umegae' and 'Sherwood Flame' will co-mingle, but I may or may not be around to see it. 'Jade Butterflies' is described by Hillier in his Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014) as “A slow-growing, dwarf, male cultivar, with dense, small, dark green leaves said to resemble butterfly wings.” Commas [sic] Hillier. It's funny because one of my past customers for 'Jade Butterflies' described the leaves in his catalog as being unusually large. The explanation is that he was buying our vigorous 3-year-old grafts that were housed in a greenhouse with lots of water and fertilizer, and indeed the leaves were large. The Hillier description of small leaves is correct; and beware of blind men describing an elephant. I didn't correct my customer because he knew that he was smarter than me – the “Oh well: win some, lose some” guy from a previous blog.

Picea engelmannii 'Snake'

Picea engelmannii 'Snake' is aptly named and a most bizarre tree. As with the “weeping giant redwood” no two are alike. I once had one grow to 12' tall (in 6 years) with absolutely no side branching, and naturally a customer for the unusual had to buy it. Often 'Snake' can be unattractive as the narrow branches flop about, and too often the terminal bud will abort so you're left with a long dead stem after a few years. It is not really profitable for nursery production because if you cut off a terminal shoot for scionwood no side branching develops, and again you have a dead stem. If a tree does occasionally shape up nicely, however, it is a cinch to sell. Out of a couple of hundred that I have grown, one tree in particular grew into a full well-proportioned shape, yet with the wild snakes twisting out and we named it “Medusa.” We dug the tree and landscaped I nicely in our booth at the Farwest Nursery Show in Portland, Oregon (about 15 years ago when the show was still valid). No single tree before or since at the 40-year-old show was as unique or drew more attention than our Medusa. Plant people from all over America were amazed that such a thing could exist. Buchholz Nursery deserved no credit for it of course; it was nature herself that produced the specimen...and it just happened to appear at Buchholz Nursery. Ultimately it was sold, and I can't elaborate further because I can't remember who bought it.

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair'

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair'

Acer palmatum 'Red Cloud'

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair' was discovered at Buchholz Nursery 35 years ago in a seed flat with A. p. 'Scolopendrifolium' as the seed mother. It survived in the flat with about 100 other germinants because it was located in the corner where it could get some light. If it had germinated in the middle it would have been overwhelmed by its rivals. Interestingly, in the opposite corner of the same flat was a seedling with red linearlobum foliage, and that eventually became 'Red Cloud'. I was amazed that both trees survived the pot-up process as they appeared very delicate. The first chance was taken to propagate from the originals, and after 10 years we had both cultivars for sale. I don't remember who bought the original 'Red Cloud', and I didn't really care because its offspring – on vigorous green rootstock – outgrew the original.

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair'

I kept the first 'Fairy Hair' however, and it was placed for years in GH19 along with the first two propagules from it. As to be expected, the offspring were at one time about 4 times the size as the mother tree. Actually the mother was more of a “bush” than a “tree,” being about 5' tall and 6' wide, but it had an interesting contorted trunk. About 10 years ago a maple hobbyist – Sal R. from New Jersey, a retired hockey player who owned an Audi dealership – fell in love with the mother 'Fairy Hair', which the day before I never thought I would ever sell. I was amused by the sight of a smash-bang hockey player so enamoured with the delicate plant that I agreed to sell it to him. I could see that he would appreciate it so much. You see: deep down I am really a softy, and I just want to make people happy, especially maple enthusiasts.

Acer palmatum 'Sister Ghost' 
Acer palmatum 'Sister Ghost'

Things didn't work out so well for another Buchholz Nursery discovery and introduction – Acer palmatum 'Sister Ghost'. I mean we grow lots of them now and they sell well, but the original tree was “never” for sale...but I sold it anyway. It was a beautiful specimen, and in its glory one spring day a customer of a few years – the boys from Garden of Eden Nursery from Puyallup, Washington – fell in love with the original during their visit. I need cash to operate, and they were so enthused by the tree that I relented and sold it, and at a low price besides. Again, I just want to see people happy. Our terms were 30 days, but after 45 days and no payment I grew worried. To make a long (2-year) story short, I received partial payments every month and then they stopped altogether, with about $4,000 short of their $8,000 total order. Even though they paid for half of their 200-tree order, in my mind one of the trees they didn't pay for was the original 'Sister Ghost'. I don't know if they still have my tree or if they sold it, but they will never be forgiven. For me it's personal. Wisely, however, I will never stop in to “visit” them as things could get ugly.

Pinus bungeana

Pinus bungeana 'Silver Ghost'

Portland Chinese Garden
Pinus bungeana was the Holy Grail of conifers, at least in Oregon when I began my nursery 37 years ago. It could be grafted onto Pinus strobus as rootstock – a 3-needle onto a 5-needle – but often the union is not sound. After tossing out a number of yellow-and-dying rejects I lined out about 25 healthy, green trees into the Far East section, and I deemed them to be my piggy bank, the trees that would prosper and finance my children's college educations. Many times customers would request to buy one or all, but I refused...waiting for the big payday. I was smug because no one else on the west coast had any large trees for sale. In the meantime I used these trees as scion stock and sold a couple thousand one-year grafts. So, Buchholz was one clever nurseryman, right? Ah, winter we experienced a severe ice storm and I discovered how brittle the Chinese species' branches can be. I decided to break the bank: we dug the trees and put them into expensive wooden boxes, then we pruned the damaged branches which thinned out the canopies considerably. I began to sell them one at a time...up to three for one customer. They actually recovered from the ice beating and the following year my price increased. When I had only one left the price was double from the beginning and it was purchased by the new Chinese Garden in Portland. Now I only grow cultivars of P. bungeana such as 'Silver Ghost' and some of the dwarves and our compact selection 'Temple Gem', and now I sell them all at smaller sizes.

Picea likiangensis

Picea likiangensis is a vigorous Chinese species and I saw it first-hand near Lijiang, Yunnan. Though it varies in the wild, the form I saw was neat and conical with short blue-green needles. Its main ornamental attribute in my opinion are the beautiful red cones which can appear on young trees. Indeed, one of the tricks of horticulture is to field-plant likiangensis, then winter harvest at 4-6' tall. The shock of digging will compel them to produce cones at the garden center the following spring, and no one can resist it then. Unfortunately it is only hardy to USDA zone 6 and most of my market is in colder areas, and a second problem is that no one can pronounce or remember its name. I discontinued it eventually because I could just as easily produce hardy spruce where sales were strong. One winter my one old specimen blew over in a windstorm, but I didn't propagate from it because I could suffice with a couple of one-gallon pots in the container area, so it was still on the Ark. But wrong it turns out – 20 years later I still can't find those trees. As with a couple of women in my life, my affair with P. likiangensis has evolved into a bittersweet memory.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Ryoku gyoku'

Another plant that “left” the nursery was Cryptomeria japonica 'Ryoku gyoku', a miniature selection made by the late Edsal Wood of Oregon, found as a witch's broom on C. j. 'Tansu'. The cultivar is usually mispelled – even the American Conifer Society has it incorrectly listed – but the name translates as “green (jade) ball.” I got my start from Mr. Wood about 20 years ago, and it is now about 14” tall by 18” wide – not really a “ball,” but a flattened globe. When I say that it “left” the nursery, I don't mean that I sold it because it's still here. I had a group of about 20 horticulture students visiting our Display Garden years ago. As they were milling about I saw from a distance an older woman reach down and pinch off a portion of my 'Ryoku gyoku' and put it in her coat pocket. I went to the little bush and I verified the theft, and later I stood next to her and I could see the piece poking from her pocket. The Administrator of the horticulture department was leading the tour, and since she was a friend I didn't want to make a scene and embarrass her, and I never did tell her about it. That was about 20 years ago, and what's funny is that the culprit hag went on to start a nursery, and she actually buys liners from us now. She doesn't like me at all, she just wants our plants, and she's always sour because she must pay up front.

I participated on a tour of gardens in Europe with the American Conifer Society. We were given the following as encouragement to behave.

We would like to draw your attention to a “Golden Rule” which should be adhered to by all our guests participating on any of our tours:

Under no circumstances should cuttings, seedlings or seeds be taken from any nursery or garden visited, without prior consent of the owner(s).

In case of non-compliance with this rule the following may apply:

Awake, my Muse, bring bell and book
To curse the hand that cuttings took.
May every sort of garden pest
His little plot of ground infest.
Let caterpillars, capsid bugs,
Leaf-hoppers, thrips, all sorts of slugs,
Play havoc with his garden plot,
And a late frost destroy the lot.”

Plants have come and gone in my life and it has been an interesting and challenging journey. I chose this career so I shouldn't complain about anything, but I often wonder what my relationship with trees would be like if commerce was not attached to it. Less intense, certainly.

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