Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Flora Fun

Dear Reader,

The following blog was written over a month ago but a frenzy of nursery activities kept Seth from producing it. Let's get into the time machine and go back to the appropriate time when the plants were behaving as described.

I have plenty to complain about...but I won't. Instead I enjoyed our 65 degree, dry day with puffy clouds and singing birds. The plants are sexually expressing themselves, and I guess I have to admit to being a voyeur to their lust. Everything attempts to replicate itself, and there's a million different ways that it happens. Heck – we just finished a winter of grafting thousands of trees, a process that the Europeans refer to as copulation, and now we have an abundance of offspring to raise.

Rhododendron orbiculare 'Exbury'

Rhododendron x 'Winsome'

Many of our one-gallon pots of Rhododendron are blooming in the greenhouse now. R. orbiculare flowers are gorgeous for a day or two, but then we cut them off so all the energy will go to the plant. One must be careful to not damage the growth buds, so I gave the project to my trusted Juana. She looked at me with sorrowful eyes, like I was a cold, heartless brute who didn't appreciate the beautiful flowers. There was one small group of plants with a strange red flower. My brain didn't serve me as to its identity, so I bent over to check the label. Ah, of course: R. 'Winsome'. Yep, we cut them off too. The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs states that 'Winsome' is a cross of R. griersonianum and R. Humming Bird Group, and that it occurred in 1939 and won an Award of Merit in 1950. I had never heard of a Humming Bird Group, so I looked it up to find that it's R. haematodes* x R. williamsianum, and that helps to explain the strange color of 'Winsome'.

*haematodes means "blood-red."

Chianodoxa forbesii

Chionodoxa forbesii

There is an attractive rock near the office where I park my car every day. All winter the ground was bare near the rock, then one day the Chionodoxa forbesii flowers appeared, as if they require no time to develop. It is commonly known as "Glory of the Snow,"* and indeed we had a few fat flakes of snow on the day I found them blooming. The bulb requires no maintenance and it is hardy to -40 degrees, USDA zone 3. It is native to western Turkey and surprisingly is in the Asparagaceae family. Office manager Eric bought the bulbs cheaply at the chain grocery store during their half-price fall bulb sale, and they have popped up and are beginning to naturalize in various garden locations. Good clean fun, if you ask me.

*The genus name is from Greek chion for "snow" and doxa for "glory." The specific epithet honors James Forbes (1773-1861), a British botanist.

Camellia 'Elina Cascade'

Camellia 'Elina Cascade'

I recently purchased a plant of the patented Camellia 'Elina Cascade' from the Rhododendron Species Botanic Garden in Washington state. I was pleased to acquire it after seeing their weeping specimen a few years ago. One company (Camellia Forest) lists it as a C. japonica while the USA patent office describes it as C. tsaii var. synaptica, and I, not being a Camelia (or Camellia) guy, don't know the difference, but damn that it is patented. The species – unlike the 'Elina Cascade' – is an upright evergreen plant widespread throughout China's Yunnan and Hunan Provinces, and also in Burma and North Vietnam. It is variously listed as hardy to USDA zone 7 (ok in Oregon) or to zone 8 (yikes!). I will probably keep my plant in the greenhouse, and after I propagate a few – yes, illegal – then I will plant one outside. I promise that I won't grow them for sale, so just leave me alone. 'Elina Cascade' is cute, very cute, with tiny white flowers with pink bases, and combining that with a weeping habit makes it very unusual.

Mr. Shibamichi

My wife, Haruko, and I both met the "Godfather of Japanese Horticulture" – Akira Shibamichi – and he has visited my nursery and took an instant liking to Haruko, and because of that he has sent to me many wonderful plants. Anyway he is the nurseryman who discovered and named 'Elina Cascade'. I asked Haruko what is the meaning of "Elina," was it perhaps a Japanese woman's name? In any case I like the sound of it. Haruko said – "No, it's not a Japanese word or name." Well, my research reveals that Shibamichi named the plant after his daughter, so she's a woman I would love to meet. I have further learned that Elina is Greek for "sun ray" – could Shibamichi* be an aficionado of Classical Greek?! – and that Elina is an alternate form of Elena, an Italian and Spanish respelling of Helen. What great fun it is to be a plant detective!

*Haruko reports that Shibamichi is a very interesting man, that he is famous in Bhutan – a country I visited 25 years ago – and that Mr. S. has been there many times...and considers it his "second home."

Bergenia 'Angel Kiss'

Bergenia 'Pink Dragonfly'

The Bergenias are blooming inside of the greenhouse. 'Angel Kiss' flowers are snow white, then there are a number of other cultivars with pink blossoms, and like with maples there are probably too many names for almost the same thing. Our starts are produced via tissue culture, and the breeder/purveyor doesn't clue you in on what is the species or parents of the hybrids. His attitude is that you get numerous, large flowers on attractive foliage so don't worry about specific details. Bergenia is a genus of about 10 species that are native to central Asia and the Himalaya. I have seen them growing at about 10,000', clinging to drippy cliffs, but I never knew the species. Bergenia is in the Saxifragaceae family and was named for Karl A. von Bergen, a German physician and botanist.

Magnolia kobus var. stellata 'Royal Star'

Magnolia kobus var. stellata 'Royal Star'

Magnolia kobus var. stellata 'Jane Platt'

The Magnolias are flamboyant this month. The "Star magnolias" (M. kobus var. stellata) have been blooming for three weeks, while some of the other specific hybrids – like 'Vulcan' and 'Manchu Fan' – are just beginning to open. At the beginning of my career I would use the name Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star' or 'Jane Platt', then some "authority" convinced me that the proper name was M. kobus var. stellata, so I changed all my labels. Now I read that Hillier and also Gardiner in Magnolias – A Gardener's Guide consider kobus and stellata to be two separate species, so I wasted my time changing the labels. We used to root the M. stellata cultivars – they weren't so difficult – but now the only cultivar that we currently grow is 'Jane Platt', and it is propagated by grafting onto M. kobus rootstock.

'Jane Platt' was "discovered" by plantsman Roger Gossler of Springfield, Oregon, growing in Jane Platt's Portland, Oregon garden as 'Rosea'. Gossler was convinced that no other "rosea" displayed equal deep-pink flowers. Gossler relates in The Gossler Guide to the Best Hardy Shrubs (2009) that he saw Platt's tree in the 1970's, received cuttings and grew it for some years. Then he asked Mrs. Platt what she would like it to be named. Very uncharacteristically, she said, "How about 'Jane Platt'? When it was exhibited at the Royal Horticultural Society, it received an Award of Merit, a thrill to Mr. Platt and our family." By then Mrs. Platt had passed away so she never knew about the AM...unless she still gardens somewhere up in the sky.

Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium'
Acer japonicum 'Ao jutan'

Acer japonicum 'Giant Moon'

Acer japonicum 'Orange Fan'

Maple leaves are usually larger when grown in containers in the greenhouse, versus the same cultivar growing out in the garden, and so too with the flowers. The Acer japonicum blossoms are my favorite of those Acer species in the Palmata Section. Deep red flowers with yellow anthers is a nice color combination, and they dangle beneath the fresh, newly emerging leaves. I have a couple dozen cultivars of A. japonicum in the collection, although we don't propagate all of them. They are uniformly spectacular with autumn color, but that's apparently not enough for customers to purchase them in the spring. The first cultivar I acquired was 'Aconitifolium' – a horrible name, and so is its synonym, 'Laciniatum' – which was introduced about 1888. So much better is its Japanese name, 'Maiku jaku', which means "dancing peacock." I have introduced a few A. japonicum cultivars: 'Ao jutan' ("green weeping" in Japanese) which was discovered by the late Edsal Wood of Oregon, 'Giant Moon' with enormous green leaves and 'Orange Fan' which features copper-orange coloration in spring. Still, the cultivar that continues to sell the best is the old tried-and-true 'Aconitifolium'.

Arctostaphylos nevadensis 'Cascade'

Arctostaphylos nevadensis 'Cascade'

Arctostaphylos nevadensis 'Ponchito'

Two cultivars of Arctostaphylos nevadensis, 'Ponchito' and 'Cascade', have been blooming for some time now. The small nodding urn-shaped flowers are all you need to know that the genus is in the Ericaceae family, but don't automatically assume that the nevadensis species is native to the state of Nevada. Rosa nevadensis, for example, comes from Spain, and there is also a mountain range named "Sierra Nevada," which is Spanish for "snow-capped." Our Arctostaphylos is from Nevada state and California after all, and it is commonly known as the "Pinemat manzanita." I planted both cultivars in the rock garden section at the nursery, a large area of about two acres. They are both prostrate and I thought they would be cute tumbling between the rocks down the hillside. That was 25 years ago, and the behemoths took hold and they are now consuming the rocks, covering them up with great gusto. Another gardening mistake. My rocks are beautiful gray granite pieces, but what's the use if they are covered in green? If we have time this winter maybe my young energetic crew can tackle the groundcover, but that will take a lot of work, a bear-sized burden. The genus name is from Greek arctos meaning "bear" and staphyle meaning "grapes" in reference to bears eating the red fruits, hence another common name of "bearberry."

Ilex 'Rock Garden'

Ilex 'Rock Garden'

Ilex x 'Rock Garden'

I noticed a specimen of Ilex x 'Rock Garden' was flowering, but the blossoms are very small and dull green-white in color, so they are considered "insignificant" in botanical literature. Most Ilex are dioecious – with separate male and female plants – so a male pollinator is required to produce fruit on this female plant. x 'Rock Garden is a miniature (non-profitable) evergreen holly and it never berries heavily. Still, they are cute on the bush in winter...until the birds finally consume them. x 'Rock Garden' is a complicated hybrid of I. aquipernyi – itself a hybrid between I. aquifolium and I. pernyi – and I. integra, native to China, Japan and Korea. It is the most dwarf of the spiny-leaved evergreen hollies, maybe to 2' tall by 3' wide in 20 years; no, make that 30 years.

Androsace sempervivoides 'Susan Joan'

A trough near the office door contains the delightful Androsace sempervivoides 'Susan Joan', and it has been flowering for the past couple of weeks. The genus is in the Primulaceae family and it originated in the Himalaya. The 100-or-so species have now spread throughout Asian and European mountain systems such as the Caucasus, Alps and Pyrenees. The genus name Androsace is from Greek androsakes which is a sea plant (probably a species of Acetabularia). 'Susan Joan' was selected for the relatively large lilac-pink flowers with red centers that evolve with age to yellow, and it received the RHS's Award of Garden Merit. I don't know anything about Ms. Susan Joan, but I hope she is/was as attractive as the plant that bears her name.

Erysimum pulchellum

Also flowering in a trough is Erysimum pulchellum, another wonderful addition to our "alpine plant" program. This dense cushion of a plant with happy yellow blossoms is native to the limestone screes on the Uludag ("Great Mountain") of Turkey. The highest peak of this range is Kartaltepe at 8,343' and the area is famous for plants including Primula vulgaris, Crocus siberi, the yellow Crocus flavus and Doronicum orientale (leopard's bane). But be careful if botanizing here because there are a few wolf packs that roam in the forests. Erysimum is in the mustard family and the genus name is derived from Greek eryo, meaning "to draw" or "to drag," and refers to the plant's ability to produce blisters. Pulchellum or pulchellus is Latin diminutive of pulcher meaning "beautiful."

Phlox subulata 'Vivian's White Blanket'

Phlox 'Ochsen Blut'

Phlox 'Boranovice'

Phlox plants look dreadful in winter, or at least ours do, but now that the creepers are covered with flowers we are pleased that we propagate and sell a few outstanding forms. We even have introduced a miniature bun named P. subulata 'Vivian's White Blanket' which originated as a more dwarf seedling arising next to the larger-growing P. subulata 'Schneewittchen'. Office manager Eric made the discovery and he named it for his 94-year-old mother (who is still very sharp...moreso than her son). Phlox 'Ochsen Blut' and 'Boranovice' are both nice purple-pinks, while 'Appleblossom' is an aptly-named sweetheart. The origin of the name phlox is from Greek for "flame," for a plant of "glowing color."

Cornus sanguinea 'Compressa'

Cornus florida 'Autumn Gold'

Cornus controversa 'Variegata'

We have two seasons of spring at Buchholz Nursery: the first occurs now in the greenhouses, and the second about a month later outside in the real world. I patrol the greenhouses on a daily basis these days, making work lists, checking for water needs etc., but mainly I visit them because in April they are so much fun. Some of the dogwood species are in flower – except not Cornus kousa which has another month to go. But Cornus sanguinea 'Compressa', Cornus florida 'Autumn Gold' and Cornus controversa 'Variegata' are all producing flowers along with their leaves. The latter cultivar's flowers can go unnoticed because their white color can be lost in the variegated foliage. Cornus florida cultivars are grown primarily for their red, pink or white flowers – or rather for the bracts that surround the flower. Cornus sanguinea 'Compressa' blossoms only interest a plant geek like me, as they are small and dull-white. 'Compressa' sometimes displays beautiful purple foliage, but it is mainly grown for its dense compressed habit and freakishly-wrinkled leaves. Be careful of it in the garden because it can "wander," meaning that the roots can produce suckers as far as 10' away. If you dig one out of the garden it can reappear if any roots are left in the soil. Needless to say...

Abies koreana 'Green Carpet'

Abies koreana 'True Blue'

Andy Goldsworthy (Smithsonian)
Ok, let's not forget the conifers. I was inspired by a new documentary, Leaning Against the Wind, about the sculptor/artist Andy Goldsworthy, an Englishman who lives in Scotland who works with natural materials like rock, wood, flowers etc., and whose "works" are often ephemeral,* sometimes down to just a few seconds. In one instance he was filmed behind a dense 10' pine that was loaded with male flower pollen. You couldn't see Andy but suddenly he shook the pine violently and created a cloud of white dust that floated away in the air. Happy love to any female pine cones out there. I know that conifer "flowers" are not flowers in the true botanical sense, but still to me they are. Coniferous pollen is an irritant to many, but I don't suffer from hay fever so I'm happy that the boys get stimulated by the wind and drift off in search of a female to impregnate. The Abies guys are handsome, though small compared to female coniferous cones, and can be colored from yellow to red to purple. I find it fascinating that within a species, where you would think that the male flowers would all be the same color, you have red flowers for Abies koreana 'Green Carpet' and yellow for Abies koreana 'True Blue'. Both are clearly Abies koreana, or so they appear to me.

*Ephemeral means to "last a short time" or something transitory...like all of us in the grand sense of things. The word is from Greek ephemeros meaning "lasting a day," from epi and hemera for a "day." "Epi" is a prefix meaning "upon," "on," "over," "near," "at," "before" or "after." Stay tuned for the next episode.

Horticulture is fun when you get down to the sexual details, and, like living with a woman, you never know what to expect.

No comments:

Post a Comment