*From Latin: having contrasting colors, of different kinds, changeable.
I was making coffee the other day in the anteroom to the nursery office, and out there is a horticultural library, so for the few minutes it takes to brew a cup I'll randomly select a book or someone's old nursery catalog and try to learn something. A book I hadn't looked at in a dozen years was a Timber Press publication (2004), Variegated Trees and Shrubs, The Illustrated Encyclopedia by Ronald Houtman “in association with the Royal Boskoop Horticultural Society.” I bought it sight unseen – always a poor idea – and when it arrived I spent about 15 minutes paging through it, then closed it and put it on the shelf,* and from then until this week I haven't looked at it since.
*A book fell on my head, but I could only blame myshelf.
|Euonymus fortunei 'Blondy'|
It is a disappointment really. The cover jacket promises that “No book on these beautiful plants would be complete without striking color photographs.” I agree, except the photos in the publication are not striking, in fact most of them strike out. Perhaps it is cheap and arrogant of me to poke fun at a (now) 14-year-old compilation – an “encyclopedia” – on variegated plants, but really, who wouldn't yawn at mediocre-to-poor depictions of multicolored Hedera, Euonymus, Ilex, Ligustrum etc.? Even if one transports oneself back 14 years – admittedly a long time in horticulture – many of the 800 plants presented in Variegated Trees and Shrubs are ho-hum at best.
|Pinus parviflora 'Tanima no yuki'|
|Acer palmatum 'Tsuma gaki'|
One gripe about the book is that the variegated plants from Japan are not speled correctly. Pinus parviflora 'Tani Mano Uki' should be 'Tanima no yuki' and in any case only the first “T” should be capitalized, not the following non-words. Pinus parviflora 'Ogon janome' is correct, not with a capital “J.” Acer palmatum 'Tsuma gaki' is correct, not with a capital “G” etc. Acer palmatum 'Shojo-no-mai' does not capitalize the following words after the “S,” nor does 'Orido-no-nishiki' after the “O,” so why the inconsistency? Also, why the dashes in the previous two names?
|Acer palmatum 'Kasagi yama'|
The Acer palmatum section is particularly weak, and I'm surprised that Acer palmatum 'Kasagiyama' made it into a variegated book when it is the leaf veins that are differently colored than the remainder of the brick-red leaf. You could say, then, that just about every Japanese maple is variegated. 'Kasagi yama' is correct (two words) but worse yet is that the poor accompanying photo doesn't show the reticulation. The photo of Prunus cerasifera 'Hessei' shows absolutely no variegation, and besides it is described as a “peculiar shrub, only of interest for collectors. It looks too unhealthy for the majority of people to become a bestseller.” What's peculiar then is why 'Hessei' is even included in the book.
I could be critical with something on just about every page in the book, but what's the point? In any case I'll give the book away for free to anybody who comes and gets it – it's too heavy to ship.
Could I have done a better job? Absolutely yes. Correct nomenclature, better photographs and certainly more interesting plants. The following are some variegated maples that I would include:
|Acer palmatum 'First Ghost'|
|Acer macrophyllum 'Mieke'|
|Acer palmatum 'Blonde Beauty'|
|Acer palmatum 'Celebration'|
|Acer palmatum 'Frosted Purple'|
|Acer palmatum 'Geisha Gone Wild'|
|Acer palmatum 'Grandma Ghost'|
|Acer palmatum 'Ikandi'|
|Acer palmatum 'Ilarian'|
|Acer palmatum 'Japanese Princess'|
|Acer palmatum 'Mikazuki'|
|Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost'|
|Acer palmatum 'Rainbow'|
|Acer palmatum 'Spring Delight'|
|Acer palmatum 'Squitty'|
|Acer palmatum 'Tiger Rose'|
|Acer sterculiaceum 'Joseph's Coat'|
The above maples are all Buchholz introductions, but there are so many more that are far better than what Variegated Trees and Shrubs depicted. For example:
|Acer rubrum 'Vanity'|
|Acer palmatum 'Filigree'|
|Acer palmatum 'Manyo no sato'|
|Acer palmatum 'Murasaki shikibu'|
|Acer palmatum 'Peaches & Cream'|
|Acer palmatum 'Sagara nishiki'|
|Acer palmatum 'Shigi no hoshi'|
|Acer buergerianum 'Tricolor'|
|Acer buergerianum 'Wako nishiki'|
|Acer crataegifolium 'Eiga nishiki'|
|Acer crataegifolium 'Veitchii'|
|Acer sieboldianum 'Kumoi nishiki'|
|Acer caudatifolium 'Variegata'|
True, some of these maples were introduced after 2004, but at least you can see that there's a lot more fun to be had than with the limp maple photos in Variegated Trees and Shrubs.
An interesting entry in the book is Aesculus hippocastanum 'Variegata' that the author claims was known before 1629. He adds, “The foliage easily burns during hot and sunny spells. Therefore 'Variegata' definitely must be protected against direct sunlight. It is a very rare tree and, due to its weak habit and susceptibility to sunburn, not recommended.” Again, why put it in the book? Obviously there exists more than one clone of the “variegated horse chestnut,” for I grow one that doesn't burn. Even more exciting than 'Variegata' is Aesculus hippocastanum 'Wisselink' which can be grown in full sun, at least in Oregon.
Chamaecyparis noot. 'Laura Aurora' at Linssen's Nursery (left) and Buchholz Nursery full sun (right)
A surprising entry is Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Laura Aurora', a Buchholz introduction named for my daughter. The book's crappy photo was taken at Linssen's Nursery in Holland, and so was mine a few years later. In shade the variegation tends to be yellow, but more white in full sun. The author compares 'Laura Aurora' with the old 'Aureovariegata' by stating that “the former's variegation is much more yellow. Although it also tends to get an open habit with age, it stays more dense. 'Laura Aurora' is recommended over 'Aureovariegata' as the foliage colors and the habit are better.” 'Aureovariegata' was known in Europe “before 1872,” but he is “recommending” 'Laura Aurora' when Linssen's little plant had been there for only two years. High praise indeed. Actually we don't propagate 'Laura Aurora' anymore because it is prone to reversion.
|Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Snowkist'|
|Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Snowkist'|
The book contains only seven variegated cultivars of Chamaecyparis obtusa, and one of them is 'Snowkist' which allegedly occurred as a sport of C.o. 'Tonia' in British Columbia in 1981. The photo presented, which isn't bad, was taken by Dick Van Hoey Smith in my Display Garden, and above is the very same plant. Strangely the author states that “It is not a truly variegated plant, according to the definition followed here, but only partially variegated.” That's weird – I would consider it to be as variegated as any other plant in the book. He (Houtman) claims that “Its color is yellowish green and the young growth is variegated yellow.” That's also weird, because in the book the color is white, and I've never seen anything yellow on any of my plants.
|Yuto with curled leaf of Cornus kousa 'Wolf Eyes'|
|Cornus kousa 'Akatsuki'|
|Cornus kousa 'Ohkan'|
|Cornus kousa 'Summer Fun'|
Variegated Trees and Shrubs contains a few multicolored Cornus kousa cultivars, but judging from the photos you wouldn't want to grow some of them, such as 'Snowboy', 'Summergames' and 'Bultinck's Beauty'. Not surprisingly 'Wolf Eyes' makes the list although there are superior cultivars, and the photo shows three rows growing in full sun with severely curled leaves, certainly an advertisement against the cultivar. Better variegated performers include 'Akatsuki', 'Ohkan' and 'Summer Fun'.
|Cornus kousa 'KLVW'|
None of the book's C. kousa display a weeping habit, but now we have 'KLVW' (which is patented) and the awkward name spelled out is 'Kristin Lipka's Variegated Weeper', named for Mr. Lipka's daughter. Nothing wrong with honoring your daughter with a plant name, but horticulture would have been better served with just 'Kristin' for the epithet.
|Fagus sylvatica 'Marmor Star'|
|Fagus sylvatica 'Albomarginata'|
|Fagus sylvatica 'Bicolor Sartini'|
For me, the most interesting of the variegated plants are the cultivars of Fagus sylvatica, and the best photos are those of Jo Bömer.* I acquired 'Marmo Star' about ten years ago, but I read that it is more accurately 'Marmor Star', and it originated as a seedling from 'Marmorata' found in Berlin. I have grown 'Albovariegata' for many years only to learn that the name is “illegitimate,” that it should be 'Albomarginata' and that it was introduced about 1770. When young it can burn, but established trees can withstand Oregon's summers, and my oldest specimen looks fantastic planted in front of a dark Thuja plicata hedge. 'Bicolor Sartini' is also listed, a 1995 selection from Sartini Nursery, Piatto, Italy. Houtman stridently states, “The cultivar name 'Bicolor Sartini', which includes the Latin word bicolor, is not legitimate according to the ICNCP. Perhaps it is proper to name it just 'Sartini'.” I think that's getting carried away, and if a name like “bicolor” has become common enough – though originating in Latin – it is ok to use. After all, a shit-load of common plant words originate from Latin. I was similarly taken to task by the aforementioned Dick van Hoey Smith for naming Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Laura Aurora', because “Aurora” is Latin. Like with plants, if they have become sufficiently naturalized over time, you get to say that they're “native.”
*From Bömer Boomkwekerij (nursery) near Zundert, Holland, the birthplace and childhood home of Vincent van Gogh.
|Juniperus squamata 'Floreant'|
Nothing is more ugly than variegated junipers, and the book's photos will do nothing to convince you otherwise. I did learn that J. squamata 'Floreant' originated as a sport of 'Blue Star' and was named after the Boskoop Soccer Club. At first it was published – misspelled – as 'Floriant', but the nomenclatural authorities allowed it to be corrected. We grow the cultivar in full sun and it holds up fairly well. Its appearance greatly improves, of course, when accompanied by a pretty girl.
|Liquidambar styraciflua 'Silver King'|
Liquidambar styraciflua 'Silver King' is a spectacular “Sweet gum” in spite of the author's crummy photo. There is enough green in the leaf to keep it from burning, while the variegated colors range from gray to silver to cream white. It is attractive in autumn as the leaves evolve to a rose hue.
Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'White Spot' at Arboretum Trompenburg
|Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Jack Frost'|
The worst photo in the book was reserved for Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'White Spot', but then it is seldom seen with impressive amounts of white foliage. The exception would be a specimen at the Arboretum Trompenburg in Rotterdam. I expressed surprise at their 'White Spot's vibrancy, and Director Gert Fortgens explained that he achieved the good look by shearing the foliage. Houtman says that “It is a true collectors' item with little commercial or ornamental value,” and I suppose he's right since the typical gardener will never get around to shearing it. He then compares 'White Spot' with the old Buchholz introduction 'Jack Frost' which he recommends even less. The variegation is different, however, with the cream-white of 'Jack Frost' appearing later in the season. I should have named it 'Jill Frost' because the cultivar seems feminine to me, and I find her lovely in a subtle way.
|Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'North Light'|
|Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'North Light'|
'North Light' (AKA 'Schirrmann's Nordlicht') originated as a sport from 'White Spot' and it is far more commercial. It is somewhat variegated with light green older foliage and cream-white new growth, and it is perfectly happy in full sun. Hillier in Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014) states that 'North Light' is “too recent an introduction to judge ultimate height.” I was the first in America to grow it, my start coming from Dutch friend Nelis Kools, and my oldest trees are dense 6' cones at about 10 years of age. But then I know how to push growth, and 'North Light' absolutely loves Oregon summers when given plenty of water.
|Picea glauca 'Arneson's Blue Variegated'|
A strange inclusion is the dwarf Alberta spruce, Picea glauca 'Arneson's Blue Variegated'. At its best it would always display light-blue foliage, but since it reverts back to green in patches I guess that qualifies for it to be considered “variegated?” I received my start years ago from the famous Mitsch Nursery of Aurora, Oregon, but I discontinued propagation because of its instability. Even more strange is Houtman's statement that “the variegation is highly unstable and plants easily turn into entirely blue-leaved specimens.” What? No – the opposite! – and it explains why the Germans claim that the Dutch have the windshield wipers on the inside of their cars.
|Quercus cerris 'Argenteovariegata'|
Variegated Trees and Shrubs lists a number of variegated oaks, and perhaps my favorite is Quercus cerris 'Argenteovariegata'. I first saw it at the Arboretum Trompenburg, and no wonder for the late Dick van Hoey Smith was a world oak authority. There, however, it was labeled 'Variegata' – but same thing.
Quercus rubra 'Greg's Variegated' spring foliage (left) and autumn foliage (right)
Only one cultivar ('Vana') of the “Northern red oak,” Quercus rubra, is listed, and Houtman claims that it is “unusual in being the only recorded variegated cultivar of this species.” Well, I grow Quercus rubra 'Greg's Variegated', but maybe it wasn't around in 2004, but I take “recorded” to mean that the name appears in literature, such as in a nursery catalog for example. Or does he mean “registered” with the International Oak Society? I don't know, but my start came from Greg Williams of Kate Brook Nursery, Vermont. I didn't officially “name” it, but I had to call it something when I first gave away or sold plants of it, and the reclusive Greg is/was notorious for never returning phone calls to suggest a different name.
|Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Frence Beauty'|
A few days have passed, and upon re-reading the above I think I have been too harsh on Houtman's book. After all, I have learned some interesting facts, especially about the history of some cultivars. Maybe the photos, while not great, basically get the job done. Therefore I rescind my offer to give the book away. Also, I feel bad to have bragged that I could have produced a better book – even though I could – because, well, I haven't done so. By the way, Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Frence Beauty' is correct, not Houtman's 'French Beauty'.
|Picea pungens 'Gebelle's Golden Spring'|
|Pinus contorta 'Taylor's Sunburst'|
Hey, just a question: are plants with a spring flush that is vastly different from the older foliage considered "variegated?" I don't see why not. Picea pungens 'Gebelle's Golden Spring' – sorry about that cumbersome name – and Pinus contorta 'Taylor's Sunburst' seem entirely variegated to me. But then, the new growth on almost every plant is more bright and fresh than the older foliage. Where do we draw the line?
Actually, we don't need to draw any "line." Horticulture prospers just fine with vague cubby-holes, so just sit back and enjoy the uni-colors or multi-colors, for ultimately the gardening public chooses what it likes.
If a preferred book on variegated plants existed, it might contain some of the following:
|Sciadopitys verticillata 'Mr. Happy'|
|Acer davidii 'Hanshu suru'|
|Abutilon 'Cannington Sonia'|
|Cercis canadensis 'Silver Cloud'|
|Davidia involucrata 'Aya nishiki'|
|Magnolia dentata 'Variegated'|
|Styrax japonicus 'Frosted Emerald'|
|Abies amabilis 'Indian Heaven'|
|Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine'|
|Paeonia 'John Harvard'|
|Cyclamen coum 'Something Magic'|
|Cyclamen hederifolium 'Silver Cloud'|
|Rosa 'Cherry Parfait'|
|Philodendron variegated species|
|Camellia 'Eleanor McCown'|
|Camellia 'Haru no utena'|
|Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Variegated Selection'|
|Callicarpa japonica 'Shiji murasaki'|
|Athyrium nipponicum 'Pictum'|
|Acer macrophyllum 'Santiam Snow'|
|Alnus glutinosa 'Razzmatazz'|
|Rosa 'Whistle Stop'|
|Rosa 'Neil Diamond'|