Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Sebright Variegation Tour

Sebright Gardens

Oregon is famous for its scenic coast, snow-capped mountains and bucolic farmlands. In addition, in the Willamette Valley just north of our capital of Salem, sits a botanic treasure – Sebright Gardens – and its success is due to the fact that the bumbling government has nothing to do with it. Thomas Johnson is the owner, an Iris breeder and grower, and it's amazing that he also has had the energy to build and maintain a plant collection as interesting and varied as any in America.

Castanea sativa 'Albomarginata'

Sebright contains scads of tree and shrub species, but there's no shortage of cultivars (cultivated variants) either, especially those with variegated flowers or foliage. A month or two ago I reviewed a ho-hum book – Variegated Trees and Shrubs by Timber Press (2004), and the boring plants presented, along with dull photography, result in it collecting a lot of dust on my bookshelf. A more fascinating publication could be produced with the variegated plants at Sebright alone. I visited the garden this past May, so let's take a variegation tour.

Pittosporum tobira 'Kansai Sunburst'

It's surprising to find Pittosporum growing outside in Oregon due to its questionable hardiness, nevertheless Sebright has at least two species with a variegated cultivar that all look sound and attractive. P. tobira is a slow-growing shrub from China, Taiwan and Japan. I've seen it in the latter country and found it thoroughly boring, though it does make an adequate hedge. Far more excitement occurs with the variegated selection 'Kansai Sunburst', and at least in spring it looked vibrant, but I admit that I have never seen it growing later in the season. The name is perhaps not valid, with the mixture of the Japanese Kansai with the English Sunburst, but who really cares as they sound good together. Kansai is the western portion of the main island of Japan, Honshu, and it is also known as Kinki, which literally means “near the capital,” referring to the ancient capital of Kyoto. Later the capital was moved east (to), hence “Tokyo” or “east Kyoto.”

Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Irene Patterson'

Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Irene Patterson'

The Sebright garden might not be to everyone's taste due to its flamboyance, but let the gardener do what he wants. Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Irene Patterson' is a glittering selection, and is a slow-growing evergreen shrub with white leaves in May, then more green develops in summer. I've never seen it in winter but Hillier in Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014) states that the leaves “develop a pink tinge in winter.” It was found in the wild near Christchurch, New Zealand by G. Patterson and named for his wife. The species is commonly known as kohuhu and black matipo, Maori names. Its dark-purple flowers are lost in the black stems, but interestingly they are scented only at night. In any case 'Irene Patterson' is a male so it's odd that it bears Mrs. Patterson's name. The specific name tenuifolium means “slender-leaved,” while the genus name is from Greek pitta for “pitch” and spora for “seed.”

Pittosporum illicioides var. angustifolium

Pittosporum illicioides var. angustifolium
Tomitaro Makino

A third Pittosporum species, but without variegation, is P. illicioides, so named because the leaves resemble the Illicium genus. I've never seen the straight species, which was named by the great Japanese botanist Tomitaro Makino (1862-1957), but the var. angustifolium from Taiwan is a favorite as I'm partial to its elegant look, with long, linear leaves. I wish only for success for Sebright's Pittosporum specimens, but I'll be watching in the coming years because their existence in an Oregon garden seems so improbable.

Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Akebono'

Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Akebono'

Salix lindleyana

John Lindley
Osmanthus heterophyllus is a slow-growing medium-sized evergreen shrub and there are a number of variegated selections. 'Goshiki' (meaning 5-colored) is popular and I have one in the collection, but I had never before seen Sebright's 'Akebono'. The name is Japanese and means “dawn” or “daybreak,” no doubt in reference to the creamy white new spring growth. The heterophyllus species (opposite leaves) can be mistaken for a holly (Ilex) unless you are familiar with both, but with Osmanthus the scented flowers appear in autumn. Osmanthus is in the Oleaceae (olive) family, and the generic name is from Greek osm for scent and anthus for flower. The earliest known use of the word was by the botanist and horticulturist John Lindley (1799-1865). I have seen the Rhododendron lindleyi – I think at the Rhododendron Species Botanic Garden – and we have grown the sweet, little creeping willow, Salix lindleyana, both named for the eminent plantsman.

Eleutherococcus sieboldianus 'Variegata'

Sebright is famous for growing genera and species that I have never encountered before, and what's fun is to return home and do the research. One such is Eleutherococcus sieboldianus, and with the specific name honoring Philipp von Siebold you would assume that it is native to Japan...but wrong. It's native to China but it was the Japanese botanist Makino who first described it. It is a medium-size deciduous shrub in the Araliaceae family but it is something I probably wouldn't want to grow, and that includes its variegated cultivar 'Variegata'. It was showy in the Sebright garden but to me it looks like another ubiquitous Euonymus or Ligustrum or something. I might be tempted to grow a sister species – E. senticosus – which is from Siberia and is used in herbal medicine that supposedly increases stamina and boosts the immune system. Anyway, I can't even pronounce the generic name without difficulty, but it's from Greek and means “free-berried.”

Camellia x 'Golden Spangles'

Caerhays Castle
I knew nothing about Camellia 'Golden Spangles' until my first encounter last month, then discovered that it is a x williamsii hybrid. That cross of C. japonica and C. saluenensis – a Chinese species – was first raised by J.C. Williams at Caerhays Castle, Cornwall about 1925. It is of excellent garden merit and it can flower as early as November and continue on until April. 'Golden Spangles' displays a subtle variegation that you don't notice until you approach closely. It was found at RHS Garden Wisley in 1957 so I suppose most Camellia aficionados know of it. A spangle (diminutive of spang) is a “shiny ornament”...which is from Old English for a “buckle.”

Aesculus hippocastanum 'Wisselink'

'Wisselink' on the left and 'Erythroblastos' on the right

I have sung the praises before of Aesculus hippocastanum 'Wisselink' but sadly it is often confused with another cultivar, 'Erythroblastos'. They look different now in the greenhouse – my one small plant of each – but the latter cultivar emerges with shrimp-pink leaves before they change to light green. I don't know my “chestnuts” very well, as these are the only two cultivars I grow, but in the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014) 'Erythroblastos' is listed belonging to the hybrid x neglecta Lindl. Then I grow confused because after neglecta Lindl., Hillier follows with (A. x glaucescens Sarg.) (A. flava x A. sylvatica). The USDA* goes with A. flava x A. sylvatica. As you can see from the photo at the side, the leaves' colors are different, and also A. hippocastanum has a broader leaf lobe, so they shouldn't be confused. In any case 'Wisselink' was found by William Wisselink as a chance seedling near the Dutch town of Aalten, and I wonder if the original find is still growing there. If there is a Dutchman in the Flora Wonder readership, please send me a photo.
*USDA = United States Department of Agriculture. The ODA – Oregon Department of Agriculture, who won't let me sell plants without a license, charged me $3,388.60 for a one-year renewal. I estimate that for my career I have donated over $100,000.00, all with nothing to show for it. Glad to pay for the inspectors' wages, benefits and retirement, though I don't really need to be “regulated.”

Fatsia 'Camouflage'

Fatsia 'Camouflage'

I've never grown a Fatsia, even though the leaves resemble an Acer macrophyllum on steroids. The Sebright label of Fatsia 'Camouflage' implies that it is a hybrid, but I'm not a Fatsia guy either. The genus is in the Araliaceae family, and the name fatsia comes from an obsolete Japanese name of fatsi for Fatsia japonica. 'Camouflage' was brought to America from Japan by plant collector Dan Hinkley, then Monrovia Nursery/Lowe's Box Store trademarked the name. On Monrovia's website they list it as Camouflage TM Variegated Japanese Arailia. Under that they offer a synonym Fatsia japonica 'Variegata'. Ok, so it's not a hybrid then? Hillier lists a F. j. 'Variegata' where “the leaf lobes are white at the tips. FCC 1868.” So that's not the same as 'Camouflage'. You could say that the big shots at Monrovia do the nomenclatural world no good when they borrow an established 150-year-old valid cultivar name and apply it to their 'Camouflage'. Maybe I shouldn't be harsh on the huge corporation, but I have learned in the past that “big” companies are often comprised of “little” people. Anyway I like the name which is from French camoufler, “to disguise.”

Prunus incisa 'Variegata'

Prunus incisa 'Variegata'

Prunus incisa is the “Fuji cherry” and the botanic name is due to the deep incisions on the leaf. With the cultivar 'Variegata' you get a small tree with white to light-pink blossoms in spring, then colorful foliage the rest of the season. If my company was limited to growing only Prunus – especially the cherries – I would have gone bankrupt long ago. I admire them greatly, but they eventually develop some type of crud for me and then soon expire. Instead of attempting to figure out the problem, it is best for me to keep them off the property and just enjoy them in others' gardens.

Styrax japonicus 'Frosted Emerald'

Somewhat similar in appearance to the above – actually much better – is Styrax japonicus 'Frosted Emerald' and I happily have no problem with it (except for the occasional reversion, easily removed). I have grown the bushy 'Frosted Emerald' in full sun, and when established it does not burn. The cultivar originated in Oregon at the nursery of Crispin Silva, a Mexican immigrant who moved to the USA when young. He learned his horticultural skills at other nurseries before starting his own, and his small company is (or should be) famous for introducing great plants such as Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine', Ginkgo biloba 'Munchkin', Acer palmatum 'Sir Happy' – the most dwarf of any palmatum, Styrax japonicus 'Fragrant Fountain' and much more. If there is any downside to 'Frosted Emerald' it is that the spring flowers are lost amongst the dazzling foliage, but on the plus side you could say that it “flowers” brilliantly from spring through fall.

Zingiber mioga 'Dancing Crane'

The “true gingers,” the genus Zingiber, are native to India, China and other southeast Asian countries. The genus is known for its medicinal and culinary use, and the myoga species is valued for the stem and flowers. It is the “Japanese ginger,” but the deciduous herbaceous perennial is also native to southern Korea and China. The flower buds can be finely shredded and used as a garnish for miso soup, and one can do no better than to start off the morning with a bowl of miso soup. Botanically speaking “Zingiber is a genus of tropical Asiatic plants in the Zingiberaceae family having tuberous rootstocks, leafy stems and a coned cluster of imbricated bracts of which each bract encloses from one to three flowers.” Merriam-Webster. Whether or not you use the cultivar 'Dancing Crane' for food or medicine, you can enjoy its lively variegated foliage.

Cornus florida 'First Lady'

Cornus florida 'First Lady'

Melania Trump
I guess that every species of “dogwood” has a variegated representative. Heck – I even introduced one myself: Cornus kousa 'Summer Fun', but there have been dozens of others. A new encounter for me at Sebright was C. florida 'First Lady', a variegated form of the “Eastern dogwood,” with eastern meaning those dubious lands where the sun shines ahead of me. Also known as the “Flowering dogwood,” the flowers consist of four bracts which surround the small head of yellowish flowers. I don't know why 'First Lady' was coined with its name, but I would have changed 'Summer Fun' or any of my other plant introductions to 'First Lady' if I thought that I could earn an audience with our current First Lady. I would teach Melania about the wonders of horticulture and the magic of nature, and probably steal her away from her preposterous husband. I don't have much hair anymore, but it sure looks better than his!

Hydrangea paniculata 'Summer Snow'

Hydrangea paniculata 'Summer Snow'

As I've said before, Sebright owner Thomas Johnson doesn't shy away from the spectacular in his garden. If you visit there it all works anyway...but maybe if you're sensitive you should bring your sunglasses, especially so for Hydrangea paniculata 'Summer Snow'. The species was described by Siebold and is a medium-sized shrub – give it enough room, as I know from experience. In 1753 Linnaeus coined the Hydrangea name by combining Greek hydr (from hydor* for water) and angeion for “vessel” or “capsule,” due to the shrub's cup-shaped seed pods.

John Singer Sargent - Hercules and the Hydra
Pollaiolo - Hercules and the Hydra
*Hydra was a serpentine water monster in Greek and Roman mythology, a creature that possessed many heads, and for every one chopped off it would regrow a couple more. The story goes on and on, and even involves Hercules who is given credit for slaying the beast. Ancient and modern art loves to depict the myth, and two of my favorites are Antonio del Pollaiolo's Hercules and the Hydra (1475) in the Uffizu Gallery, Florence and also John Singer Sargent's 1922 rendition.

Camellia 'Night Rider'

Most plants' new growth is colored differently than the older foliage, so by a loose definition all plants are variegated. I won't be that casual except in the case of Camellia 'Night Rider' where the plum-brown new leaves contrast with the older green foliage. Pieris japonica 'Katsura' pulls off the same trick. After I saw the Camellia at Sebright I was happy that Gossler Farms Nursery – buy something! – had a couple in stock. It will bloom with small semi-double flowers with yellow anthers. The cross of C. 'Ruby Bells' and 'Kuro tsubaki' was performed by New Zealander O. Blumhardt – great name! – and 'Night Rider' first flowered in 1980.

Lupinus polyphyllus 'Manhattan Lights'

I'll finish the tour with a multicolored flower, Lupinus polyphyllus 'Manhattan Lights'. The species is the “Big-leaved lupin” or “Many-leaved lupin,” and is native to many areas of North America, often growing in moist soil along creeks and rivers. In the wild the flowers are blue to purple, but with hybridization the flowers vary wonderfully, and as a group they are known as “garden lupines.” David Douglas brought the first Lupinus polyphyllus to England in the 1820's, and a century later horticulturist George Russel from York gained fame as a breeder. I don't know if the Englishman Russel would name a plant for Manhattan, but Sebright's plant looks like a Russel hybrid. The word lupin comes from lupus, Latin for “wolf.” Lupines are usually found in groups, as are wolves at times.

A Sebright greenhouse

Bring your money when you visit Sebright because they are also a retail nursery, specializing in Hostas and ferns, as well as other choice plants. There is no admission into the gardens, though they probably should charge something to help with the upkeep. Every time I visit I discover something new, but something that has been there all along, and then add that to all of the new plantings where Thomas has acquired rare and fun species. I think he gets agitated when he sees an empty spot in the ground, and he's kind of like Noah with his critters on the ark.

Friday, June 22, 2018

A Happy Customer

We were fortunate to visit with a good – no, a great! – customer yesterday who came to the nursery to place an order for this fall and next spring. She has ordered from me for over 30 years and is always happy and always pays on time. Her retail nursery is in the Seattle area so it's an all day commitment to come here, but last year, for the first time, she just couldn't get away from her business. Consequently the order she placed (which we shipped this past April) was smaller than usual. In other words she likes to see the plants that she wants to buy rather than order off a list or our website.

Before we shipped I called and carefully expressed my concern that she hadn't order the “normal” amount, and was everything OK? She practically cried and explained how her nursery crew was relatively new and she couldn't find competent help and no one could do anything without her micro-management. Gee, I feel the same way sometimes. Anyway, her relatively small order, placed on our website, was due to her not being able to walk around and see the plants. I said, “W., let me do it for you. I'll make you a list of plants that I think you'll be very happy to get, and if there's something you don't want just cross it off.” I spent half of a Sunday and covered the entire nursery, and submitted to her a super list of great plants at great prices.

She took it all and when her payment check came I got five enthusiastic thank you's. She reported yesterday that spring sales were strong and that she's very grateful that we exist to supply her. A happy woman with a great smile absolutely makes my day, makes for a wonderful career. What is important for me is trust, that a customer trusts that they'll get good plants at a fair price. Of course we make mistakes and sometimes a plant should never have been shipped, but overall I'm proud of what we grow and thankful that others agree.

Let's take a look at some of the plants from my super list.

Picea pungens 'Gebelle's Golden Spring'

Sciadopitys verticillata 'Fatso'

Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Sparkling Arrow'

Juniperus cedrus

Punica granatum 'Sarasa shibori'

Daphne burkwoodii 'Brigg's Moonlight'

Hamamelis intermedia 'Birgit'

Liquidambar styraciflua 'Slender Silhouette'

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Miss Grace'

Pinus contorta 'Taylor's Sunburst'

Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'

Sempervivum 'Gold Nugget'

Leptospermum scoparium 'Kiwi'

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair'

Fagus sylvatica 'Aurea Pendula'

Bletilla striata 'Alba'

Cornus florida 'Autumn Gold'

Acer palmatum 'Akane'

Acer palmatum 'Marlo'

Picea glauca 'Pixie Dust'

Rhododendron macrosepalum 'Linearifolium'

Acer palmatum 'Red Sentinel'

Pinus parviflora 'Kinpo'

Cornus kousa 'Akatsuki'

Pinus parviflora 'Bonny'

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'North Light'

Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine'

...and much more.

I won't tell you her name or her business name because she might not want the attention, but it's sooo tempting to shout it from the mountain top. This mystery woman, and all the other men and women just as great, have given me your trust, and I'll work hard to continue to earn it.

Plants are fascinating. So too plant people. Thanks to all.