We're well advanced into autumn, and after our record-setting (days above 90) scorching summer we all welcome the breath of fresh air. Leaves are falling now, some without turning colors first...just brown and crapped-out after their long ordeal. Seeds have developed and sometimes shine with brilliance, as with the hips of the Rosa genus. Our orchard produces enough apples and pears to feed Kim Jong-Un's army, and I really wish the employees would heed my offer that they can take all they want...really, and don't look nervous when I plead. Why is food so hard to give away? Fortunately Haruko is adept at making applesauce, so she has already put up a year's supply.
|Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku'|
Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku'
I look out the office window, watching the original Display Garden changes its tune, with green foliage becoming yellow, orange, red and purple. The first two trees I planted – and at the time I thought they were amazingly cool – was a pair of Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku'. One died early on...after a brutal winter, but the other prospers and today a yellow-orange cloud hovers over the lower plants. Let's see: it was six years old when I bought it, and that was 38 years ago. Sango kaku, or “coral tower” in Japanese, is an apt name in winter when the tree was young, but now you don't see any red (branches) when you stand next to it. On a clear day – if you are 100 feet away and look up – you can see red twigs at the top in the winter months. Basically, it's like a cute young girl that doesn't age well, because at 44 years she should still be looking good and living up to her name.
|Acer palmatum 'Little Sango'|
Acer palmatum 'Little Sango'
Perhaps a better garden plant is Acer palmatum 'Little Sango' which originated as a witch's broom on a 'Sango kaku'. It grows as a dwarf dense bush where you look sideways at it, not up at it as with its parent. The branches turn the same coral-red as its mother in winter, but there's so many more of them. The tree, turned upside down, would truly be a “red broom.” 'Little Sango' is a Buchholz Introduction, and I'm fully aware that it has an illegitimate name, what with combining English and Japanese words. Even though I constantly harp about correct nomenclature, the “sango kaku” name has become Americanized to a large degree because the tree is described as “ever-popular” or even “ubiquitous” since it is so common in landscapes. The cheap box stores even stock 'Sango kaku' as one of their three Japanese maple staples: 'Bloodgood', 'Sango kaku' and one or another of a red laceleaf. So anyway 'Little Sango' doesn't seem so much of a faux pas, and it's certainly a better name (and stronger tree) than another dwarf 'Sango kaku' broom – 'Fjellheim', an Australian introduction.
Acer palmatum 'Bihou'
Acer palmatum 'Bihou' (pronounced “bee-ho”) is a recent Japanese introduction. I first collected it with a “u” in the name, but the Vertrees/Gregory tome, Japanese Maples (4th edition) lists it as 'Biho'. In any case it is famous for its yellow-orange winter stems, or an “apricot-yellow” color according to maple author Peter Gregory. Yes, that's a better description. I don't grow too many because I haven't fully come to terms with the cultivar. I don't know for sure, but I suspect that it is not winter hardy below USDA zone 7, or 0 degrees F, whereas many palmatum cultivars can withstand USDA zone 5, or -20 degrees F. 'Bihou' also develops black bark smudges around branch crotches. The tree can thrive above these blemishes – whatever causes them – but I hesitate to ship plants that don't look perfectly healthy. The jury is still out.
|Acer palmatum 'BiRise'|
Buchholz Nursery is probably the first to produce – or even think to do so – a red-bark Japanese maple that combines with 'Bihou'. We produce a concoction called 'BiRise' where we take a 'Sango kaku'-like cultivar, 'Japanese Sunrise', and graft 'Bihou' into its branches. The goal is to attain a half-and-half tree where in winter you have equal parts red and apricot-yellow branches. Wow! – this goes beyond Horticulture 101, where the combination is undistinguished in spring and summer, but in late fall and into winter you can have great excitement in the dormant garden.
Cornus kousa 'Summer Fun'
Cornus kousa 'KLVW'
The variegated Cornus kousa cultivars actually look more vibrant in the fall than they do in spring and summer, the one exception being 'Summer Fun' which looks great all year. 'KLVW' (Kristin Lipka's Variegated Weeper) is saddled with a cumbersome name, but in addition the green and white leaves are dull in spring, especially when compared to 'Summer Fun'. But the former weeps, a trait that some gardeners like, and then it redeems itself in autumn with pink and maroon leaves.
|Cornus kousa 'Akatsuki'|
Cornus kousa 'Akatsuki'
The variegated foliage of Cornus kousa 'Akatsuki' is about the same as with 'KLVW', with fall displaying a wide array of colors. Ultimately they evolve to mostly purple, a process that takes about three weeks. The popularity of 'Akatsuki' is mainly due to its reddish flower bracts, as it originated as a sport on the red-flowering 'Satomi'. 'Akatsuki' was discovered in Japan and the word means “red moon,” and is used to mean “rising dawn” or “daybreak.”
|Cornus florida 'Autumn Gold'|
Cornus florida 'Autumn Gold'
Cornus florida 'Autumn Gold' looked good the other day when I walked through the greenhouse. I had my camera but I didn't take any photos because I already have so many. I don't know what causes such variation in autumn color – it can range from bold gold to deep purple – but maybe it's the natural progression of the colors. I should check on my 'Autumn Gold' trees every day and see if they all eventually turn purple.
|Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph'|
The winter-gold pines have begun their transformation from dull and barely noticeable to the dramatic. In about a month they will be fully brilliant. The late Doug Will had a small nursery near Sandy, Oregon and – no offense – it didn't amount to much. Nevertheless he is credited with the discovery of one of the greatest cultivars in the entire world of conifers: Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph'. The Chief (1840-1904) led the Nez Perce (pierced nose) tribe who dwelled from the Wallowa Mountains in the northeast of Oregon to across the plains west of the Rocky Mountains. Before being named Chief Joseph he was called Hin-mah-too-ya-lat-kekt meaning “Thunder rolling down the mountain.” After skirmishes with the superior numbers of the American army, he tried to lead his people to safety in Canada, but his 700 followers were no match for the 2,000 soldiers on the 1,400 mile march, and they surrendered just 40 miles from the border. In his surrender speech he said, “My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” There's some days I feel that way too with regards to the American and Oregon governments. Sick And Sad – SAS.
Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph'
Pinus contorta is a variable species, but since Doug Will found 'Chief Joseph' in the Wallowa Mountains, while on a hunting trip, you know he found the var. latifolia, not the P. contorta var. contorta which is the “Shore pine” native to a coastal strip of North America. Will's pine is commonly known as the “Lodgepole pine” and it is much more winter hardy than its coastal relative. The 'Chief Joseph' cultivar is infamous for being difficult to graft – I'm happy with even 50% – so that's why they are still pricey in the trade. Also, it grows better in colder, dryer climates than in the soggy western half of Oregon where I have my nursery. After every winter my trees develop a needle crud where they turn partially brown by February-March. It doesn't kill the trees, but they are unsightly for a couple of months until new growth pushes.
|Pinus mugo 'Ophir'|
|Pinus mugo 'Carsten's Winter Gold'|
There are many cultivars of mugo pine that turn gold in the winter. I'm not sure which is the “best” because I don't have them planted next to each other to compare. We have collected 'Ambergold', 'Carsten's Winter Gold', 'Ophir' and 'Zundert', but I have seen other nice ones in Europe such as 'Golden Glow'. Of the cultivars we do produce I like 'Ophir', and even though it's not as bright as some of the others, it radiates a soft color that is a little more elegant. Ophir is a biblical land of uncertain origin, possibly southern Arabia or eastern Africa, from which gold was brought for Solomon. 1 Kings 10:11.
One little pot of Nerine bowdenii sat in the greenhouse all year, doing absolutely nothing. It was dropped off one day by Roger of Gossler Farms Nursery, a long-time friend and customer. Google and buy something from his retail/mail-order nursery. The Gossler nursery can best be described as eclectic, with a lot of great plants, many of which you have never seen or heard of before. Anyway the Nerine has burst into dozens of lily-like blooms. The genus is not in the lily family, but rather the Amaryllidaceae family. It is probably not hardy outdoors, or borderline if it is, so I'll keep the South African native in the greenhouse indefinitely I suppose. The species was named for Athelstan Cornish-Bowden who sent bulbs from South Africa to England in 1904 and the English loved it so much that it achieved the Award of Garden Merit. The genus name Nerine is fun. It was coined by William Herbert in 1820 and derives from the Nereids, the sea nymphs of Greek mythology who protected sailors and their ships. Nothing better than a group of nymphs for protection, as long as they do their job. But a common name is “Guernsey lily,” in reference to the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, for the species N. sarniensis washed ashore after a ship wrecked en route to The Netherlands, and the bulbs became established and multiplied around the coast.
Rhododendron macrosepalum/stenopetalum 'Linearifolium'
Rhododendron macrosepalum 'Linearifolium' has blossoms present from May throughout all summer, and there are still fresh flowers today, at least in the greenhouse. Also known as the “Spider Azalea,” the Japanese native will eventually stop flowering for winter. I've only had one planted outside but it died in winter, although the American Rhododendron Society claims it is hardy to 5 degrees F. According to Hillier in his Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014), the species name has been changed from macrosepalum to stenopetalum*, and he says it has been “long cultivated in Japan.” That's good because it is of garden origin, and nobody has seen the cultivar (or variety) growing in the wild.
*From Latin stenos for “narrow, straight.”
|Dahlia 'Mystic Illusion'|
I've had a dislike for the Dahlia genus most of my life. In the Graham Greene novel Travels with My Aunt, the stuffy banker Henry Pulling brightens his boring existence by raising Dahlias, and you can easily picture a middle-aged loser puttering in his plot. Then about 10 years ago I went on an England plant trip to some of the world's most famous gardens and arboreta, and it seemed as if everybody was growing Dahlias. I came away with the conclusion that they're not so bad after all, especially the “singles” (those displaying a single row of florets). Spaniards reported finding the genus growing in Mexico in 1525, but Francisco Hernandez, physician to Phillip II, was the first to describe it scientifically. In 1789 Vicente Cervantes, Director of the Botanic Garden in Mexico City, sent plant parts to Abbe Cavanilles, Director of the Royal Gardens of Madrid, and one plant flowered that same year. In 1791 he named it Dahlia after Anders Dahl (1751-1789) a Swedish botanist and student of Linnaeus.
Oxydendrum arboreum 'Chameleon'
We grow 'Chameleon', a cultivar of Oxydendrum arboreum. It's not much different than the type, except that when you graft a named clone on seedling rootstock your crop will grow with more uniformity than seedling trees. 'Chameleon' is an excellent garden tree and it won an Award of Merit for its Pieris-like flowers which appear in fall. But then it is also very noticeable for its orange-red autumn foliage which never fails to appear. Oxydendrum – I don't know why it's not dron – was named by Linnaeus where oxy is Greek for “acid,” and that explains the common name of “sourwood.” I guess the cultivar name 'Chameleon' is ok since the leaves change colors, but then so do most deciduous trees. The Greek ancients named the lizard chamaileon from chamai for “on the ground” and leon for “lion,” so the name has nothing to do with the lizard changing his colors. I am a “chameleon” of sorts too, as I am a different person at home than at work. I can be someone you want me to be as well...if I think it is worth it.
We can freeze any night now, we have been close, hence the saying, “frost on the old pumpkin.” We have a fun plant that appeared on the road, just in front of the office door. Two boys (well, they're 30 now) live in the house that connects with the office, and apparently foreman Luis spit out a watermelon seed on his way to his car. The seed germinated and an attractive little weed – er...plant – appeared. It grew, and what the heck, it flowered and produced a watermelon. We watch it daily, and for the past – what? – two months we marvel at the size increase. It's almost a Jack-in-the-beanstalk event. At some point we'll harvest the melon and have a company party. It won't set any world records because of its late start, and besides, a gravel road is not where national champions are raised. For me, it's like a stork dropped a gift from the sky, but one that we were not expecting. Life can bless you that way.