|Acer palmatum 'Red Dragon'|
I grafted my first plant – a Japanese laceleaf maple – 42 years ago, quite an accomplishment for a man now only 39 years old! I don't recall if that particular graft survived or not, but if it did it would be fun to visit wherever it is growing, and perhaps a little plaque could be placed next to it. I was self-taught, only having watched the Dutchman's son graft for about half an hour, and it's strange that his nursery folded about 8 years ago during America's hard times...while mine continues on.
A couple of weeks ago we finished our 38th summer grafting season at Buchholz Nursery and it's always a milestone accomplishment. Will we be successful and stay in business? – that's my primary concern. Will the graft “take” be 38% or 98%, or, as always, somewhere in between? I had painful lower back issues in April, May and June, but fortunately by July I had improved and so I was able to cut most of the scions. Even though it's best if I cut all of the scions, I have delegated the task on a limited basis to two other employees, both of whom graft also. And then, to my warm delight, my 12-year-old daughter was also of immeasurable help. S. – I don't use her name because creeps like to google her – is an expert at preparing the scions by cutting leaves off of the petioles and shortening the tops as necessary, and she is much faster and less expensive than regular employees. One time my 34-year-old daughter, L., was visiting and agreed to help with scion preparation. She quizzed S. about where to cut and how to shorten the tops and S. replied, “Well, basically you have to go with your gut feeling.” L. told me later, “Wow Pops, you've really got that kid brainwashed.”
One time I came home with bags full of maple scions. I was tired and hurting while my wife and both daughters were off at dance lessons. I came across the note (above) on the kitchen counter, and instantly I became happy and energized. I waited for S. to come home, then we chatted and bonded while we worked together like two giddy lovers. Scion cutting – “reading the tree” – is the most important part, more so than scion cleaning or grafting, and for the past two years S. has been doing that also. She confided to her mother that the best thing is that “Papa trusts me.”
So, if you have 20,000 Acer palmatum rootstocks, what do you graft upon them? First of all, I prefer to graft in summer where the greenhouse heat is free. On A. palmatum rootstock you can produce cultivars of A. palmatum, A. japonicum, A. elegantulum, A. oliverianum, A. sieboldianum, A. pseudosieboldianum, A. pubipalmatum, A. shirasawanum – all of these being Asian species – as well as the American species Acer circinatum – and probably there are other compatible species that I cannot recall now.
Every year I produce Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum', except that in the old days it was considered an Acer japonicum. By the 2nd edition (1987) of the Vertrees Japanese Maples the current species identification had been applied, and in hindsight it appears to be a no-brainer. Nevertheless science got involved in 1984 when, according to Vertrees, “a complicated sequence of biochemical analyses” was performed by a Dr. Delendick, and he then published a Reconsideration of Two Intraspecific Taxa of the Fullmoon Maple, Acer japonicum (Aceraceae).
Vertrees says that the most magnificent 'Aureum' that he has seen is in the Esveld Nursery in Boskoop, The Netherlands, and adds, “I have not been able to find records of any larger A. shirasawanum 'Aureum' than the one in Boskoop.” The Esveld owners hint that it was Philipp von Siebold who brought it from Japan, and if that is true then it is probably a chance seedling on its own roots. It probably won't stay the largest forever because 1) it could die, say from Phytophthora or 2) a grafted 'Aureum' on vigorous green rootstock will eventually overtake it in size, which is what usually happens to the freak-colored maples. I'm not wishing the Boskoop tree any bad luck, of course, as I also have worshipped under its canopy.
We graft our 'Aureums' in at least three different batches. On one particular date the "take" can be fantastic, then mediocre on another day. I always have excellent scionwood and my grafter is the best, so one wonders why the inconsistency. We graft our 'Bloodgood' and 'Tamuke yama' at just one time and they always do well, or at least have so far. A. s. 'Autumn Moon' and 'Moonrise' can give us fits as well.
The maple cultivar that we grafted the largest number was Acer palmatum 'Peve Starfish', the new red upright from Vergeldt Nursery in Holland. Its perky scions are a joy to cut and the grafts look good again this year. The lobes curl bizarrely downward, much more so than on the old cultivar Acer palmatum 'Trompenburg', plus 'Peve Starfish' keeps its purple-red color well into the season, at least in Oregon. I have the scionwood and could have grafted thousands of 'Peve Starfish' but a guiding force compels me to not get carried away. It sounds dumb and simple to say “I would rather be sold out than have too many,” but the nurseryman needs to frequently remind himself of that.
We have two large Acer palmatum 'Ghost Dancer', and I sent employee David up the ladder to cut while I supervised from the ground. Last year he collected 275 scions, all of them perfect 3-noders. This year the same two trees yielded only 100 of top-notch scions, and next year there may be nothing good to cut. That is often the case with stock plants, that your best harvests may be for only a year or two. A lot of factors go into scion production, such as the cultivar in question, whether growing in sun or shade or in an artificial-media container or in the ground. I don't like to scrounge for scions, but I do if the variety is new and I'm trying to do as many as possible.
Such is the case with Acer palmatum 'Yuki yama', the new variegated form of 'Mikawa yatsubusa'. Our stock is limited and of course everyone wants to buy our little trees. During grafting season one year ago I walked past our stock at least 20 times and I was dismayed that there wasn't any “good” scionwood. One day my grafter Juana asked if we were going to do any, and I think she was curious because it is a favorite of hers. I said I didn't think so because the wood wasn't good. She disagreed and wanted to do some anyway, so I said ok, go ahead. Her take was about 90% and 37 trees made it. This year I instructed her to cut the 'Yuki yama' scions and I was pleased that she grafted over 100. Two years from now it's possible that we can do a thousand, that's how fast maple numbers can explode.
I've had Acer palmatum 'Killarney' in the collection for I guess about 20 years, but I just didn't get why it was a cultivar. It looked no more exciting than my rootstock, with no distinguishing attributes. Nevertheless I felt compelled to keep a few around, so we would graft 25 – one flat – every other year.
About five years ago I attended a Maple Society event in Washington state, and one of the sites to visit was the retail company Amazing Maples owned by Charlie Morgan. I had been there before because the majority of his maples come from me. When the bus turned onto his street everyone gasped at the mid-October autumn color, for every maple was ablaze at the same time. One particular tree attracted my attention for its vibrant peach color. I hurried off the bus to inspect and was surprised that the label read 'Killarney', for I had never seen it color so wonderfully before. According to Vertrees/Gregory the autumn color eventually evolves to fiery red. I've looked, but can't find the history of this maple cultivar, such as: was it growing in a Killarney, Ireland garden? In Irish it would be Cill Airne, meaning “Church of sloes,” a “sloe” being Prunus spinosa.
While trying to find information on Acer palmatum 'Killarney' I went on the website of the “Maple Lady” of England, Karan Junker. I didn't learn anything new about it, but her listing below 'Killarney' was Acer palmatum 'Kinky Krinkle', a cultivar I introduced about 20 years ago. I was trying to engage my employees about the process of cultivar origination, you know, like you can have some fun while you work here. So I instructed everyone to quit working at 4 PM, but they would be paid until 4:30. Everybody – about 35 workers then – go find one maple seedling from our understock greenhouses that interests you, one that you like. We were grafting about 50,000 maples then, so they had a lot to choose from. K., a college graduate from Alabama, ya'll, selected the unusual seedling that became 'Kinky Krinkle'. K. was unusual as well. She was a bipolar vegetarian who smoked weed every night. To help pay her way through college she danced in a Mobile, AL strip club, but she wasn't somebody – some body – I would want to see. One hot summer day she came to work in a very thin blouse, and I could see she had a big hideous octopus tattooed on her back with two tentacles reaching around to her breasts. Yikes! Anyway K. just didn't fit in and she was eventually terminated. Karan Junker in her 'Kinky Krinkle' description, says, “Previously listed as 'Krazy Krinkle' and changed in line with the Checklist. With respect to introducer Talon Buchholz (for whom I have enormous admiration) I never did like the name. Unfortunately I like this version even less!” Krazy/Kinky – that was my fault, I got mixed up, but now it is listed in Vertrees/Gregory as 'Kinky Krinkle'; but, Ms. Junker, if you had employed K. you would understand that both names applied.
Acer palmatum 'Lileeanne's Jewel' is a new small upright-growing selection with purple-red leaves variegated with pink. The primary issue with these types of variegated maples is the likelihood that they'll revert. Our own selection – Acer palmatum 'Rainbow' – reverts under our growing conditions in containers, even though I've seen it in customers' nurseries where they look more colorful. So far 'Lileeanne's Jewel' is performing with more stability in our lush conditions. According to the Mr Maple website, “This rare Japanese maple was found as a chance seedling by our good friend Johnathon Savelich and named after his daughter Lileeanne.” It's a pity then that some companies have screwed up the name into the likes of 'Little Ann's Jewel' or 'Lil Anne's Jewel'. Fix it promptly or stop selling it. There's no excuse for slopeeness.
Maybe the largest Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa' that any maple aficionado has ever seen is growing along the main entrance to the nursery. I can't positively know that it's the world's largest, but my numerous contacts in Japan, Europe and America know of nothing that surpasses it. And no, Philipp von Siebold didn't drop it off here, that I'm certain of. We no longer harvest scions from this tree – it's past its prime for that – but we do harvest seed. I purposely grow red palmatums near it in the hopes that we could raise a red version of 'Mikawa yatsubusa'. About 20-25% of the seedlings show the short internodes of the mother tree, and year two after germination they are separated from their normal-looking brethren, the latter which become rootstocks for other cultivars.
So far the most ornamentally worthy of the mother's offspring is Acer palmatum 'Japanese Princess' which flushes with an unusual pink-red in spring. Later the leaves become more blonde with a pinkish blush, then fall finishes with orange-to-red foliage. Other than the foliage difference, 'Japanese Princess' is shaped like 'Mikawa yatsubusa' and grows almost as fast. And by the way, the Vertrees/Gregory book places both cultivars in the “dwarf group,” with no criteria given for the designation. 'Mikawa yatsubusa' is hardly diminutive, at least in my Oregon field, where it grows happily and uniformly in full sun.
Another seedling offspring of 'Mikawa yatsubusa' is A. p. 'Mayday', also noted for its short internodes and dense growth. Leaves emerge with a pinkish-yellow color, then change to yellow-green. Fall color can vary – I have seen it range from yellow to red. I have grown thousands of seedlings from 'Mikawa yatsubusa', and it's fun to see how they vary, but so far I've restrained myself by only naming two. This summer I discovered a variegated – white on green – seedling and I set the little guy aside. Maybe it will amount to nothing, especially since we already have a 'Yuki yama'.
Acer palmatum 'Marlo' is an exciting dwarf maple, our start coming from The Netherlands, but I don't know who introduced it. My internet research led me to gardenersworld.com where I read that “Acer palmatum is a deciduous, woody shrub native to parts of Asia and Russia. There are many garden-worthy cultivars available, which have been bred for their leaf shapes and colours.” Ha! – colours – an English website then. I would say that they have mostly been selected, not “bred.” In biology, to breed means to propagate plants or animals sexually and usually under controlled conditions. When I grow red palmatums near my fecund 'Mikawa yatsubusa' I am merely inviting that they mate, that nature does it for me. I've never bred anything in my life except for my children, all of whom turned out pretty good. In any case 'Marlo' is a bushy dwarf with deeply-lobed dark green leaves with bright pink margins. In Oregon's bright, hot summers the pink eventually fades to cream-white, but at least doesn't burn. 'Marlo' doesn't present you with much good quality scionwood, for the branchlets are soft and thin, but I would be happy with a 70% take. And of course everyone wants to buy the cultivars like 'Marlo' that are not so profitable for me.
Ditto Acer palmatum 'Beni kosode'.
|Styrax japonicus 'Momo shidare'|
|Styrax japonicus 'Snow Drops'|
|Styrax japonicus 'Pink Trinket'|
|Styrax japonicus 'Pink Trinket'|
We also grafted a variety of deciduous plants besides maples. Styrax japonicus 'Momo shidare' is a weeping selection with pink flowers, which is what the name means. S. j. 'Snow Drops' is a slow-growing dense bush and is absolutely cute when loaded with spring flowers. S. j. 'Pink Trinket' is a gem as well, a dwarf bush with pink flowers.
I don't graft it every year, but I wanted a new crop of Davidia involucrata 'Aya nishiki' so I can sell my older stock. I hadn't seen any plants of it in America until mine arrived from Japan about 15 years ago. Now I see one mail-order customer who lists them, having acquired them indirectly from me, and to my surprise I see it accompanied with a patent number. That's news to me, but now I have a project to investigate.
Carpinus grafts do well in summer, and we produce C. betulus 'Columnaris Nana' and 'Monument'. They look alike to me, slow-growing dense pillars. In the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs, 'Columnaris' is listed without the “Nana,” and apparently it dates back to 1891. 'Monument' was introduced by Viva Nord in Italy, and I guess if nothing else, it has a more commercial name.
Finally we grafted Quercus rubra 'Greg's Variegated', a sparkling cultivar of the “Northern Red Oak.” This was a discovery of noted plantsman Greg Williams of Vermont, but I should emphasize that I gave it the name when I first decided to propagate it, as I was not able to correspond with the reclusive discoverer. 'Greg's Variegated' can withstand full sun without burning, but the variegation is more lively with PM shade. So far it has never reverted.
As a final wrap-up, Seth printed out a Graft Count Summer/Fall 2018, and it includes the number grafted, the date, scion location and notes. Even after 38 years I'm still not confident about our propagation and success is never predictable. I can only hope.