Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Flora Wonder Arboretum

Mahonia x 'Arthur Menzies'

Near my home at Flora Farm a specimen of Mahonia x 'Arthur Menzies' is already in flower, and as I drove by a little hummingbird darted into and out of it. In fact it was the bird's movement that caused my brain to register the fact that the yellow-flowered Mahonia was indeed in bloom. It is a large 10' bush and it's planted only 30 steps from my house, so where have I been that I only noticed it today, since it has been there for the past 15 years and has always bloomed at this time?

Flora Farm

The arboretum at Flora Farm is only 16 acres in size, and I've decided to sell the remaining 44 acres of good, empty farm land because I don't use it anymore. If I was still in my 30's or 40's I wouldn't sell any of it; I would fill it up instead with more trees and shrubs. But at this point I put small portions on my plate, take small bites and chew slowly.

Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii'

I remember the first tree I planted at Flora Farm – it was a Camperdown elm of good size. It didn't like the transplant and declined for the first five years, and finally I had enough and threw it out. It was my last Camperdown tree when I once grew and sold a lot of them, so now I don't have the remarkable cultivar in my collection any more. I could easily acquire it again, but for some reason I haven't made the effort...but thanks for the memories.

Ginkgo biloba 'Blue Cloud'

If a tree doesn't prosper in the arboretum then I toss it out. I'm not on a mission to help anything to recuperate and stay on the ark. I am cold and ruthless, some would say, and I've been accused of pulling the trigger too soon. The older I get, the less patience I have, and that includes with people as well as plants. At the same time I imagine myself to be incredibly understanding and patient. A few years ago a plant acquaintance became bizarrely upset with me because I posted an April Fool's Day blog about Buchholz Nursery introducing a blue-leaved Ginkgo biloba. I managed to hoodwink the majority of the Flora Wonder Blog readership who later learned the truth and laughed at my wonderful story and their gullibility. But the one acquaintance – who I thought was a friend, but who wasn't after all – hasn't spoken to me since, and his problem was that I “betrayed his trust.” Over a silly, fun, April Fool's joke. Whatever: he is like the tree I no longer need in my collection. Of course, if I found out that he was suffering from some sort of dementia then I would feel bad and change my attitude to that of pity.

Cardiocrinum giganteum

Cardiocrinum seed

There were some plants that were added to Flora Farm this past fall. We planted 5 Cardiocrinum on the shady side of the house. I did it for my wife who never manages to visit the nursery when they are in flower, so I don't think she has ever seen the real blossoms before. My first Cardiocrinum was given to me by the folks at Far Reaches Farm in Washington state. I kept it in GH20 where the foliage grew luxuriously, but the flower spike would rise to a few feet and then always rot off before opening. I felt confused and cursed about the situation, then one day the office manager Eric snapped, “get it out of the hot greenhouse! It wants to be outside.” So then I grew it in a shaded hoop with no poly and it bloomed lustfully the next summer. We collected the seed that fall, and have every year since, so we are now purveyors of Cardiocrinum and they sell quite well.

Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Greenpeace'

I planted a group of 5 Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Greenpeace' and gave them about 30' of space so they'll have room to develop. Of course one day they will grow into each other, and I might be around for that, but maybe not. Anyway, they were placed at the top of the Upper Gardens near the county road. I suppose a handful of motorists and bicyclists have noticed their bright green foliage and perhaps they wonder about the mysterious tree man with the mega landscape. When I first bought the property the entire hillside was a boring wheat field, but I immediately saw the potential for a stunning landscape where the public could gaze down the hill at fantastic colors and shapes. I chose the trees and shrubs to please myself primarily...or did I? Maybe I was really showing off, that my purpose in life is to present the wonders of nature, and horticulture in particular, to the general populace. I know that most passersby don't notice a thing as they race to school, work, or to pick up their welfare checks, but if I can bring happiness to myself, and maybe a few others, then I will be satisfied with my accomplishments.

Calocedrus decurrens 'Maupin Glow' 

Alas, it can be a problem when you plant in groups of three or five, because if one tree dies then your scheme looks rong, especially if you don't have a replacement tree. Such was the case with the 'Greenpeace' when one of the five slowly declined for unknown reason. Last year I cut it down and left the space empty for the entire year...just thinking about it. Should I put a different Sequoiadendron cultivar in its stead, or perhaps a Sequoia sempervirens 'Mt. Loma Prieta Spike', a narrow, somewhat weeping selection? Or a Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Filip's Golden Tears', where the green and yellow might look good together? Finally I chose a Calocedrus decurrens 'Maupin Glow', for it will grow with a narrow upright form, and its dark green foliage will be splashed with bright “glowing” portions. Yep – good choice – it looks good and all is well.

Juniperus scopulorum 'Tolleson's Blue Weeping'
Abies koreana 'Gait'

Some trees outstay their welcome in the arboretum. In the middle of the collection a Juniperus scopulorum 'Tolleson's Blue Weeping' was beginning to crowd a Juniperus formosana. The formosana is much better looking (to me) than the stringy-foliaged Tolleson's, which happens to be my last one. I supposed we'd dig the large Tolleson's and relocate it, but then it would look even worse for a couple of years. After staring at it for five minutes I decided to simplify and just cut it down, good bye. I do miss its trunk though, and wished it supported a better looking tree. Let's see now: I can plant something more dwarf in its place, and certainly something that looks better anyway. Maybe an Abies koreana 'Gait'. That would look good.

Abies squamata 'Flaky'

Speaking of Abies, I do have an “Abies” section which contains about 20 species or cultivars interplanted with dogwoods and Rhododendrons and other things. A main purpose for buying the farm was so I would have adequate room for my “true fir” collection. I am able to travel to the “best corners of the world” with just my Abies collection – to the west Himalaya with my Abies pindrow, to the Rockies with Abies concolor, to Algeria with Abies numidica, to Taiwan with Abies kawakamii etc. One special stop is in China for Abies squamata – the highest altitude (15,000') fir in the world. I've never seen an A. squamata forest in person, unfortunately, and I'm not likely to ever do so given my age. Sorry, but today, as I write this, it is my birthday – god, another – so that explains why I'm a little mopey.

Abies beshanzuensis

My Abies section also contains A. beshanzuensis, the “rarest conifer in the world,” according to Debreczy and Racz in Conifers Around the World. My tree resembles the photos in their book, so I suppose I have the correct species, but of course I don't know for certain. There were only eight trees in existence at their discovery (1975), which is now reduced to only three, so how did I get it, and furthermore, should I even have it at all? Scions were sent to me about 18 years ago by a botanist – I won't say who. He used to ship to me a number of other rare conifers, and even though the scionwood was often old and scrappy, usually at least one would survive. I had no idea at the time, however, that the beshanzuensis was critically endangered. I suppose that today there are efforts underway to repopulate the species, or at least I hope so. Maybe it's a blessing that one grows in my arboretum – you know, just in case – but I furtively glance over my shoulder in case the Authorities will one day confiscate my specimen and haul me to prison for Red List Violation! Well, I sold about 100 grafts of A. beshanzuensis about 12 years ago, then I decided I should cool that and haven't propagated it since, but there might be a few other conifer collectors who are also on the hook. There is scant information about the species on the internet, and never does the information collude, for example: it was discovered in 1963, not 1975, where only seven trees were found, not eight. Three of these were dug up and moved to the Beijing Botanical Garden, where they died. Of course they died in Beijing, the dumb shits, and it's actually a miracle that any Pandas have actually survived in China either. Should imprisonment or any other misfortune fall upon me or my House it would be a shame, for the rare fir in question is an ok-looking tree, but certainly not a species of great beauty.

Quercus garryana

When I bought Flora Farm I reported to my old friend Dick van Hoey Smith (of Arboretum Trompenburg in Rotterdam) that I finally had a place to plant my oak trees. I also mentioned my young wife and our new child (who was still in the oven) when they first met. He replied, “Congratulations on the good news. I don't remember your wife, but that doesn't matter. What is important is your tree collection.” Wife H and I still laugh about that, that we must always observe our priorities, the trees. Sadly V. H. Smith never did see Flora Farm and my massive Quercus garryana, for he was considered the world's Quercus expert, and he would have marveled at its size.

Van Hoey Smith with Quercus pontica

So, what oaks did I plant out? Not so many, really. I was using “planting out oaks” to mean “trees in general.” But I remember when the American Conifer Society was visiting the V. H. Smith-led Arboretum Trompenburg tour, a member asked him what was his favorite tree. Stupid question – he can't answer that I supposed. But he promptly replied, “Quercus pontica.” At the time I didn't know anything about the species except that with a name like pontica it is probably native to the Caucasus region. When I saw Q. pontica seedlings for sale I bought a few, grew them on and was able to sell them before they grew too large. I kept one for the collection, and though it is a sturdy, handsome tree, it's not even close to being my favorite tree.

Garrya elliptica 'James Roof'

Nicholas Garry
It's remarkable that some trees can survive our brutal summers with no supplemental irrigation. One such is Garrya elliptica 'James Roof', a vigorous male with long dangling catkins to about 8 inches (20 cm). My specimen is planted under a 150 year old Douglas fir in ground so hard a pick was required to break surface. I watered the Garrya for the first summer only, and then nothing for the past 15 years. Tiny catkins are apparent now if you look closely, then in January-February they will fully extend. The Scotsman David Douglas introduced Garrya, and the genus name honors Nicholas Garry (1782-1856), Deputy-Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company who was very helpful to Douglas with his botanical explorations. Garry was relieved of his duties in 1835 and lived his remaining 26 years being declared of unsound mind.

Acer macrophyllum 'Mocha Rose'

Acer macrophyllum 'Mocha Rose'

Acer macrophyllum 'Santiam Snow'

A 50-foot wide strip runs along the road at the eastern side of Flora Farm. It is called the Quercus section because three large Quercus garryana have been growing there for over 100 years. This section is about 3-4 acres in size so there's adequate room for some of my “big-boys,” trees such as Acer macrophyllums 'Mocha Rose', 'Santiam Snow' and 'Golden Riddle'. Of course these trees will crowd into each other in the future, but I'll deal with that at a later date. The golden macrophyllum is not yet adequately established and so it burns when we hit 100 degrees. If it is a constant summer eye-sore at some point I might dump it, but the other two cultivars are doing quite well. It's good to be the owner: I can choose what stays and what goes without approval from some committee.


The head groundskeeper at Flora Farm is Luis, and I really cannot trust anyone else. It might not always be a pleasant skill, but he is the only worker who has learned to read my mind. Everyone else gets worried and confused, but Luis simplifies, then executes with mind-boggling energy. He and his crew are allocated only a few days per month at Flora Farm, because he's also busy making boat loads of money as the head foreman at the nursery. The 32-year-old is paid well and lives rent-free in the nursery house, but then he's the guy who has to go out and scrape snow off the greenhouses on Sunday in the cold winter. Luis is small, but strong like the Sherpas I used to trek with near Mount Everest, and he certainly commands respect at the nursery. So whether we are planting, digging, dumping, mowing or watering at Flora Farm I know I don't have to personally be there with the workers. Then its fun to return home in the evening to see what he has accomplished.

Name lost

Flora Farm is a working arboretum where, besides the tree collection, we must also eke out a living. We plant and sell some of the trees but none of the workers have a clue about my capitalistic decisions. Prior to management by Luis, our de facto “foreman” was a large man with a loud mouth, and for some reason he imagined himself more intelligent and organized than his co-workers. But he wasn't at all. Worst of all, he never did understand the concept of tree labels, about tree identification. He would mow the labels to shreds willy nilly...because they were in the way. There are dozen trees now with no name. My wife thinks that it's not so important because they display attractive branching and happy birds chirp from the tree top, so what's the problem? Big J. is no longer with us, thank goodness, but I'm tempted to cut down the unidentified trees and plant others that I do know. So, when the joggers, bicyclists and motorists gaze at the landscape, they'll never understand the frustrations of the owner.

One time when I toured the Arboretum Trompenburg with V. H. Smith and my wife, I asked him for the identity of a certain tree. He screwed up his face in consternation, at a loss for the answer. The label wasn't on the tree where it should have been. He pawed around in the duff and leaves in an effort to find the label. I felt bad to have even asked. Finally he gave up and muttered to himself, “Hopeless.” I imagined that the following day he screamed and yelled at the staff to find the damn name, and to never let that happen again. The poor man knew more than most about his trees, but he didn't know everything.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Hillier Unknown

My well-worn Hillier's Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014) has been the subject of the last two blogs. I am not a know-it-all when I present facts and trivia about the plants, for much of the information comes from my plant library and the internet, and plagiarizing from those sources complements what little I do know from my own experience. Today's blog will wrap up my Hillier obsession with the topic being some Hillier listings that I know absolutely nothing about – I've never seen or heard about these plants before, and so none of the photos are mine. This might be the worst blog ever, or maybe we'll have a little fun and learn something.

Aextoxicon punctatum

Aextoxicon – really?! – punctatum, according to Hillier, is “An unusual monospecific genus native to Chile and Argentina which taxonomists have historically found difficult to classify but now place in a family of its own (Aextoxicaceae).” It is evergreen and dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate trees, and it resembles the Elaeagnus genus and produces small, purple to black, olive-like drupes. Hillier says it was introduced by Harold Comber in the 1920's where a single plant survived unnamed in the woodland garden at Trewithen, Cornwall. Later it was “rediscovered” by Harold Hillier and Roy Lancaster in 1976. The Chilean name is Olivillo (little olive) or Palo Muerto (dead stick) according to chileflora.com, and they also consider the USDA zone 8 plant to be useful as an ornamental. I don't know what the generic name aextoxicon means, except that toxicon, not surprisingly, refers to toxic (poisonous) properties, so I wonder if the “ornamental little olives” are perhaps not to be eaten. But Aex, is that word scientific or Incan...or what? Studies have been conducted with this central Chilean bush – it is not rare – by the scientific nerds of South American academia in particular, where they measure “the magnitude, variability and correlation patterns of leaf and xylem vessel traits and hydraulic conductivity as it varies across soil moisture gradients...” blah, blah, blah. I just wonder how it received its generic name. I conclude that I don't really want to acquire the damn thing, but I would accept it if you gave one to me.

Euryops chrysanthemoides

Euryops is in the aster family (Asteraceae) and it is an “evergreen shrub with conspicuous, yellow, daisy flowerheads.” Since they range from South Africa north to Arabia, they prefer a warm, sunny position and well-drained soil. The generic name Euryops is derived from Greek eurys for “wide” and opis meaning “eye” which refers to the large flowerheads compared to the narrow leaves. One plant in particular – E. chrysanthemoides 'Sonnenschein' – is promoted as colorful and drought tolerant, blooming nearly year-round in coastal areas. And wait a minute – I guess I have seen this plant before when we vacationed in La Jolla, California a couple of years ago. I could easily acquire one as my neighbor, Blooming Nursery, grows Euryops, but then they grow a lot of perennial stuff that I know little or nothing about.

Jamesia americana

I don't think that Jamesia americana is a rare species but I've never heard of it nor seen it, and that's embarrassing because it is the “Cliffbush” native to western North America. Discovered by Dr. Edwin James in 1820, it is a monotypic genus in the Hydrangea family (Hydrangeaceae). It is not native to my western Oregon haunt, but rather to the interior western states at 1600-3000 m altitude. Dr. James was no scholarly wimp – he was, along with two companions, the first white explorer to reach the summit of Pikes Peak (14,114') which was previously reported as unable to be climbed by Zebulon Pike and his Native American guides. I drove to the top one winter that was strangely devoid of snow, but obviously the Jamesia were not in flower then. James also discovered another 100 species new to science, including the blue columbine, Aquilegia caerulea, which would later become the state flower of Colorado.

Ballota pseudodictamnus

Ok, Ballota – what's that all about? Linnaeus named the genus in the Lamiaceae family occurring from southern Europe to north Africa. But first, the Lamiaceae is the mint family and is also known as Labiatae with over 7,000 species. If you encounter a weed with a square stalk and opposite leaves and a strong scent you have probably found a member of the mint family. Remember as a kid your grandmother would give you a hard candy – but that wasn't really a candy – and it would also cure your cough? That was horehound or Ballota pseudodictamnus, and it is an ill-smelling European herb with rugose leaves and whorls of dark purple flowers. Ballota was the ancient Greek name to the black horehound, Ballota nigra, which is native to Turkey and the Aegeans, and the specific name pseudodictamnus refers to the “False Dittany” for its resemblance to the genus Dictamnus (gas plant). Dictamnus is a Cretan origanum and possibly named after Mount Dikte. The mountain is of importance because that was where Zeus was raised in secrecy where he was nursed by nymphs on goat milk. After the fall of the Titan gods, Zeus and his brothers drew lots to divide rule of the cosmos. Zeus won the heavens, Poseidon the sea and Hades the underworld. It seems as if there was no plant in the ancient or new world that doesn't harbor a history or deep meaning, or a use.

Eriobotrya japonica

Eriobotrya japonica – that's a new name for me, an evergreen genus from the Himalaya and east Asia that's related to Photinia. When I researched I found that the botanic name is commonly known as “Loquat,” so I guess I do know the tree, except that I've never grown one. The genus name comes from Greek erion meaning “wool” and botrys for “a cluster of grapes.” I've seen the fruits for sale at specialty grocery stores so I think I will investigate further.

Gaylussacia brachycera

Gaylussacia – I've definitely never heard of that. There are some 50 species in North and South America and Hillier lists two from eastern North America, baccata and brachycera, the former known as the “Black huckleberry” and the latter the “box huckleberry.” So yes, the genus is in the Ericaceae family and closely resembles Vaccinium, and the fruits are edible. The Box huckleberry is self-sterile and is found in isolated colonies which reproduce clonally via creeping roots. One colony in Pennsylvania is estimated to be 8,000 years old which would make it the oldest woody plant east of the Rock Mountains. Not bad for an unassuming, low spreading shrub with leaves that resemble boxwood (Buxus).

Sarcandra glabra

Hillier lists Sarcandra glabra, “an evergreen shrub with oblong leaves and spikes of bright orange fruits,” native to southeast Asia. Its value is that aromatic oils can be extracted from the leaves, and the entire plant is known for anti-stress, detoxifying and blood activating properties. I could sure use some of that. I wonder if I have seen it before, though, because it also occurs in China and Japan – I'll ask my wife about it.

Piptanthus nepalensis

I don't know anything about Piptanthus, but Hillier calls the nepalensis species the “Evergreen Laburnum,” and it features bright yellow, pea-like flowers. I'm not familiar with the plant because it's not hardy for me, but I may have encountered it years ago when I trekked through the Himalayan foothills in May.


I know that there are a number of intergeneric hybrids that intrigue botanists, but whether they're worthy as garden plants is another matter. I have encountered a few as names in books but have never seen the likes of Sorbaronia (Sorbus x Aronia), Sorbocotoneaster (Sorbus x Cotoneaster) and Sorbopyrus (Sorbus x Pyrus) for real. I have both Sorbus and Aronia in the Flora Wonder Arboretum – which is not unusual – but the hybrid has never been presented to me. Hillier says, “Though not of outstanding ornamental merit, they add autumn tints to the garden and are interesting because of their unusual origin.” There you have it: A BIO plant – botanical interest only. The Sorbocotoneaster sounds more interesting because the hybrid was originally found in the pine forests with its parents in eastern Siberia. Two forms are said to occur, one which tends to the Sorbus and the other to the Cotoneaster parent. Hillier was tickled to get the plant when scions were sent from Siberia in 1958, but I never encountered it when I visited the Sir Harold Hillier Garden a decade ago, so I don't know which way their specimen tends...

Sparrmannia africana

Sparrmannia is a small genus (Malvaceae family) of 7 species of tender shrubs and trees, native to Africa and Madagascar. The genus was named for Anders Sparrman (1748-1820), an apostle of Linnaeus. Hillier says it is commonly known as “African hemp,” but it is not related to the true hemp, cannabis, and he offers this nugget about its culture: “This marvelous plant not only tolerates but appears to thrive on the cigarette-and cigar-ends and tea and coffee dregs of second class Continental cafes.” In spite of that tawdry reputation the plant gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit. Maybe of more interest is that the Sparrmannia species are known for their haptonasty, the rapid movements made by the stamens when they are touched.

OK, I don't need to continue with the plants that I, and probably we have never heard of before, but there's lots more in the Manual. It would be fun to visit an arboretum which grows only these unusual things. Afterward, perhaps we could go for lunch at a second-class Continental cafe. I'll throw my cigar butts and you toss your tea bags into the cafe duff and we'll conjure up intergeneric, and perhaps even intergalactic hybrids that will occupy the next generation of taxonomists.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Hillier's Conifers

Last week's Flora Wonder Blog, The Hillier 96, was a review or critique of the Acer palmatum cultivars listed in The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014). The back cover of the manual claims that the contents are “revised and fully updated,” but I suggest that it can never be fully updated and complete. I know that if my observations ever came to the attention of the authors that-be they would wave them off as a vituperative attack by an unknown American nurseryman who lives to nit-pick and argue.

I never take part in internet forums – usually because they are shallow and dumb – but I like the concept. At its most elevated I imagine a free-flowing exchange of ideas and experiences, perhaps presided over by Aristotle as he ambles down the Lyceum path. Oh well, since ol' Stots knew nothing of Japanese maples he can't add to the discussion, but imagine if he was around today and took an interest in any group of plants – though, besides philosopher, he was primarily a marine biologist, he would suffer no foolish or half-baked claims by Hillier, the RHS, me or anybody else. If anything, my critique need not be feared or waved off, for it is from my simple perspective as a propagator, grower and marketer. Though I can occasionally wax poetic about plants, the bottom-line to nursery survival is to adopt Aristotelean methods.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Blue Surprise'

Even though I may have Euro detractors I'll continue with my review of the Hillier woody plant encyclopedia and focus on the Conifer section. Surprisingly it is a small part of the manual, curiously located near the end, sandwiched between the Climbers and the Bamboos. Of the 57 pages allocated to conifers, one notices that the majority of the genera and species don't contain any cultivars, and that helps to streamline the section. On the other hand Chamaecyparis lawsoniana contains 116 cultivar listings; egad, more than the 96 for Acer palmatum! Europe in general and Britain in particular appears to love their lawsons, and as long as Phytophthora lateralis doesn't infest their plots gardeners can find all sizes, shapes and colors (er...colours). Even though the native to SW Oregon and NW California, when seed was first sent (1854) to the P. Lawson and Son's Nursery, Edinburgh, the specific name of lawsoniana stuck. It was coined, of course, by a Scottish lawyer and botanist, Andrew Dickson Murray (1812-1878). At the creation of the Oregon Exploration Society, Murray became its secretary, and thus began his interest in western North American Coniferae. It seems odd that a Scottish botanist can claim precedence in the naming of an American native, but it's all hoyle in nomenclature, so no foul. I'll concede the lawsoniana epithet, but thank God the British didn't succeed with commandeering our Sequoia gigantea (Sequoiadendron giganteum) by naming it after their naval hero, the Irishman Arthur Wellesley, The Duke of Wellington. Even Hillier doesn't let the matter completely go – after Sequoiadendron giganteum he refers to “Wellingtonia, giant redwood, Sierra redwood. The “big tree”...” C'mon, stop it and quit whining. You lost!

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Rigid Dwarf'

Hillier lists 47 cultivars of Chamaecyparis obtusa, less than half of that for C. lawsoniana, yet the former is probably more highly-regarded as a source of sophisticated cultivated variants for the modern garden. The obtusa are “blunt-foliaged” while the lawsoniana present themselves in “sprays,” and I suppose I prefer the sculptural tightness of obtusa over the fan-sprays of lawsoniana. C. obtusa is Japanese and world-known as hinoki, from Japanese hino for “fire” and ki for “wood.” Thus you have “firestick,” which probably originated from its primal use as firewood in Japan. These days the wood of the Japanese cypress is “highly valued for its rich, invigorating citrus aroma that can increase spiritual awareness,” at least according to Young Living Company. It will help welcome guests to your foyer or living room with its clean elegant scent, create a calm meditation or yoga space with its light woodsy fragrance, or best of all, can transform your bathroom into a steamy sauna by diffusing its calming scent. I have been to Japan and I agree with all of the above. The famous Osaka castle was built from hinoki wood and the trees grown in Kiso, used for building shrines, are called go shin boku or “divine trees.”

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Lutea'

Hinoki is well represented in British horticulture, and the cultivated variants listed in Hillier vary with names in Latin, Japanese and English. For Latin, we have a lot of Nana, such as 'Nana', 'Nana Aurea', 'Nana Densa', 'Nana Gracilis', 'Nana Lutea' etc. Nana refers to “dwarf,” but it is probably of baby-talk origin, and has also been used for “grandmother.” Also in Latin, we have old-time cultivars such as 'Caespitosa', 'Flabelliformis', 'Pygmaea Aurescens', 'Lycopodioides Aurea' etc., with the latter actually coming from Japan, though the name is derived from Greek lykos for “wolf” and podion for “foot.”

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Chirimen'

Japanese names for cultivars of Chamaecyparis obtusa include 'Chabo yadori', 'Chirimen', 'Tsatsumi' and 'Suriroya hiba', the latter which came to us from Bedgebury spelled 'Siuryuhiba.” Of the above only 'Chirimen' is currently in our production. The Japanese word “chirimen” refers to the silk crepe fabric used in kimonos, but there is also an Acer palmatum cultivar – 'Chirimen nishiki' – that features long narrow lobes with a wrinkly texture. Wrinkly also is Chirimen kabocha (Curcubita moschata), a Japanese squash with a rough textured surface, and Chirimen Hokusai, a cabbage with rumpled leaves. Back to the conifer, the dwarf hinoki, one should understand that the obtusa cultivars are highly unstable and variable. What type of cutting or scionwood is selected can affect the growth rate and shape of the desired offspring. Even then, the obtusas can be individualistic anyway, and explains why “crops” can vary. If propagated by rooted cuttings, 'Chirimen' will usually grow as a dwarf irregular upright, although with age – or any stress – it can “go to seed,” where unsightly tiny bubiles partially develop, then abort and turn brown. If grafted on Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd', 'Chirimen' is less likely to develop this characteristic, plus will grow a little faster. Normally we prune 'Chirimen' into a dense globe where numerous fingerlings poke upward, but I also have a couple of 5' specimens that have not been sheared and they resemble the sparse branching of a Saguaro cactus.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Fairy'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Butterball'

Hillier's English-named C. obtusa include 'Golden Sprite', 'Golden Fairy' and 'Rigid Dwarf', all attractive cultivars, but all difficult for the nurseryman to make a profit from. Not making the Hillier cut are the wonderful miniatures 'Green Cushion', 'Butterball' and 'Gemstone', though they have been around for awhile.

Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'

Abies nordmanniana 'Golden Spreader'

As alluded to earlier, many of Hillier's coniferous species do not come with any cultivars, or at least not known to Hillier. For the “true firs” (Abies) there are no cultivars listed for A. bracteata, A. chensiensis, A. cilicica, A. firma and many other species. The Abies with the most cultivars, not surprisingly, is A. koreana, and that is true for the Buchholz collection as well. Even the relatively new 'Ice breaker' is included, called “A remarkable miniature cultivar with a low squat habit. The white undersides of the upturned leaves give the whole plant a silver-blue appearance.” Keep in mind that all older plants of Abies nordmanniana 'Golden Spreader', that I have seen, grow “squat” at first, then eventually assume a leader. Judging by some of the vigorous apical shoots we've seen on our stock, it is possible that most 'Ice Breaker' will also grow upward. Actually, some of these shoots are harvested and grafted, and I imagine the resultant offspring will display a growth habit somewhere between 'Ice Breaker' and the parent 'Silberlocke', and for these grafts we have used the code name 'Super Breaker', just to keep track of them.

Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'

A. k. 'Ice Breaker' originated in Germany in 1998 from a “witches' broom” found on A. k. 'Silberlocke' according to Hillier...but I already knew that. In fact I have met a few times with the finder, a Mr. Kohout from eastern Germany. Thankfully, Hillier doesn't acknowledge the cultivar name of 'Kohout's Ice Breaker' as Mr. K. would wish because 'Ice Breaker' is a name clean and sufficient on its own, while thank you Herr K. for your remarkable discovery. A. k. 'Silberlocke' has produced a large number of little curvatures from seed, and one in particular was named 'Silver Show' and supposedly displayed even more of the silvery undersides than its parent...but I could never tell them apart. Also there have been other 'Silberlocke' witch's brooms that have been set apart – Don from Porter Howse Farms in Oregon found one – but none so far has shown the vibrancy of 'Ice Breaker', and indeed the Porter Howse find eventually died on the vine.

Pinus koraiensis 'KG'

Obama inspecting the original Pinus koraiensis 'KG'

Note Hillier's use of the term witches' broom. The gardening public might not know what that means, but most nurserymen and plantsmen do: abnormally congested growth on a portion of a tree. Horticulture is replete with cultivars originating from brooms, some include Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star', Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Miss Grace' and Pinus koraiensis 'KG' ('Gee Broom'). In each case one broom appeared on its host tree and the nurseryman propagated from that more-dwarf wood. I've never called it a witches' broom – to me witch's broom seems more appropriate. A witch with her broom. Witches is plural of witch, so the Hillier word implies that a coven of witches was required to produce the broom, whereas I think that just one witch was sufficient.

Abies pinsapo 'Horstmann'

Abies pinsapo 'Horstmann'

At the Horstmann Nursery in Schneverdingen, Germany, a witch's broom was discovered on an Abies pinsapo 'Glauca'. According to Hillier it was originally distributed as 'Horstmann's Nana' and in America I first knew it as 'Horstmann's Dwarf'. Now we are to just name it 'Horstmann'. Ok – good. It makes a wonderful conifer for the garden, but not really for a small intimate garden or a rock garden because it can get large. My oldest is about 6' tall by 8' wide at 25 years old. Also it can grow a little wild by producing shoots up to 18” long, as if it's trying to revert back to the parent tree's size. It's an annual task that we prune these completely back to the base. Anyway, that's one of the criteria for judging a witch's broom-originating plant, namely, how likely is the plant to revert?

Cryptomeria japonica 'Sekkan'

Hillier lists a couple dozen cultivars in the Cryptomeria section and it's puzzling why some of the names end in -sugi. 'Bandai-sugi', 'Jindai-sugi', 'Rasen-sugi', 'Sekkan-sugi' and 'Tenzan-sugi' are the culprits. The -sugi is redundant since it is the Japanese word for Cryptomeria. Basically Hillier is naming a cultivar Cryptomeria japonica 'Sekkan' Cryptomeria. No dash-sugi is needed after 'Sekkan'. My experience with 'Sekkan' is that it is a superb, colorful garden plant when young. Hillier calls it a “small tree,” but not in Oregon where mine grew to over 30' tall in about 25 years. At some point the cream-yellow of youth loses its vibrancy and then it looks like a chlorotic green tree. Since it was one of the first conifers ever in my original Display Garden I allowed it to stay when it no longer looked good. Finally I gave the removal edict. My employees looked at each other, thinking the boss has really lost it because the tree was doing no harm. In its stead I planted a C. j. 'Rasen' and now I'm much happier.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Spiralis'

Also in the Display Garden is a Cryptomeria japonica 'Spiralis', and when I went through the Hillier book I was reminded that the common name is “Grannies' Ringlets.” Hillier allows that there are a couple of large specimens in Britain, “But as grown in general cultivation, it forms a small, slow-growing bush of dense, spreading habit.” My specimen is broad, but it has shot upward to over 30' tall. I don't brag about these sizes because I would rather have trees of smaller stature and I generally don't like when garden trees grow into – and ruin – each other. I've never grafted a Cryptomeria onto a Sequoiadendron, or vice versa, but boy the bark and foliage look very similar on the two genera.

Fokienia hodginsii

The Chinese conifer Fokienia is “A genus of a single species [hodginsii], related to Cupressus and Calocedrus and resembling Calocedrus macrolepis in foliage.” I used to grow it – my start coming from the Arnold Arboretum where obviously it was growing indoors. One can root Fokienia but it is probably not hardy enough to be grown outdoors in Oregon. For what it's worth, Rushforth in Conifers claims that it is hardy to USDA zone 7: “It appears to be perfectly hardy, being recorded by the Chinese as tougher than Sequoia sempervirens...” I don't know, my original start croaked the first winter after being planted out, and we didn't get below 10 degrees F that year. Before I risked it out in the garden I cut five scions and grafted them onto Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd', hoping that the rootstock would give the top a hardiness boost. All grafts took and in short time they grew to about six feet tall. They were floppy and unattractive though, and worst of all was a very unsightly graft union. The two genera hooked together but not well, and if I remember correctly, the Fokienia became two-to-three times larger than its rootstock. I sold one with the caveat that “I don't really know what you're getting.” The customer agreed and planted it out in his southern Oregon garden...where it too died the first winter. After that report I dumped my four remaining trees never to grow it again.

Amentotaxus argotaenia

Another Chinese conifer of dubious hardiness is Amentotaxus argotaenia, an evergreen tree in the Taxaceae family. Hillier says “They are ill-adapted for all but the most sheltered gardens in the British Isles and are best grown under glass.” Well, mine are under poly in my not-much-profit hobby house. To propagate we root from hard-wood cuttings in winter, but I don't have space to keep too many of the USDA zone 8 (10 degrees F) trees around. Amentotaxus is known as the “Catkin yew,” in fact the catkins are known as aments, hence the generic name. The specific name argotaenia refers to the silvery undersides of the yew-like leaves and comes from Latin argentum, and that from Greek argyro(s) meaning “silver.” The seed is covered in a green fleshy aril, which then turns to bright red in autumn and then to purple by winter. The species is threatened due to deforestation and its slow rate of growth, plus rats find the fruits tasty and disrupt distribution.

Cuprocyparis leylandii 'Golconda'

I used to grow x Cupressocyparis leylandii cultivars at the beginning of my career, but today you can buy them cheaply at the box stores where their retail price is less than my wholesale costs. The leylandii is a hybrid between Cupressus macrocarpa and Xanthocyparis (Chamaecyparis) nootkatensis and Hillier claims it is the “fastest-growing conifer in the British Isles.” Though both parents are western North American species, the original hybrid occurred at Leighton Park in Wales in 1888 and was grown by C. J. Leyland, and since the hybrid is usually sterile, it can only be propagated vegetatively, usually by cuttings. Personally I hate the hybrid, but I allow that it can make an effective large hedge, and does so quickly, so it could be useful especially if you don't like your neighbors. As I've said before, I keep old editions of the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs, so I can document when plant names change. Somewhere between the 5th edition (1981) Cupressocyparis (Dallimore) became Cuprocyparis (Farjon) in the 8th edition (2014). But I don't have an explanation for why the name was changed.

Dacrydium cupressinum

Hillier describes Dacrydium cupressinum as a member of the Podocarpaceae family, and it is an evergreen conifer native to New Zealand. The “Rimu”* or “red pine” requires a sheltered location in Britain, but it makes a “charming specimen for a conservatory.” I grew it long ago, my start coming from the Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco, where a marvelous specimen graced the outdoor collection. Hillier sites another botanist when he states, “Considered by the botanist Cheeseman to be 'as beautiful and attractive as any tree in New Zealand.'” Thomas Cheeseman (1846-1923) was born in England, but his family left for Auckland when he was six. He was best known for his publication in 1906 of The Manual of the New Zealand Flora. Anyway, I agree with his assessment of the Dacrydium. Though I kept my stock indoors it eventually grew too large and I sold my oldest tree to a California customer. The Rimu would root by hardwood cuttings in winter, but much effort was required to train one into a “tree” – more often you would have a strongly-staked branch-like specimen. Heater failure one winter ended my Rimu run, but thanks for the memories.

*Rimu is the Maori name for the tree.

Cupressus cashmeriana
Picea breweriana

It is always fun for me to go through the Hillier manual. My 2014 copy is well-worn indeed. Even if I grow a particular tree and know it well, I still am curious about the Hillier take on it. The manual is far from dry, and I love the adjectives used to describe trees, for example: remarkable, handsome, elegant, rare and beautiful, most beautiful, striking, unique, distinct, graceful, neat, etc. Cupressus cashmeriana is “One of the most graceful and beautiful of all conifers.” Picea breweriana is “Perhaps the most beautiful of all spruces...” I like these plant descriptions that come through the heart, not the microscope lens.

I've been to the Hillier Arboretum three times, and I would love to go back for another visit. I fantasize about discovering a tree there and taking a photo of it. Then old Harold Hillier would jump out from behind and explain its story. I would never want to wake from that dream.