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.

No comments:

Post a Comment