A tree represents a long-term relationship with the garden. You should know it well before you tie the knot...and be clear what are your expectations. The preceding admonition (which I rewrote) came from the Dancing Oaks Nursery website, an Oregon company with an extremely eclectic listing of plants. They have interesting display gardens as well, where I have seen many species and cultivars for the first time. They advise us to be careful before tying the knot because they have made their share of mistakes, as have I.
One interesting warning, which I don't think I've seen elsewhere, concerns their toxic and/or medicinal plant disclaimer:
“Dancing Oaks Nursery and Gardens does not take responsibility for any adverse effects from the medicinal use of plants for any therapeutic purpose. Please consult a professional before using a plant medicinally. Additionally, not all poisonous plants are indicated as such on the Dancing Oaks website. We encourage you to do research where there might be cause for concern.”
Co-owner Fred Weisensee is a medical doctor so you can get why he is covering his bases. But anyway, it would be a bad knot to tie if you bought a tree that killed you, and I suspect that there's quite a number of species that would do so.
One might argue that it's good for humanity if someone uses toxic or medicinal plants without professional advice, you know, to get them out of the gene pool. There's no cure for ignorant people, which I know because I live next to them and I pay their welfare way through life. Hmm, I pay their way – wait a minute! Maybe they've wonderfully figured it out and I'm the ignorant one.
|Arctostaphylos nevadensis 'Cascade'|
|Arctostaphylos nevadensis 'Ponchito'|
Ok, but back to poor plant choices – and they don't all have to be upright trees. Too aggressive would be one bad attribute. An aggressive plant in the right place is good, but I learned that Arctostaphylos nevadensis 'Ponchito' and 'Cascade' both covered way too much lateral territory in my rock garden, and I hope we can find time this winter to grub them out. My rocks are beautiful pieces of granite and I value their beauty more than the “Pinemat manzanita.” The ericaceous species was attractive at first as it spilled between the stones on the hillside, but now, after about twenty years, many rocks are totally covered, and since it roots as it creeps along, the two cultivars will dominate everything in the next twenty years. Arctostaphylos nevadensis is native to Nevada and California and it is notable for white-to-pink urn-shaped flowers in spring, followed by small red fruits in fall (manzanita means “little apple”). Arctostaphylos means “bearberry” in Greek, and a related species to nevadensis is uva ursi which also means “bearberry” in Latin. The botanic name of the latter is rendered (L.) Spreng. for Linnaeus, then Kurt Polycarp [really!] Joachim Sprengel (1766-1833), a German botanist and physician. Sprengel debuted as an author at the age of fourteen, publishing Anleitung zur Botanik fur Frauenzimmer (“guide to botany for women”). Asa Gray (1810-1888) was the botanist who first described A. nevadensis. Gray is considered the “Father of American Botany,” and he was a Harvard professor and pen-pal with Charles Darwin.
|Acaena saccaticupula 'Blue Haze'|
Acaena is a genus of about 100 species, mainly native to New Zealand and the cooler parts of South America. I rue the day I bought a little 4” pot of A. saccaticupula 'Blue Haze' at a plant sale, then planted it at the Waterfall section on the shady side of some large Xanthocyparis nootkatensis. This area has a number of shade-loving plants, including Erythroniums and Tsuga dwarves and Pieris etc. What a mistake, though, for the damn Acaena creeper covers everything. and by growing in the shade the ferny steel-blue leaves (of sun-placed plants) are green for me. Whatever the color, it was/is too aggressive and I can't get rid of it. Besides, if you walk even close to it, the seed burrs practically jump out to attach themselves to your socks. My 'Blue Haze' is native to the southern Alps of New Zealand, and interestingly, it is in the Rosaceae family and the generic name is from Greek akaina for “spike,” or “thorn.” The common name today is “New Zealand burr,” but was previously known to the Maori people as bidibid which is an English rendition of their native word piripiri (to “keep close, cling, adhere”).
A towering mistake was to plant a Pinus flexilis 'Vanderwolf's Pyramid', a selection from Vermeulen Nursery of New Jersey, into my Display Garden. I used to sell thousands of them as 1-year grafts back when we were liner kings in the nursery trade. If customers could have seen what they turn into after 35 years, nobody would have ever bought any. 'V. P.' looks good when small, especially if candle-pruned, with its soft blue-green needles. Actually it could look good on an estate lawn with plenty of room, but in Oregon in my crowded Display Garden my behemoth sucks up too much water from the neighboring plants. I know that some nurseries still produce 'V. P.', but for me it was one of those plants that sell well for a number of years, then suddenly the bottom drops and it became difficult to sell both the liners and the specimen plants. Fortunately I've always been a production coward in my career, never wanting to have too many of any one plant, and I finally got rid of all 'Vanderwolf's Pyramid', and for the past 10 or 12 years nobody has ever asked for it again.
Cryptomeria japonica' Cristata'
|Cryptomeria japonica 'Cristata Variegated'|
Another large tree I regret planting is Cryptomeria japonica 'Cristata', but as with the 'Vanderwolf's Pyramid', removing it would be too risky for the surrounding plants, so I just live with it...as it gets bigger and bigger. I used to think the cultivar was cool-looking with its fascinating fasciations*, for it was selected long ago for its cocks-comb growths on some (indeed, many) branches. But my original tree is huge now and the mistake was mine as I didn't think ahead when I planted it. Originally it was a stock tree, a source of propagation wood, but we haven't produced any cuttings in the past twenty years, and it just keeps on a'growing. One of my gripes is that it – and some other Cryptomeria cultivars – are “dirty” trees (not that the boys enjoy looking up the skirts of female trees), but because they produce a lot of garbage. The branchlets of C. j. 'Cristata', 'Spiralis' and others drop a lot of dead wood upon the ground. I guess it's because the branches are relatively brittle, and so the heavily-laden fasciations of 'Cristata' are prone to breaking off in winter windstorms. I note to myself on my strolls through the garden that yep, it's time to clean under the Cryptomeria again. I'll admit that 'Cristata' can be fun, especially for children and the garden novice, fun because it shows that nature can get weird sometimes. I had fun too, one winter, when we rooted a flat of the cristate portions above – to see if they would root, and if so, would the propagules actually produce trees with more numerous cockscombs. Half of them did root, but after potted up they produced normal growth, and five years later I had a crop with the normal amount of fasciations. Nothing gained there, but at least I had to find out.
*The term “fasciation” comes from Latin meaning “band” or “stripe,” and it occurs when the plant's growing tip produces cylindrical tissue which results in flattened or crested growth. It can actually be detected in the stem, root, fruit or flowerhead of a plant; so for example the common dandelion can display flattened stems and flower heads. The cause of these abnormalities can be hormonal, genetic, bacterial, fungal, viral and environmental causes. I don't know the science of any of this, but at the nursery I have seen the phenomena on a number of plants such as Acer palmatum 'Sekka yatsubusa', Acer palmatum 'Goshiki kotohime' – a weird little dwarf itself – on Spartium junceum, the “Spanish broom,” and, if I was to think it over closely...on probably a number of other species. Oh, now I remember that Taxodium distichum 'Peve Minaret' also produces fasciations.
|Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph'|
|Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Melody'|
|Pinus mugo 'Aurea Fastigiata'|
One huge faux pas is the use of too many splashy colors in the garden, and in particular the use of those cultivars which are golden-yellow. I have been guilty of this for my entire career, and I don't seem able to shake the bad habit. As I enter the main nursery entrance – about 40 times per week – on my left is the section called the FENG, or Far East North Garden. There, I have growing a lot of wonderful trees such as Abies religiosa, Pinus densiflora 'Umbraculifera' (i.e. 'Tanyosho'), Acer pictum 'Usugumo' and a lot of other treasures. The garden is 200 feet (61 m) long by about 50 feet (15 m) wide, and it contains other dutiful plants such as Hydrangeas, Paeonia and more. Then I also slammed three hot-shots into said ground – Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph', Pinus mugo 'Aurea Fastigiata' and Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Melody' – and that was two too many. Really, they don't complement each other, rather they vie for attention, and it's too much of a good thing, and just one of the goldens would have been sufficient. As I reflect, I choose the plants for the landscape to 1) please myself and 2) to impress customers and visitors. I want to be the Disneyland of horticulture, to present all of the colors of the floral palette, but the risk is that I'll cheapen the grounds with a gaudy display. We'll dig and remove the C.o. 'Melody' because it is not as bright as the pines, and then I think we'll remove the P.m. 'Aurea Fastigiata' because it has never been narrow, and it is currently as wide as tall.
|Picea pungens 'Coors'|
One can go too blue also, which I once did with the creation of my “Blue Forest” section. My god, I devoted about 2 or 3 acres to a planting of entirely blue trees, where nothing was for sale. It existed...and defined me – I guess – as a dumb plant-geek who wanted to make a statement. I tired of it and eventually incorporated other colors into the scape. One of its problems was that some trees were just sort-of-blue, bluish, and looked dull next to a silver-blue tree, such as Picea pungens 'Coors'. There is some confusion about 'Coors', which I originally received from Jerry Morris of Colorado, because he also introduced a Picea pungens 'C Blue' which is a dwarf (from a witch's broom) that was also found by Morris on the Coors (beer) estate in Colorado. My version of 'Coors' is not dwarf, but rather a slow-growing upright similar to P. p. 'Hoopsii' and 'Thompsen'.
|Juniperus deppeana 'Ohmy Blue'|
Anyway, the word glauca is used as a cultivar name or a description for a plant with light blue-gray or blue-white colored foliage. It is glaucus in Latin, from Greek glaukos, meaning “gleaming” or “gray.” Glaucoma* refers to a graying of the eyes and can result in a gradual loss of vision. A glaucope is a word used to describe someone with fair hair and blue eyes.
*Greek glaucoma is an opacity of the lens, perhaps from glaukommatos with omma meaning the “eye.”
|Fagus sylvatica 'Red Obelisk'|
To be brittle is bad news for a tree...or rather, for the tree's owner, especially when he has loaded a large Fagus sylvatic cultivar into a truck and the recipient reports that the specimen “broke at the graft union.” Well, yeah, a purple selection grafted onto a green Fagus rootstock – when both are brittle – can break at the graft union. The question is: did the breakage occur when the tree was loaded, or during transit, or when it was unloaded? Nobody, of course, wants to pay up, but why must the grower, the sender, shoulder the blame?
I have witnessed hideous ice-storm damage on a row of Liquidambar styraciflua that line the east side of Rodger's Park in my hometown of Forest Grove, Oregon. A few years ago the trees' branches snapped into severe disarray, and I supposed that in the aftermath all trees would be removed at the stump, and that the city would learn its lesson, accept its loss and replace them with better landscape trees. Instead the urban arborist did nothing – and of course...he's an expert at nothing – but amazingly the trees recovered, regenerated, and the alley looks good again.
|Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star'|
Generally speaking most witch's brooms do not make good long-term plants, at least at my nursery. They can fail for a number of reasons, one being that they grow too fast in the lush soil and optimum growing conditions at Buchholz Nursery and consequently they flop open. Nothing is more ugly than a 15-year-old Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star', even though nothing looks better than when it's about 4-8 years old. Eventually its tightness surrenders to gravity which then reveals dead grayish scales on the inner stems. 'Blue Star' originated as a witch's broom on Juniperus squamata 'Meyeri' and we grew many thousands of 'Blue Star' until the jig was up about 25 years ago. For what it's worth, though, I'll concede that “Blue Star” is an exceptional name – well done! – for when the plant is relatively young it makes for a superb landscape presence. I don't have a single 'Blue Star' in the collection anymore and many nurseries who used to grow it have quit. Those who still produce it can do so profitably, but then they're nurseries who have no concern about the welfare of the gardeners who ultimately purchase the plant. I have seen Juniperus squamata, the “Single-seed juniper,” in the Himalayan foothills, and honestly it is the most unattractive species of conifer on God's green earth.
Picea pungena 'Blue Pearl'
I estimate that I have produced nearly 100,000 Picea pungens 'Globosa' in my career, but have grafted zero in the past 15 years, and I don't even have one plant left at the nursery. I discontinued because everyone else was growing it – listed variously as 'Globosa' or 'Glauca Globosa' – and so too the similar cultivar P. p. 'R. H. Montgomery'. Again, these “dwarf” spruces aren't so dwarf and they flop open, but I don't have a photo example of this problematic characteristic because really, who wants to take a picture of a crappy plant? Anyway, I am growing a few other “Colorado blue spruce” dwarves that are more miniature and tight and are able to keep their act together such as 'Corbett', 'Pali', 'Hartsel' and 'Blue Pearl'. These aren't as profitable, however, because I get only $12.00 for a 6-year-old grafted 'Blue Pearl' when my production cost is about $12.05, but at least they are easy to sell. 'Blue Pearl' is a much more satisfactory (and long-lasting) conifer choice than the aforementioned Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star' and Picea pungens 'Globosa', but...but since when does the grubby old nurseryman get to make a profit? If he sat down with a financial advisor or accountant beforehand, he would not have gone into the arena of nursery production at all. Nevertheless, buy a 'Blue Pearl' and put it in a sunny location in your garden and show off to your friends and neighbors about your superb landscape choices. 'Blue Pearl' is said to have arisen as a witch's broom on a specimen of Picea pungens 'Fat Albert', itself an unusual cultivar selected at Iseli Nursery, Oregon.
|Acer palmatum 'Coonara Pygmy'|
Another poor plant choice is when the selection doesn't grow as its name would suggest, such as when “gnomes” and “pygmys” get too large. I remember my Grandmother, when she was 82 years old at the time, scolding me 15 years later when the “dwarf” Acer palmatum 'Coonara Pygmy' I procured for her to plant in a small spot in her garden grew to an enormous size and shoved its way laterally into the surrounding plants. Hell, how did I know that she would live so long? We stood in her dining room one rainy winter day and looked out at her garden through the wall-sized window...where she studied her garden often, making plans for her obliging landscaper to execute in spring, and declared, “that 'cura pygmy' simply must go!” Certainly, I had diminished my credentials as a nurseryman in her opinion.
It's a poor decision to put a house in the wrong place as well. The photo above depicts a 150 year old Sequoiadendron giganteum in Forest Grove, Oregon that was planted about 75 years before the house was built. Last year the homeowners paid $12,000 to have the tree cut down, a criminal act by all involved. The house was a beater and it should have been removed.