Friday, February 15, 2019

Sparking Joy

Marie Kondo is the perfect female...or is she? Ms. K. is a beautiful Japanese woman – in my opinion – who is an organizational guru, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and star of a Netflix series, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” I'm sure a lot of of messy women wish she would keep her theories of happiness to herself and not make them feel inadequate with her uncluttering advice. I am very impressed, though, that she wants us to “thank our belongings,” and in her life her personal possessions are thrown out or kept if they “spark joy.”

In Japanese Shinto culture there is an ingrained belief that every object has a soul, and that you should be pleased if an object takes care of you, like with a pair of shoes. Furthermore: “The more you pay positive attention or respect, the more positively energized they become”...and by saying “thank you,” you are “respecting the spirit of the items that you're letting go of with gratitude, instead of getting rid of them with negativity or force.” This attitude is connected with another cultural belief in Japan called mottainai* which is a mindfulness about not being wasteful.

*The Japan-based magazine Look Japan ran a cover story entitled “Restyling Japan: Revival of the Mottainai Spirit,” and in that author Hitoshi Chiba explained:
We often hear in Japan the expression 'mottainai' which loosely means 'wasteful' but in its full sense conveys a feeling of awe and appreciation for the gifts of nature or the sincere conduct of other people. There is a trait among Japanese people to try to use something for its entire effective life or continue to use it by repairing it. In this caring culture, people will endeavor to find new homes for possessions they no longer need. The 'mottainai' principle extends to the dinner table, where many consider it rude to leave even a single grain of rice in the bowl...”

I love all of it, of course. Haruko, my Japanese wife is naturally proud whenever anyone from her native land becomes world-famous or respected for their virtues. Recently she listened patiently to me while I ranted about some unprofessional behavior inflicted upon me, then said, “Woah, you sound just like my father...oh my god, I married my father!” Interestingly Haruko's father is a well-off, now-retired Tokyo banker who cheers for the Marie Kondo's of Japan, but who himself collects a lot of crap that clutters his (and his wife's) small house with stuff that he no longer uses, like exercise machines and scuba-diving gear etc. As for Haruko, she is exhausted with the travails of raising two teenage (13 and 15-year-old) girls, and she is known as the Uber Lady who doesn't get paid, so finding time to organize the house probably won't happen today or tomorrow or...

Obviously it bugs Haruko that I find Ms. Kan-do so compelling, soo...why don't I help out with the dishes and laundry a little more? My excuse is that the nursery and my tree collection require most of my energy, for it's the plants that spark my joy.

Ilex serrata 'Koshobai'

In the greenhouse our stock plants of Ilex serrata 'Koshobai' are sparkling with tiny “peppercorn-sized” red berries. It doesn't matter that the fruits are small, in fact that's the plant's delight. Anyway there's seemingly a thousand berries on each 18” bush, and since 'Koshobai' is deciduous, the leaves kindly get out of the way for the berry show. An important ornamental attribute is that it is parthenocarpic, which means that it can develop fruit without a male. The serrata species is native to Japan and China and is hardy to USDA zone 5 (-20 degrees F).

Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Gold Rush'

Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Gold Rush' sparked me with a lot of joy when I walked into GH23 yesterday, both for the colorful blossoms and for their wonderful odour. The “paperbush” is in the Thymelaeaceae family and is native to China and Himalayan foothills where I have seen it. The genus was named by Swiss botanist Carl Daniel Friedrich Meissner (1800-1874) who published monographs on the families of Polygonaceae, Lauraceae, Protaeceae, and yep – Thymelaeaceae. John Lindley (1799-1865), an English botanist and gardener, coined the chrysantha specific name due to the yellow color of the species' flowers. One of the joys of nursery ownership is that we can construct greenhouses with heaters where spring arrives 4-to-6 weeks earlier than outside...and where we can appreciate the double-dose of the visual and olfactory pleasures of the god-send Edgeworthia. The generic name honors Michael Pakenham Edgeworth, an Irish botanist who was stationed in the Bengal Civil Service in India and for his half-sister, the writer Maria Edgeworth. How interesting that the heady, sweet-smelling Rhododendron edgeworthii was also named for the Edgeworths.

Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Akabana'
Edgeworthia papyrifera 'Red Dragon'

Even though the 'Gold Rush' cultivar's flowers have opened, lagging behind is Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Akabana', the orange-red-flowered form. Color is apparent, but the flowers are just not as far open. Then we also grow E. papyrifera 'Red Dragon', but according to The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs the species papyrifera is but a synonym for chrysantha. I don't know: why then is the chrysantha species so odiferous, but the papyrifera 'Red Dragon' is not?

Daphne paper making

Daphne bholua

Also blooming and emitting a joyful odor is Daphne bholua, a member of the same family as the Edgeworthia. It is commonly known as the “Nepalese paper plant” and I saw a make-shift factory outside a small Himalayan village, and later I purchased some paper as a souvenir when I was back in Kathmandu. The Himalayan D. bholua would be subsp. bholua, while the Chinese (Sichuan) is subsp. emeiensis. In Nepal, the plant's common name is “baruwa” and in Tibet it is called “chu chu.” We used to propagate and sell D. bholua even though it is not hardy outside for me, but now I just keep a couple inside for the pleasure of their smell.

Daphne odora 'Maejima'

Another Daphne in bloom is D. odora 'Maejima', a semi-dwarf evergreen selection. The fragrant dark-pink flowers make a nice contrast against the bold green and yellow variegated foliage. D. odora is a Chinese species but it has been long-cultivated in Japan. I asked my Japanese wife what maejima means, but without the characters she was uncertain. She went on the internet and said, “Oh, not that – it is the name of a Japanese porn actress.” Then she also found out it's the name of a small island in the Japanese Inland Sea which is known as the “green island” (AKA Midorijima) due to a preponderance of Pinus densiflora trees, and it is a national park.

Bergenia 'Angel Kiss'

Bergenia 'Flirt'

I would be inclined to grow Bergenia species even if they never flowered because I spark joy from their glossy, chocolatey-maroon-red winter foliage alone. Dubbed pig-squeak, because if you rub a leaf together, it really does make a squeaky sound, and I know that because I did it when I first encountered the common name. We grow about a half dozen cultivars, most of which are patented, such as 'Angel Kiss', 'Flirt' and 'Lunar Glow', but it is annoying that the breeder of these hybrids never reveals the specific parentage, as if he's determined to go to his grave with his special trade secret. But anyway, the flowers are an added bonus, and they are certainly pretty enough when they emerge in spring.

Nandina domestica 'Wood's Dwarf'

I recently passed a mass planting of Nandina along the public highway, and with their red winter foliage I thought: “well done!” There's so many cultivars that I could not make a positive identification, but then: who cares? I noted that they were in an island bed with no irrigation, and even though they are probably boring in summer, they sure were vibrant on this winter day. The Nandina genus, or “heavenly bamboo,” is an evergreen shrub having red berries in the barberry (Berberidaceae) family. The botanic name Nandina is New Latin and comes from the Japanese word nanten, and it was botanically described by Carl Peter Thunberg. The monotypic species domestica was brought to western gardens by William Kerr, a Scottish gardener and plant hunter. Kerr died in 1814 and he was supposedly the first Western professional plant collector active in China. He is credited with sending to Britain 238 plants new to science, but sadly he expired prematurely in Colombo, Ceylon due to some “evil habits,” namely opium addiction.

My favorite Nandina is the cute dwarf 'Senbazuru', and I copy from a previous Flora Wonder Blog:

Nandina domestica capillus 'Senbazuru'

Sadako Sasaki
The freaks and mutants of nature can also be dainty and attractive, and such is the case for Nandina domestica capillus 'Senbazuru'. That is a cumbersome name but the Japanese selection's name means, “A group of one thousand origami paper cranes (orizuru) held together by strings.” An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand cranes will be granted any wish by the gods. The crane is said to live for one thousand years, along with the tortoise and the dragon, so that's why one is made for each year. My wife is adept at origami and she can fold together a pretty crane in seconds, and the recipient of her little gift instantly beams a smile. More deeply though, cranes are a symbol of peace and are seen at places like war memorials or atomic bomb memorials. A sad story is that a two-year-old Japanese girl, Sadako Sasaki, was exposed to radiation from the atomic blast at Hiroshima. She developed leukemia, and terminally ill at age 12 – the age of my beautiful youngest daughter – she began to fold cranes inspired by the legend of senbazuru. After 644 she became too weak and died on October 25, 1955; however her classmates finished the project and today there is a statue of Sadako holding a crane in Hiroshima Peace Park. I hold hope that this pretty Nandina (or “Heavenly bamboo”) will inspire everyone to find peace and happiness.

I have a plant of 'Senbazuru' near where I park my car at home, so I see it every day. I won't blog about it ever again because it rings too close to home when I think about my children, in particular my youngest, Saya.

Abies koreana 'Alpine Star'

Abies koreana 'Alpine Star', or 'Alpin Star' according to many Euros, is a cute dwarf with short, very dark green needles. The tiny buds on branch terminals are prominently white so the effect is like viewing a joyful constellation in the night sky. So far, my stock grows dense and low, about twice as wide as tall, but maybe that's becaues I take plenty of cuttings. It is interesting that some Abies species are difficult to root, like A. concolor, but the green A. koreana cultivars are relatively easy, including the silver-blue 'Ice Breaker' and 'Silberlocke'. 'Alpine Star' will be more dwarf if grown from cuttings than by grafting, but in either case it makes a wonderful addition to a small or rock garden as well as in a container or a trough.

Rhododendron x 'Pink Snowflakes'

Rhododendron x 'Pink Snowflakes' is a dwarf hybrid between two Chinese species (racemosum x moupinense), and it makes you smile every time you see it in bloom. The buds are swollen and red now, but when they open (about mid-March) they will be light pink with purple speckles inside. If Marie Kondo owned my garden she would thank 'Pink Snowflakes' for all the happiness it brings, thus energizing it to prosper. The only problem is its winter hardiness – reportedly to USDA zone 7 (0 degrees F) but I've had some damage at 10 degrees F.

Helleborus hybridus '#102'

Helleborus hybridus '#105'

Helleborus hybridus '#106'

Helleborus hybridus '#108'

Helleborus hybridus '#112'

The Hellebore flowers are amazing really – in the cold morning their stems droop and the blossoms rest on the ground, but when it warms up during the afternoon they pop back up to greet you. I'll admit that they're not much to look at when out of flower, but I'll happily keep mine on the ark. The numbered selections (above) came from thousands of seedlings grown at the O'Byrns' Winter Jewels collection. It was Linnaeus in his Species Plantarum in 1753 who named the genus, and it comes from helleboros (for H. orientalis) which is derived from helein (“to injure”) and bora (“food”), as many Helleborus species are poisonous. On the other hand, in a fit of madness induced by Hera, Heracles killed his children by Megara, but then his madness was cured using hellebore. Hellebore plants are usually left alone by animals such as deer and rabbits because the leaves produce distasteful alkaloids, and even gardeners with sensitive skin should be wary if handling them.

Pleione x 'Riah Shan'
Pleione x 'Irazu'

I have written in the past (July 18, 2014 Flora Wonder Blog) about how I squander company resources by growing plants “just for the heck of it” when there is no intention to propagate and sell any of them. “With my no-profit tree collection I behave like a wealthy aristocrat. Thanks to Buchholz Nursery and its customers for funding my folly.” But since then our Pleione genus went from a “hobby” collection to major production. We even acquired new cultivars from Canada and Britain – at great expense – and these are being propagated and will be offered for sale in the future. Our timing was fortunate because, due to further international governmental regulation with the orchid trade, one can no longer so easily import Pleione from abroad.

Pleione confusa 'Golden Gate'

One of our newer acquisitions is Pleione confusa 'Golden Gate', and I can't imagine any plant sparking more joy. Actually, it is more properly described as x confusa because it is a naturally-occurring hybrid between P. forrestii and P. albiflora. It was first collected by George Forrest in Yunnan, China and I'll bet he probably wetted his pants when he discovered it. The yellow hybrid was at first grown under the name of P. forrestii. but it differs by having larger flowers with longer petals and a cut lip, and most importantly, P. x confusa is not as touchy as P. forrestii – which I have had, and lost, a couple of times.

Eric Lucas

It is due to the enthusiasm of office manager Eric Lucas for the Pleione genus that we transitioned from a “hobby” collection into sales, and he keeps a careful watch on their care. 15 years ago my wife and two Japanese interns spent a half day dividing and planting bulbs in February. When finished, Haruko gently watered them, gently because only one-third of the bulb is actually in the media. Since there was nothing in active growth, they wouldn't be needing additional water for at least a month. Nevertheless a mindless employee with a hose in her hand watered them sideways with excessive pressure and jetted a lot of the bulbs out of their pots, then left them in disarray. Haruko was heart-broken when she saw the mess. She repotted the bulbs, even though the varieties were then mixed up, and we put up a card that says in Spanish “Absolutely do not water!” Said notice is still in place, and besides we recently moved the entire collection from far-away GH21 up to GH1, the greenhouse closest to Eric's office chair.

Sarracenia flava
Sarracenia x 'Judith Hindle'

I used to suppose that carnivorous plants all came from the jungles of Borneo or somewhere like that, but eventually I learned that some species are actually native to America, and that they are plenty hardy and easy to grow outdoors in tubs. We keep a collection of them near the office and visitors and customers are fascinated when seeing them and when they learn about the various strategies they employ to catch their prey. A few years ago my daughter is on record as saying “I hate boys [that has changed]. They're like bugs: you just can't get rid of them.” I bought her a couple of Sarracenia* species, thinking she would enjoy watching them devour bugs, and I was right. The myth that they are difficult to grow or require a terrarium is nonsense, and our tubs are grown in full sun and left out all winter. Whether or not you propagate or sell Sarracenia, you find yourself in awe when you learn about the “pitcher plants”: They catch insects by producing a narcotic (coniine) nectar along their pitcher rims. The bugs try to get more by going further in, where they lose their footing and fall inside. They can't climb out because the inside walls are too smooth, and they cannot fly out because they cannot attain airlift. The plant absorbs nutrients from the consequent bug-mush. Sometimes they'll gobble a yellow jacket, and you'll see him trying to get out sideways. You can see the pathetic head poking out a chewed hole, but he just can't escape with the rest of his body. When you explain all of this to a novice, you invariably spark their interest and amazement.

*I quote from the Savage Garden by Peter D'amato: “For such unusual and once-common plants, they were slow to be recognized by the early European settlers. In 1700 [botanist] Tournefort described plants sent to him by Dr. M.S. Sarrazin of Quebec, and Linnaeus followed his lead, naimg the genus Sarracenia in 1731...Darwin suspected their carnivorous nature but did not study them.”

I don't know if Marie Kondo gardens or not, but I would love to have her visit the Flora Wonder Arboretum, so someone please tell her that she is invited. And of course anyone who can read an entire Flora Wonder Blog is invited as well.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes it takes me awhile to read FLORA but whenever I do it sparks joy - so no goodwill box for your blog, sir.