Thursday, June 13, 2019

Hot Diggity Dog

For the most part my employees are not focused on the weather, none of them. To be sure, they don't like it too hot or too cold or too rainy, but whatever it is they just deal with the situation. Spring has now evolved into summer with its high 90 degrees F temperatures, but they adjust by tossing a couple of extra energy drinks into their lunch bags. None of them are aware, for example, of my sigh of relief on May 15th when the threat of a damaging spring frost has passed. They get paid why should they care? They aren't aware that a weekend swelter, and its management, is integral to the survival of the company, and though most don't harbor any particular ill-will against me, they all know that if I goof it up with bad decisions, or if we set a scalding heat record, they will still have a job with me or someone else. It's understandable numbness, understandable dumbness. In a way it's a sad situation because if I don't prosper neither do they, but they're not programmed to look at it that way. Even my wife and kids don't get the survival anxiety I go through every day.

Ok, I know that none of you want to hear about my medical situations, my dreams last night or what worries me in the day. To you I'm just Plant-Guy and you probably think that I have it pretty good. 40 years in business with beautiful landscaped grounds full of maples, conifers and other wonderful companion plants...just stand back and watch them all grow, right? But remember, the irrigation pump doesn't conk out when it's 65 degrees in April, rather it waits until it's 95 degrees in June, and the distress occurs on a Sunday when there's nobody available to address the problem. My chubby nursery-owner neighbor came from a soft-hands banking world, and his passion and hobby was politics, not plants. His hands may have been dirty, but it wasn't from soil, and consequently he went bankrupt. Nobody in the neighborhood or in the nursery industry misses him, nor would they miss me if I too pooped my pants.

Acer shirasawanum 'Sensu'

But, I shouldn't be so fretful and negative. It's hot, but at 7 PM we are treated to a nice breeze. Sixteen years ago, B.C. (Before Children), my wife and I went outside for a stroll on a hot-June evening. The best description of Dear H. is that, while not childish, she is child-like. She responds to people and her world with true happiness and gleeful energy. She delighted in the fluttering maple leaves of an unnamed seedling of a hybrid of Acer palmatum with an Acer shirasawanum which I planted near our home. She uttered a name: 'Sensu', Japanese for a “moving fan.” Ok – 'Sensu'! – I pounced, for I was also fascinated with the tree and wanted to name it, and I figured that her officiality gave me license to name, propagate and distribute its offspring. I have sold at least 2,000 'Sensu' from my nursery alone, but imagine all of the others that have been grown without my, output, and though it is not the most dazzling maple cultivar ever, it remains one of my favorite. So thank you dear.

Ok, back to theme: it's June hot. Again. I really don't like dogs, sorry – I just don't – except for my mutt Sammy, and since nobody else is at home I am his care-giver. “Outside, outside?” I ask, and yep, he springs a back-flip in anticipation to go out and piss on the lawn. Then he struts around the yard, making sure to mark his ground against any raccoons and coyotes that might attempt to displace him. Thanks, Sammy...and I praise him with “Good Pup, good pup,” even though he is 11 years old, over 70 years of age in dog terms – older than me.

Quercus garryana

While Sammy is doing his business I gaze out at my home landscape. My front door opens to the south-view of an enormous Quercus garryana, the “Oregon oak,” and I am humbled to live next to one of the largest of its species in the world.

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Pia'

Near the base of the oak is the dwarf Hydrangea macrophylla 'Pia'. The specific name macrophylla means “big leaf,” except that they aren't so large for 'Pia', and epithets such as macrophylla, microphylla, parviflora etc. are not really appropriate because they're all relative. We used to propagate 'Pia' and I sold them in a consignment situation with a garden cooperative. One day I got a phone call from Crystal who was the new manager of the garden group. She was distressed to inform me that my 'Pia' was not true-to-name, and proof was that was that they were 34” tall, when the internet said that they would be only 30” or shorter. The stock plant that I was looking at is currently 30” tall at 20 years of age and it is absolutely true to name. Crystal, with glitter smeared on her eye lids, announced that I had to come and get the wrong hydrangeas or they would dispose them because they had to protect the integrity of their company and could not be known as untrustworthy with plant names. I responded by saying they were in fact 'Pia', and if you think they're too tall, just prune them. They were in containers, located in a greenhouse, and with water and fertilizer they had stretched...which can happen with any dwarf. Crystal, with her two months in the nursery business, was not to be outdone and certainly not by a man, even though I had over thirty years in the trade with a national reputation for being Plant-Name-Guy who can and should be trusted. I stood firm while the plants were dumped, and soon thereafter I exited from the plant group. We no longer grow the 'Pia' due to Ms. Crystal-lids and her snotty attitude, nevertheless it is a wonderful cultivar.

Picea glauca 'Pendula'

Carpinus betulus 'Columnaris Nana'

Off to my left are three trees that I cherish: Picea glauca 'Pendula', Cornus kousa 'Ohkan', and a Carpinus betulus 'Columnaris Nana' which is about 10' tall. The problem is that they're too close to each other. The spruce cultivar is one of the largest in the world, so it's not going anywhere. The Carpinus is my original tree and it looks particularly regal in spring, so I'll leave it alone for a couple more years, and who knows, maybe I won't be here after that anyway. The 'Ohkan' dogwood was a gift from Akira Shibamichi in Japan. He sent to me a number of wonderful plants such as a weeping Styrax japonicus with pink flowers, a variegated Daphniphyllum macropodum and a weeping Stewartia monadelpha. I didn't ask for anything which is how you should be polite, as no Japanese nurseryman wants to deal with an Ugly American. Also, if truth be known, he was generous because he was smitten with my impressive wife.

Cornus kousa 'Ohkan'

The C.k. 'Ohkan' is variegated exactly like the patented Cornus kousa 'Summer Gold', and for all I know they're one and the same because 'Summer Gold' entered the trade at about the same time. Plant Haven International, the East coast patent meisters, says that 'Summer Gold' “has much better summer variegation than other C. Kousa [sic] selections.” Nope, it's not better than 'Ohkan' because they're the same. Besides, Cornus kousa 'Summer Fun' beats the hell out of 'Ohkan' or 'Summer Gold' or whatever you want to call it. Elsewhere Plant Haven says, “In early spring this elegant tree ['Summer Gold'] is a mass of four pedaled [sic] bracts.” Maybe it's just me, but I've never seen pedals on a dogwood.

Acer palmatum 'Tiger Rose'

Sammy loves to be outside in the evening of a hot day, and after trotting around for awhile he lays down on the warm grass. I stand at the doorway, waiting, but he wins the stare-down contest so I sit on the front steps to give the old guy more time. To my right is probably the largest Acer palmatum 'Tiger Rose' in the world. The late Dr. Bump of Forest Grove, Oregon, discovered the reticulated seedling from the parent tree of 'Azuma murasaki' and he named it for his wife Rosemary who he called “Rose.” I never did hear why he “tigered” part of the name, but maybe the prominent veins are like stripes on a tiger? I cut one scion from the doctor's 1 gallon tree while he stood and watched. There was at least three scions available but I didn't want to be greedy, and thankfully the one scion took. For some reason I planted my original start in front of the house – probably too close – and it is thriving in full sun. As I write this we are expecting record temperatures for the date, so we'll see how 'Tiger Rose' will fare.

Calycanthus x 'Hartlage Wine'

Next to the 'Tiger Rose' is Calycanthus x 'Hartlage Wine'. I'm not quite sure how to render the botanic name since it was an intrageneric cross of Sinocalycanthus chinensis, a redundant name, with the American species Calycanthus floridus. Sometimes it is given the specific name of x raulstonii because student Richard Hartlage performed the cross at the JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University in 1991. The flowers are wonderful but the multi-branched and suckering shrub is a beast that I must prune at least twice a year, otherwise it and 'Tiger Rose' would fight for space. As I gaze at it now, I realize that it was poorly sited and will have to be transplanted elsewhere. At the time my objective was to place the “allspice” close to home so my wife could enjoy it. I have two long roads that lead to my house, and I'm very mindful of what I plant, with pleasing H being my primary concern. Like a peacock strutting his feathers to show off, I'm just mediocre-looking, but I use fantastic plants to impress her.

Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Gold Rush'

One such plant that is near the front door is Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Gold Rush'. The “Chinese paperbush” has a cultivar name that is overused, what with there being a Metasequoia and a Sciadopitys also named 'Gold Rush'. I don't suppose that “sunshine” would be a good name, but when the Edgeworthia is in bloom in late winter there are no leaves in the way, and its appearance is as welcome as the golden sun.

Bletilla striata 'Ogon'

Behind the 'Gold Rush' is a little planting of Bletilla striata 'Ogon', and the purple orchid flowers rise above the yellow leaves, a delightful combination. The plants receive PM shade and I've never tried the cultivar in full sun at the nursery. Bletilla is a cinch to grow in western Oregon, except with its zone 7 (0 degrees F) hardiness being the only limitation. The genus received its name because the terrestrial orchid resembles the genus Bletia, although Bletilla is native to China and eastern Asia, while Bletia is a New World genus. Bletia is also an orchid, but you don't see it in landscapes because of a lack of winter hardiness. The specific epithet for Bletilla striata is from Latin striatum, and hmm..., medically speaking striatum is a striped mass of white and gray matter in the brain which controls movement and balance. The striatum is the largest structure of the basal ganglia, but I'll have to study my hardy ground-orchid further to see what had caused the brain-part comparison.

Mahonia 'Apollo'

Mahonia aquifolium is an attractive evergreen shrub, while the cultivar 'Apollo' is a nice improvement upon the species. My plant is compact and dense and it's a wonderful butterball of yellow blossoms in spring. When not in flower one can admire the glossy dark-green leaves borne on reddish stems. Remember, the specific epithet aquifolium has nothing to do with water (aqua), but rather refers to the barbed hook at the end of the leaf – like an eagle's beak – aquila in Latin. The Mahonia is Oregon's state flower, though I've never been asked to vote on the matter, and it is commonly called “Oregon grape.” The berries are edible but tartly sour. My grandmother used to make Oregon grape jelly which was delicious, but then I was more of a sugar consumer back then. Even now I will put a ripe berry in my mouth, like while on a hike, and I slowly nibble on it for a few minutes before spitting it all out. My hiking partners don't understand the appeal, but a small amount of juice on the tongue is actually quite invigorating. Five berries in a 12 oz. smoothie would be about perfect. Well, maybe just three.

Acer palmatum 'Ornatum'

I bought Flora Farm sixteen years ago and relandscaped the entire yard. I edited a Betula pendula and a huge Robinia pseudoacacia, and good riddance to those two old-fashioned farm trees. One laceleaf maple was kept, as well as the massive oak, but nothing else. I like a blank canvas with the freedom to plant whatever I want. I remember the late Jim Schmidt had a back yard of entirely maple cultivars with grass paths between them. Apparently someone told Jim his landscape couldn't consist of only maples, as if that wouldn't look right. Jim said, “Why not?” From his deck you could look down and see his colorful yard, and I agreed with Jim – why not? But it was too late for me to copy him for I had already planted other bushes in my ground. The laceleaf that I kept from the previous owner is almost certainly the old cultivar 'Ornatum', but since I don't know that for sure I have never propagated from it, and besides I probably wouldn't even if I was certain because I doubt that there would be a market for it. According to Vertrees/Gregory in Japanese Maples, “This very old cultivar from Europe has been popular because of its reliability and the rather distinctive foliage color [brown-red]. As other selections of deeper tones were made that retained their color better, its popularity waned somewhat.” Well, it “waned” a lot, not “somewhat,” and now Acer palmatums 'Red Dragon' and 'Tamuke yama' are vastly more preferred.

Picea breweriana

At the southeast and southwest corners of the lawn are two Picea breweriana, and they somewhat anchor the back edge of the landscape. On foggy or rainy days they loom broodingly, but this evening they appear more cheerful in the sideways PM light. The species is not impossible to grow on its own roots, but it is difficult and often unsuccessful because it evolved on the lean serpentine soils of southwest Oregon and northwest California. My two specimens, however, are grafted onto Picea abies, the accommodating “Norway spruce,” and they may be the largest grafted P. breweriana in the country. Purists, such as snob employees of various arboreta, prefer the species on its own roots, but good luck with that, good luck with P. breweriana's survival. You lose none of the integrity, the lovely weeping characteristic of the species when it's grafted onto Picea abies, in fact it accelerates the growth and ornamental value much more quickly. So, “Go Norway,” I say.

The best part of the landscape of my front yard is the H. & S. playhouse, built when they were teeny tykes. By the way, I am cryptic with their names because both are beauties and the internet is full of creeps. I'm somewhat creepy too, that's why I can relate to their situation. They have spent a lot of fun time in their playhouse, especially when accompanied by their brother, sisters, friends and mother.

Sammy is still contentedly lying on the ground as I look out at my world, still grinning at me with his dog-smile. Robins are singing, doves are cooing and oops, a squirrel just ran past the old oak tree and the dog wasn't aware of it. I can finally relax; we set a temperature record for the day but we survived it, and thanks to all who help.

Hot diggity dog – life is good!


  1. Obviously you have never owned a Corgie. We are down to 6 and they are a big, big part of our lives. Certainly enjoy your blogs and wish we could have a temperate corner in our Zone 10. Finally lost my Japanese Maple as we lost a way to refrigerate it. Should have bonsai'd it. Must start with another small one. We kept it going for over 10 years by placing it in an old freezer which was on a timer for about 15 minutes 6 times a day.

  2. Obviously you have never owned a Corgie. We are down to 6 and they are a big, big part of our lives. Certainly enjoy your blogs and wish we could have a temperate corner in our Zone 10. Finally lost my Japanese Maple as we lost a way to refrigerate it. Should have bonsai'd it. Must start with another small one. We kept it going for over 10 years by placing it in an old freezer which was on a timer for about 15 minutes 6 times a day.