Within a cone's throw
In our garden we grow
Trees from the best corners of the world.
Conifers are prominently featured in the Flora Wonder Arboretum, and with a single throw I can literally toss a cone from one species to the next, and I would prefer that activity to say, playing a round of golf. Probably best done with no one looking, as the staff already thinks I'm crazy. Some of the cones are ugly little turds, such as with Cathaya argyrophylla, or exquisitely fascinating, such as with Abies koreana.
The general public refers to them as “pinecones” even though most are not in the Pinus genus at all. The “Sugar pine,” Pinus lambertiana, is famous for its whopper cones. The “Umbrella pine,” Sciadopitys verticillata is not a true Pinus of course, even though it produces what appear to be pinecones.
Let's begin our coin toss, er...cone toss with the large Abies procera 'Glauca' that I look at from out my office window. I've mentioned before that it originated as a scion from a cultivar in the Dutchman's garden that was eight feet wide by only one foot tall, but for me it immediately shot upward with absolutely no procumbent inclination, and it is now 40-50' tall. Well, maybe we shouldn't begin with the Abies because the cones are at the top, way beyond my reach.
|Cryptomeria japonica 'Spiralis'|
Cryptomeria japonica 'Spiralis'
Close to the Abies is Cryptomeria japonica 'Spiralis' which I planted at the beginning of my career forty years ago. Commonly known as “Grannie's Ringlets,” it was originally billed as a dwarf conifer, and in the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014) it says “it forms a small, slow-growing bush of dense, spreading habit.” My tree is an upright pillar to nearly 30' tall, and the best part is that I have limbed it up to reveal the wonderful cinnamon-colored trunk. Hillier relates that 'Spiralis' was “introduced in 1860 from Japan,” so I assume that it was J.G. Veitch who first brought it to Europe (but maybe I'm wrong). Veitch, or whomever, may have “discovered” the curious form, or maybe it was selected and brought into cultivation first by the Japanese. Anyway you won't be able to toss the cone very far because it is light and airy.
Abies squamata 'Flaky'
Ah...nearby is Abies squamata 'Flaky'. The Chinese “Flaking-bark fir” features a trunk every bit as interesting as Acer griseum and Pinus bungeana, and I would consider the trio all the advertisement needed for an Oriental celebration. The cones are only medium-sized for the Abies genus, but squamata radiates with royal purplish-blue energy. This true-fir holds the record for the highest elevation in existence at over 16,000' but still it thrives at 50' elevation in my south-of-Forest Grove, Oregon arboretum. Flora Wonder indeed!
Pinus contorta 'Taylor's Sunburst'
Toss a cone from 'Flaky' to Pinus contorta 'Taylor's Sunburst', the “Lodgepole pine” that is the latifolia variety of the species. It was discovered by Dr. Allan Taylor in Colorado's Rocky Mountains. New growth in spring is a lush yellow color which contrasts with the older, dark green foliage. Tiny red pollen cones appear on the new shoots which goes well with their yellow color. Admittedly 'Taylor's Sunburst' is a boring green pine for ten months of the year, but its spring sunburst for two months makes the wait worthwhile.
|Picea pungens 'Hermann Naue'|
|Picea pungens 'Early Cones'|
Picea pungens 'Ruby Teardrops'
An underhanded cone toss will take you from the Lodgepole to Picea pungens 'Hermann Naue', a dwarf Colorado spruce that's loaded with erect purple cones in spring which rise above the foliage. The delightful decoration is similar for two other dwarf cultivars, Picea pungens 'Early Cones' and 'Ruby Teardrops'. According to R. Fincham in Small Conifers for Small Gardens, 'Early Cones' was a seedling selection by Ferny Creek Nursery, Australia, and introduced into the trade in the early 1990's. 'Hermann Naue' is probably from Europe and I first saw it at Hachmann Nursery in Germany. 'Ruby Teardrops' was selected by the bankrupt neighbor's nursery, Fisher Farms, which proves that even if you're unable to manage your finances, still you might be observant enough to find a cool plant.
Pinus flexilis 'Vanderwolf Pyramid'
A behemoth pine anchors the northwest corner of the original Display Garden. Pinus flexilis 'Vanderwolf Pyramid' looms way too large for the relatively small (1 acre?) garden and I rue the day it was planted nearly 40 years ago. We used to graft a couple of thousand of the silvery-blue selection each year, but sales for both the new grafts and for our 6' tall field-grown specimens petered out about 20 years ago and I no longer offer it at any size. My main gripe with the 'Vanderwolf' is that it sucks all of the moisture from the garden's corner, and most garden visitors don't even notice it as an ornamental because of its enormous size. Cones and old needles cover nearby plants so it's also a messy denizen with its neighbors. I've thought about a tree service company removing it for the past ten years, but somehow I never get around to it.
Picea orientalis 'Aureospicata'
|Picea orientalis 'Aureospicata'|
|Picea orientalis 'Aureospicata'|
|Picea orientalis 'Lemon Drop'|
Almost touching the hideous pine is Picea orientalis 'Aureospicata' which the Europeans refer to as just 'Aurea'. New shoots are golden yellow and they contrast with the very dark green older foliage. The cones of the “Orientals spruce” are narrow and full of pitch when young, but by summer they open fully to a warm brown. My two specimens are fecund and by the following winter the cones can literally cover the pathway. Not surprisingly, with hundreds of cones littering the grounds, we have had spontaneous seedlings arise that range from green, typical P. orientalis foliage, to little green buns, and sometimes offspring that resembles the mother tree. One such seedling was christened 'Lemon Drop'; I hoped it would be a more-dwarf form, but when grafted onto vigorous Picea abies rootstock I see that it's not so dwarf.
Cedrus libani 'Blue Angel'
|Cedrus libani 'Green Prince'|
|Cedrus libani 'Pendula'|
Cedrus libani features plump egg-shaped cones which stand erect along the branches. 'Blue Angel' is a snake-branched cultivar, but as my oldest specimen ages (30+ years) the narrow snakes become less obvious, or less curious, and I confess that we don't produce it anymore. We still propagate the popular C. l. 'Green Prince', and my original 40-year-old tree by the Pond House could be the largest in the world but I have never seen it cone ever. C. l. 'Pendula' doesn't cone either, except that it produces an abundance of male flowers which are certainly interesting creatures.
Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Rigid Dwarf'
If you were to throw the Cedrus cone further into the garden you would have to do so before it matures and begins to disintegrate by autumn. Aim for the Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Rigid Dwarf', aptly (though uninspiringly) named for its compressed upright shape, and I think it was selected by Hillier Nurseries in the 1960's. I got my start from the old Mitsch Nursery, Oregon, but I don't propagate anymore because sales were dismal, plus the rate of growth was so slow that there was no profit to be had. Actually, Buchholz Nursery is full of such plants, with our hinoki collection numbering about 100 cultivars, even though we produce only about 15 each year. My Japanese wife taught me that the word hinoki is the Japanese name, with hino meaning “fire” and ki meaning “wood.”
Ginkgo biloba 'Autumn Gold'
From a botanical perspective Ginkgo is always placed in the conifer section of plant encyclopedias, such as The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs or Krussmann's Manual of Cultivated Conifers. I won't go into the technicalities of that classification, but it has something to do with mobile sperm. Ginkgo was once “widely distributed in prehistoric times (about 180 million years ago!),” according to Krussmann, but “only a single species has survived to modern times.” I have a fossil from the Paleocene which was labeled Ginkgo adiantoides, and it was found in Morton County, North Dakota. Ginkgo biloba is considered the earth's oldest living plant, and it's called a “living fossil” because it has no close living relatives, and is the only plant species dating back 270 million years (Permian) in the fossil record. Ginkgo biloba is supposedly a dioecious plant with male and female reproductive organs in separate individuals, but I have the curious situation where all four of my 'Autumn Gold' – a male clone – have produced fruit. Figure that one out. Anyway I won't be tossing the “silver apricot” because of the offensive smell (like vomit) of the outer flesh in autumn.
I grow a number of Metasequoia glyptostroboides cultivars, including my introduction of the weeping 'Miss Grace', but I have never seen cones on the dwarf forms. Down by our northern pond, called the “Primordial Pond” because it receives drainage from the nursery – and you certainly wouldn't want to swim in it – is a large-growing seedling which produces thousands of cones. They are attractive little orbs, much smaller but resembling Sequoiadendron. Male and female strobili appear on the same plant (monoecious) and they apparently cavort when I go home at night because we find seedlings growing amongst the weeds.
Glyptostrobus pensilis features cones of about the same size as the Metasequoia, and both genera are monoecious and deciduous. The “Swamp cypress” is native to southeast portion of China, Laos and into northern Vietnam. Hillier says “Not recommended for cold localities,” and furthermore states that it is “extremely rare,” and that “This remarkable species (monotypic) has grown in the SHHG without protection for many years but has achieved a height of only 3m (2013).” The Flora Wonder Arboretum is far more frigid than in southern England and my one specimen has withstood 0 degrees F with 40 mph winds and it is approximately 35' tall at 30 years of age.
Larix kaempferi 'Paper Lanterns'
Another deciduous conifer is Larix kaempferi 'Paper Lanterns' which originated as a seedling selected by the late Edsal Wood and introduced into the trade by Don Howse of Porterhowse Farms. Of course the cones are erect when they develop in spring but by summer they turn brown and hang down like little brown lanterns. I don't sell it anymore because for me the plants were too happy and I would grow narrow 10' trees without a single cone. Customers would wonder if I had a cultivar mix-up and I had to explain that their specimens were true but perhaps required more stress to cone. Probably for the retail market it would have been better to field grow the trees, and the shock from digging would have caused the production of cones.
Another cones toss winds up at Pseudotsuga gaussenii which is sometimes listed as P. sinensis var. gaussenii (commonly known as Huang shan in the Chinese language). I love the cones at all stages of development, and when fully ripe I've been known to send them to friends at Christmas time. They are larger than our native P. menziesii and the Chinese species is a lighter tan-brown color. All of the Asian Pseudotsuga are compatible with P. menziesii as rootstock, so I've never bothered to raise them from seed. Hillier states “This rare, slow-growing species is susceptible to damage by spring frost,” but in the 25 years I have grown it spring frosts – which we get too – have never damaged the trees. Still, I've never produced many because of the dubious hardiness for most of my customers. The gaussenii variety honors the French botanist Henri Gaussen (1891-1981), and other plants were also named for him such as Ulmus gaussenii, Juniperus gaussenii, and the genus Gaussenia in the Podocarpaceae family.
The final cone delight that I'll mention is for Pseudolarix amabilis. Similar with Pseudotsuga I don't like botanic names with “pseudo” as the genus or the specific name. If they are distinct genera or species – and the botanic community insists they are – then they should be called something besides “false” this or that. Oh well, too late now. Anyway Pseudolarix amabilis is a deciduous Chinese conifer that was introduced by Robert Fortune in 1852. It is commonly called the “Golden larch” because autumn color is said to be golden (Hilliers), but my tree is always a burnt-orange color. The cones ripen in one year, and Hillier says “On large trees they stud the long, slender branches, resembling small, pale green artichokes, bloomy when young, reddish brown when ripe.” I had never seen the cones before, until one day I was pleasantly surprised to find them on my ten-year-old specimen in the Blue Forest. I think I first noticed them around this time of year, at the end of August, and I wondered where my brain had been earlier in the year when they were developing. “Bloomy” indeed, Hillier, and this is the first time I have used this wonderful word.
|Tsuga carolina 'Mountain Mist'|
There was an eccentric Englishman – I forget his name – who established a conetum in the 1800's, and showed them off like one would a stamp or automobile collection. Many cones were novelties at the time because most of the species were exotic and new to science, but I would love to go back in time and see his collection. I guess I have a veritable conetum as well, only that mine is on live trees.
My first sales in horticulture was with cones of Sequoiadendron giganteum when I was about ten years old. My grandmother would ferry me around town to the florist shops where I charged 50c per dozen, and who could turn down a cute kid trying to make some money? It's interesting that I now have an extensive Sequoiadendron cultivar collection, especially when in botanical literature it is listed as Sequoiadendron Buchholz. I also got into trouble over the giant redwood cones because we had neighborhood wars with them as projectiles. Yes, I was called into the school principal's office where the old grump looked at me over his glasses and made me promise to never do it again. And I never did.
|No, not those kind of cones!|