Friday, September 27, 2019

Planting Out: Indulgence, Endurance, Permanent Residence

I have a lot of trees in containers – sometimes one-of's – that I'm anxious to put into ground in the Flora Wonder Arboretum. I have acquired them and have nurtured them to a plant-out size, and now is the perfect month to fill the empty spaces in my peculiar collection. The end of September is a most transitional month, where 90 degree F days give way to the jacket-wearing, apple-eating and the somewhat-depressing events of autumn. The seasons have evolved from spring's lustful indulgence, then to summer's long endurance, and now the floral hopefuls long for a permanent residence amongst their peers. Hopefully we'll find a few dry days to accommodate them.

The fact is that we're constantly digging and selling; also editing plants from the grounds for lack of performance, susceptibility to disease, or because they are not true-to-name...or the names lost, so there's an abundance of space to site replacements with greater potential. To transform is to make better – that is what the plant-fool believes – and since I have a need to promote nature's floral curiosities...I continue what I've done for most of my adult life. The fact that some on my to-plant list will be taken off the sales list explains what I mean by the “plant fool.”

Quercus ithaburensis ssp. macrolepis 'Hemelrijk Silver'

A few years ago I was gifted a silver-leaved form of the “Valonia oak,” Q. macrolepis that was discovered by the de Belders of Arboretum Kalmthout. 'Hemelrijk Silver' was selected from seed collected on the island of Rhodes and was named for their home estate, itself also a large arboretum. Besides the estate name, Hemelrijk is a nearby town in Belgium about 25 miles west of Brussels. Since botanists can't leave classification alone, we are now to name the species Q. ithaburensis subsp. macrolepis, at least according to The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014). The common name of “Valonia” is due to the acorn cups which are used for tanning and dyeing, and the acorns themselves are eaten raw or boiled. The specific epithet ithaburensis refers to Mount Thabor in Israel, one area of origin, and macrolepis is from Greek macros for “large” and lepis for “scale” – “with large scales.”

Abies koreana 'Alpine Star'

I'll plant a group of Abies koreana 'Alpine Star' into the rockery. One reason for doing so is because customers want to buy my entire container crop but I still need them for cutting/scion stock. This cultivar is a delightful miniature with a rounded bun shape, but I imagine if left alone a leader would eventually ascend. The “star” in its name is appropriate because the tiny white buds show off against the very dark green foliage, like you're looking at a constellation in the night sky. Like most “Korean fir,” 'Alpine Star' ('Alpin Star' to the Europeans) can be propagated via rooted cuttings, but for more vigor and faster growth we prefer to graft onto seedling Abies rootstock. Any Abies understock would be compatible, but we use either “Momi fir,” Abies firma, due to its heat tolerance, or Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis because it will accept many soil types.

Bergenia ciliata 'Dixter'

Bergenia ciliata 'Dixter'

Great Dixter
I've had one pot of Bergenia ciliata 'Dixter' in the greenhouse for a number of years and it's finally time to plant the “Elephant Ears” out. Though native to mid elevations in Kashmir and Nepal, it is considered winter tender, even in England, but who knows – maybe the Dixter form is more hardy. Great Dixter is a house in east Sussex, England, and was the family home of the famous gardener and garden writer Christopher Lloyd. He is quoted as saying “The great thing is not to be timid in your gardening, whether it's colours, shapes, juxtapositions or the contents themselves. Splash around and enjoy yourself.” I won't enjoy it if 'Dixter' dies, but then I don't want to be considered timid.

Rosa moyesii 'Regalia'

I'm not a “rose guy” – pruning them is no fun anyway – but I do admire a few Rosa species and grow them in the collection. R. moyesii 'Regalia' is a favorite, but for years our one specimen was crowed too close to the road and too close next to the arborvitae hedge. We brutally pruned it twice a year, but last winter I grew tired of its placement so we dug it up and potted it into a 100-gallon container. It survived the move so now I look forward to putting it back into the ground, but this time I'll site it (with plenty of room) near the long road to our home so my wife can more easily enjoy it. The Chinese species was introduced by A.E. Pratt in 1894 and again by E.H. “Chinese” Wilson in 1903. As I wrote in a previous Flora Wonder Blog, the cultivar name 'Regalia' “is from Latin regalis for 'royal powers' or 'royal privileges,' as regal is from Latin rex or reg for 'king'.” The moyesii species “was named in honor of the Reverend J. Moyes who joined the Chinese Inland Mission, a Protestant organization whose members wore Chinese dress and adopted pig-tails to impress the locals who were undergoing the conversion attempt. Wilson had been hosted for a time by the good Reverend, and a plant hunter in China in 1903 appreciated any help he could get.” The R. moyesii species received the coveted Award of Garden Merit in 1925, and it has been used in hybrid breeding.

Nandina domestica capillus 'Tama shishi'

The dwarf “Heavenly bamboo,” Nandina domestica capillus 'Tama shishi', will be planted out from greenhouse containers because it is no longer in our propagation plans. The thread-leaf cultivar is so dwarf that we can't find good propagating wood, and so slow that I don't make any money anyway. Tama is Japanese for “gem” or “ball,” while shishi refers to a “Legendary Lion.”* The generic name Nandina is New Latin from the Japanese name for the plant, nanten. We still produce two cultivars of Nandina, 'Chirimen' and 'Senbazuru', and though both are very slow also, they make for nice QT (cutie-pot) containers. I explained to a new employee that the leaf stemlets will root – I've done it – but that they won't grow, and I learned that the hard way when I began my career. I have also seen Ginkgo biloba where a single leaf with the petiole can produce roots, but since I've never done it I don't know if new growth would appear.

*My Japanese wife says that the name 'Tama shishi' is not one that the Japanese would use. Rather, 'Tama jishi' is a more appropriate name.

Sorbus matsumurana

Sorbus matsumurana

Sorbus matsumurana

Sorbus commixta

Sorbus matsumurana is a new “rowan” species for me, but I need to plant my trees out because by next year they'll hit the top of the greenhouse. The specific name was coined by the great Japanese botanist Tomitaro Makino and means “pine tree village.” I'm not a Sorbus expert, but I received my start of Sorbus matsumurana from the same source as Sorbus commixta 'Embley'. Hillier doesn't list a S. matsumurana, but mentions that S. commixta – also a Japanese species – has a variety rufoferruginea which received an Award of Merit in 1958 as S. matsumurana. My 'Embley' went to the Flora Farm grounds last fall, so when the two “species” produce flowers and fruit and autumn color I'll have a project to compare them. An Irish website,, states that S. matsumurana produces typical white rowan flowers which are followed in autumn by “heavy crops of bright red berries which persist into winter. Serrated ash-like leaves turn yellow in autumn, contrasting well with the berries.” I love the brilliant orange-red coloration, always dependable on S. commixta, so I hope that S. matsumurana actually does turn to yellow for me in Oregon. Last year in the greenhouse they turned from green to brown, with no fun in-between.

Acer truncatum 'Fire Dragon'
Acer truncatum 'Super Dragon'

On my plant-out list is Acer truncatum 'Super Dragon', a selection of the “Shantung maple” from northern China, Korea and Japan. A few years ago I received A. truncatums 'Super Dragon', 'Fire Dragon' and 'Tiny Dragon' from Keith Johannsen of Metro Maples in Texas, and I was given permission to propagate a couple from each as back up in case I lose the originals. Now with my backups, let's see what these trees do out of the greenhouse and into the “real world.” I know that Keith has long promoted the truncatum species because it thrives in the relative hell-hole of Texas, but then he grows a lot of Acer palmatum cultivars as well.

Illicium parviflorum 'Florida Sunshine'

All visitors immediately notice my one Illicium parviflorum 'Florida Sunshine' even though it's 60 feet from the entrance of GH23. The hardy “Anise” (to USDA zone 6, -10 F) is an evergreen shrub with bright golden foliage. According to Plant Delights Nursery: “We brought three golden seedlings of the rare Florida endemic Illicium parviflorum back from our 2000 visit to Florida plantsman Charles Webb. After several years of evaluation, we selected one plant for introduction as 'Florida Sunshine'.” The best plant description in history follows: “As the weather cools in fall, the leaf color brightens to screaming yellow...” The further promise of the upper stems taking on a brilliant red cast which contrasts with “screaming-yellow” leaves, is all the advertisement I needed to purchase one from Plant Delights Nursery. I'll site it carefully with light shade, or at least shade in the afternoon, because we're more bright in summer than muggy North Carolina with its humid summers; but if in too much shade I suspect the leaves will be greenish.

Diospyros kaki 'Izu'

There is an empty spot in my apple/pear orchard of about 60 trees, and I'll fill it with my first persimmon, Diospyros kaki 'Izu'. It will be a slow-growing tree but a cultivar which is usually very productive. The non-astringent fruit is sweet and contains little to no seeds, and wonderfully it is early to ripen. I love persimmons and I hope that I'll still be around when my new tree bears abundantly. The Latin generic name Diospyros translates to “food of the gods,” and in China the fruit is given as a gift for good luck in the new year. The specific name kaki refers to the Japanese word for “red tree” (akaki) because that's the color of the leaves when the fruit is at its peak. Izu is a city in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, a short distance to the west of Tokyo.

Dahlia 'Mystic Illusion'

I know my family will be pleased with Dahlia 'Mystic Illusion' which I'll plant near the house. The simple, bright yellow flowers jump out at you due to the black-purple foliage. The bushy plant grows to about 5' tall by 4' wide in 10 years so there's plenty of blooms. I started out with one plant, but to my surprise there are now five, so apparently a garden “helper” divided the tubers when I wasn't looking. ('s patented). Credit for 'Mystic Illusion' goes to the New Zealand breeder Dr. Keith Hammett.

Magnolia laevifolia 'Free Spirit'

Magnolia laevifolia 'Free Spirit'

I'm growing a crop of Magnolia laevifolia 'Free Spirit' in containers in the greenhouse, but I'll venture to put one into my daughter's Oregon City garden and one into the Flora Wonder Arboretum. If the USDA zone 8 (10 F) trees can survive the first couple of winters maybe they will thrive in the long run. Nomenclature for M. laevifolia is fluid, and it seems like only a few years ago we called it Michelia yunnanensis, but in any case 'Free Spirit' is an evergreen, cascading bush that will grow to only 4-5' tall, but spread to 8-10' wide. Cream white flowers are small, but a mature specimen is smothered with upward-facing blossoms and they are pleasantly fragrant. 'Free Spirit' looks like it would be a cinch to root, but since it's patented I'll never know. The former name Michelia for the Asiatic genus of trees and shrubs honors the Italian botanist Piero Antonio Micheli (1679-1737), but now we need only concern ourselves with Pierre Magnol (1638-1715). Magnol was Director of the Royal Botanic Garden of Montpelier, France, and was the first (before Linnaeus) who devised a botanical scheme of classification by grouping plants into families.

Berberis temolaica

We'll put a few Berberis temolaica into the ground to be used as stock plants. The species is native to southeast Tibet, not in black plastic pots in an Oregon nursery's greenhouse where they're probably overwatered. Hillier calls B. temolaica, “One of the most striking barberries. Young shoots and leaves are conspicuously glaucous, the shoots becoming a dark, bloomy purple-brown with age.” It was the famous plant explorer F. Kingdon-Ward who introduced B. temolaica in 1924, and English botanist Leslie Walter Ahrendt – a Mahonia and Berberis expert – who provided the final classification. B. temolaica forms an upright, arching deciduous shrub, and in fall and winter the gardener, and his birds, enjoy the oval red berries. The specific name temolaica was given because Kingdon-Ward first discovered it on the Temo La (Pass) in the Tibetan province of Pome.

Acer palmatum 'Strawberry Spring'

Acer palamtum 'Strawberry Spring'

Acer palmatum 'Amber Ghost' is a particularly fecund cultivar, and some of its seedling offspring have gone on to be selected and named as well. Acer palmatum 'Strawberry Spring' is one-such, and I intend to put a couple of plants into the ground – maybe one in partial shade, and another in full sun. The original seedling was planted out at Flora Farm in full sun where it grew slowly for a number of years. Grafts grown in the greenhouse display more vigor on their borrowed rootstock, but until I place a few grafted plants in the ground I won't really “know” the cultivar.

Acer shirasawanum 'Bronze Age'

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Lightning'
Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Lightning'
The above also applies to Acer shirasawanum 'Bronze Age'. It too had about eight years in the ground – the original seedling, that is – but I'm anxious to see how the commercially produced grafts will fare. 'Bronze Age' is likely a hybrid of A. shirasawanum with A. palmatum, kind of like our 'Mr. Sun', and they're actually quite similar, with the former just being a copper version of the latter. My career will end before I learn all I want to know about my maple introductions, but I have experienced in the past that some of my greenhouse wonders, particularly variegates, fail miserably in the landscape. One introduction that dogged it outside, for example, was Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Lightning'. I was originally very excited upon its discovery, but the variegation would bleach-out by June and it would actually look ugly.

Acer palmatum 'Lilleanne's Jewel'

Acer palmatum 'Lilleanne's Jewel'

Another maple that will go out is Acer palmatum 'Lileeanne's Jewel'. I have been selling it as one-gallon containers, so it's about time that I get to know it better too. It's fantastic in the greenhouse but I wonder how the pink and white variegation will hold up outside in Oregon's blazing summer sun. This new maple was found by Johnathan Savelich and named for his daughter Lileeanne, but unfortunately the name has been botched by a couple of mail-order nurseries as 'Little Anne's Jewel'.

All of the above, plus many more plants, are going into the arboretum at Flora Farm. I wonder, but don't worry about their ultimate fate...meaning like when I'm not around. Hopefully the next owner will be into the trees as much as I am and they will continue to prosper.

...But, I once saw a Buddhist sand-painting, where a few monks spent weeks creating intricate designs with colored sand. You couldn't call it “artwork” because everything was prescribed by religious dogma, but while not artwork, it definitely was skill-work and it was amazingly beautiful. The best part was that, when finished, a few prayers and chants are uttered, and then the sand is scooped up and put into jars and tossed to the wind. The point is to remind ourselves of the impermanence of beauty, of life. That is also my point of view with my arboretum: though it was all work, sweat and worry at the time, in the end none of the trees will get out of this world alive, and neither will I.

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