Friday, April 17, 2020

My Grandfather's Garden

I first met Reuben Hatch in about 1987. He billed himself as a “Grower of Rhododendrons for the Discerning Gardener,” and operated his one-man wholesale nursery from Vancouver, Washington. We hit it off as friends as we both loved plants and we both loved to go plant hunting in exotic lands such as Mexico, China and the Himalaya. In addition we would rise early and meet for hikes once a week at Mt. Hood, the Oregon Coast Hills or on one of the many trails in the Columbia River Gorge. Sometimes we would visit other Oregon nurseries and gardens and due to Reuben's full head of pure white hair I would refer to him as “my grandfather,” even though he is only 16 years older than I. In recent times we had to limit our adventures because as he entered into his 80's his brain became hay-wired and he developed the tendency to lose balance and fall.

I hadn't seen R. in about two months but I had a bag full of magazines and books to exchange so Haruko and I decided that we would visit even if we just waved through the window. H. also delivered a marionberry pie and I brought a dish full of Pleione orchids in full flower. It was Reuben who got me started with Pleione about 25 years ago in the first place, and since he no longer grows them he can have a couple of weeks of fun with mine, then I'll bring them back to my greenhouse.

About plants, R. knows far more than I...while I clearly know far more than him about plants – a perfect relationship. Many know us two as a pair, and I suppose that some might wonder if we are gay. R. definitely is not gay. I guess I am sort of – in many ways – but never in a sexual sense. I appreciate the beauty of flowers, leaves and healthy females, and while I am completely loyal to my wife, I don't see anything wrong with my fascination with the latter, and all the better if they are intelligent and quick-witted.

Though R. “retired” twenty years ago – “at the end of the last century,” as he puts it, he stays busy with his half acre of plants. Everything is jammed on his limited lot, but he continues to prune the established while shoe-horning in the new, and has thus kept the garden fresh and invigorating. He doesn't worry about clashing colors or themes of a “proper” landscape because there is simply no space unfilled. Nevertheless he keeps acquiring new plants and even has a heel-in area – the bull pen – that contains about 50 plants with nowhere to put. Grandfather's place consists of hundreds of separated individuals as well as the blending of foliage that sprawls one bush into another.

I featured R.'s garden in a blog four years ago entitled Grandfather's Garden, and I'll rehash some of that here:

Rhododendron x 'Airy Fairy'

Rhododendron x 'Airy Fairy'

Rhododendron exasperatum

Rhododendron exasperatum

One of Reuben's oldest Rhododendrons is the horrifically named x 'Airy Fairy', and it caught me by surprise last month for I had never seen it in bloom before. The cross (R. lutescens R. mucranulatum 'Cornell') was achieved by Francis Maloney and introduced in 1976. Another Rhododendron is the likable R. exasperatum, a species with tubular/campanulate red flowers native to NE India, Burma and SE Tibet. Unfortunately it is only hardy to about 5 degrees F, so Gramps planted his close to his house for added protection. It got clobbered two years ago when we reached 10 degrees in early November and it looked rough all last year. Now it looks great, especially with its purplish-green new growth. R. exasperatum was not named due to any confusion about where to place it botanically, but rather was named by Harry Tagg in 1930 for its rough-ribbed leaves. Exasperate is from the Latin verb exasperare which is based on asper for “rough.”

Rhododendron x 'Ever Red'

Rhododendron x 'Ever Red'

Rhododendron x 'Wine and Roses'

Rhododendron x 'Wine and Roses'

Still in pots are Reuben's two recent acquisitions from the Rhododendron Species Garden, R. x 'Ever Red' (or 'Everred') and the hybrid R. x 'Wine and Roses'. The former was bred at Glendoick in Scotland and is grown mainly for its red foliage color, although the dark red flowers in April are nice too. 'Wine and Roses' is a fun name and it fits the plant perfectly. The perky leaves face upward revealing deep purple-red undersides and in April the blossoms are pink. Both form small compact plants and Reuben will probably leave them in containers.

Carex elata 'Aurea'

Choisya x 'Gold Fingers'

Grandfather looks down upon his garden from his second-story bedroom window and is impressed with the fireworks-like explosion of color from Carex elata 'Aurea', which is possibly also known as “Bowles' golden sedge.” One must be careful with golden plants...that you don't use too many, a sin similar to too many exclamation points in a letter or story!!! Reuben has too many, but he couldn't care less; and for a person so Aristotelian* in his approach to life, he nevertheless goes quite wild with colors in his garden. Another yellow doozy** is Choisya x 'Gold Fingers', and I even bought one for myself at Xera Plants when I noticed that Grandfather's plant happily thrived in our record-breaking heat last summer. 'Gold Fingers' is aptly named, as each leaf consists of five narrow lobes, and it resembles a golden version of the green-leaved Acer pentaphyllum. Dancing Oaks Nursery of Oregon describes 'Gold Fingers' as “This is one ebullient*** plant!”

*Aristotle's name means “the best purpose.” Centuries later the Roman Cicero described his literary style as “a river of gold.” Sadly only about a third of his original output has survived.

**Etymologists believe that “doozy” is an altered form of the word “daisy,” which was used in the late 1800s as a slang term for someone or something considered the best.

***Ebullient means “to bubble with enthusiasm.” Bulla is Latin for “bubble,” hence our English word “boil.”

Pinus koraiensis 'Morris Blue'

Reuben loves his three Pinus koraiensis 'Morris Blue' which he planted in a triangle. By next year they will push into each other, a dilemma that I would solve by cutting two down. He grimaced when I mentioned my solution, and he somehow prays that they can grow taller without also growing wider. I saw the original at the Morris Arboretum in Pennsylvania about 20 years ago, and I remember it being equally wide as tall. I was with plantsman Greg Williams of Vermont at the time and he later sent me some scionwood. As the blue seedling was previously not propagated nor named, I tentatively christened it as 'Morris Blue' just to keep track of it, and to keep it separate from another P. koraiensis cultivar, 'Silveray'. As is so often the case, what is at first “tentative” eventually becomes permanent, and now Buchholz and other nurseries have raised thousands of them. While 'Morris Blue' is similar to 'Silveray' when young, the former takes on a fuller more-broad habit at maturity, and sorry G., I should have given you 'Silveray' instead. 'Silveray' – one word with only one “r” – was originally distributed by Hesse Nursery of Hanover, Germany.*

*Amusingly (now), in Krussmann's Manual of Cultivated Conifers – translated into English in 1985 – the author feels compelled to note that Hanover is in West Germany. It reminds me of a German intern, Harald, who worked a year for me in the 1980's. We were discussing world events when I asked him if there would ever be a united Germany. He dismissed it as a fantasy that a handful of Germans wished for, but he didn't believe that it would ever happen. Actually, he was certain that it would never happen. Holy Helmut Kohl, look what happened!

Pinus patula

Pinus patula

Reuben and I visited Mexico in 2000 where we encountered Pinus patula in the mountains of Oaxaca. Or was it patula?* It's hard to know for certain as there are a lot of long-leaved pines, but I remember the shimmer of the needles in the sunlight (shimmer me timbers). My first patulas were raised by seed – which was inexpensive – but to my horror about 500 germinated. I dumped about 450 of them, but at least I was able to sell or give away the remaining USDA zone 7 trees. Eventually I had only one tree left, an absolute beauty, but it snapped at the base in a strong winter's wind storm. In desperation I grafted a few scions onto Pinus sylvestris rootstock. They prospered and now one specimen is at Reuben's place. He loves the pine but laments its vigor, for it never seems to stop growing, and he began to prune it in earnest so it would still fit in its too-small space. At my last visit Hatch finally conceded that the tree was beyond him, but he doesn't have the willpower to totally edit it from his landscape. It is only ten years old and I know that in another ten it will probably triple in size. At least the reddish furrowed trunk becomes more and more attractive.

*A few years later I purchased The Pines of Mexico and Central America by Jesse Perry, and the shimmering pines were probably Pinus patula var. longepedunculata.

Pinus culminicola 'Two Mile High'

Another interesting pine in Hatch's crowded front-yard plot is Pinus culminicola 'Two Mile High', and I used the rootstock Pinus strobiformis on which to propagate his specimen. There is no perfect rootstock for this highest-altitude pine in the Cembroides group of “nut pines,” and only (for me) about 3 or 4 out of 10 live to ten years of age, but Reuben's low flat-growing tree looks good. I attribute its vigor to his lean sandy soil with sharp drainage, for the north-east Mexican species prospers natively in “shallow, rocky, gravelly limestone” conditions according to Perry's account. My original was grown by me from seed about 30 years ago from a collection at 12,500', and I selected it for being more silver-blue than its brethren. I fully admit now that it is not much different than the type – less than my wishful thinking at first decided. Horticulture is like that for me: one supposes more in the beginning, but actually knows less in the end...and my children actually remind me that for all things it is a fact. Perry advises us that “There can be no doubt that P. culminicola is indeed a rare and endangered species.” Because of its isolation on a handful of remote mountain summits it escaped discovery until 1959. I wanted to impress you with the origin of the specific name culminicola Andresen and Beaman, but all that I can suppose is that it culminates at high altitudes and that cola (or kola) is a “nut”...but, someone please correct me if I am wrong.

Pinus thunbergii 'Kotobuki'

Acer palmatum 'Kotobuki'
One more pine in the Hatch patch that I'll discuss is Pinus thunbergii 'Kotobuki'. The reason is because his (from me) is twice as large as any that I have, and I wonder why I didn't keep at least one around of the same age. The second reason is that Kotobuki Street is just a couple of miles from his Vancouver, WA home, and I have never seen a Kotobuki Street anywhere else in my life. Every time we drive past the street I ask Reuben if he remembers what the Japanese word means, but he never does. I wish that he would write it down and put in some effort – if for no other reason than to stop me from asking. For the record it means a “celebration, rejoicing or happy event.” Maybe the pine's prominent white candles resemble a pyramidal birthday cake? I suppose Reuben's tree is about 20 years old and it's developing a lean which the cultivar is wont to do. We also grow Acer palmatum 'Kotobuki', one of the most colorful of all maples, although it at times can revert to just green.

Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Glauca Pendula'

The most prominent tree in Grandfather's front yard is Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Glauca Pendula', which we should now call Xanthocyparis nootkatensis. I had various clones of so-called 'Glauca Pendula' at the beginning of my career until I eventually narrowed it down to just the most blue. Even then it's not all that blue, but it still makes for a nice lawn tree. I'm happy that Reuben's tree prospers because I don't have a single one on my property anymore; and no customer seems to care when we used to sell three-to-four thousand lining-out grafts per year. It's funny how tastes change, and I reflect that I would be bankrupt if I grew today what I did thirty years ago. I note that 'Green Arrow' made it into the cultivar list in the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs, although no mention of my involvement is included, and also Hillier doesn't speak of 'Sparkling Arrow' – the less-likely cultivar to revert than all the other “Aureos.” I really don't care, but I find it interesting what European horticulture values...or does not.

Cytisus battandieri

Cytisus battandieri is a fun plant that Reuben put on the hot, west side of his house. I'm not so sure that I would want one in my garden, but the damn thing smells strongly of pineapple when in bloom. The “Pineapple Broom” is also known as Argyrocytisus battandieri and comes from Morocco, and it is known to be relatively drought tolerant. I like its silver-gray leaves even when not in bloom...but still it is a broom, a broom that I'll probably never plant. That's what is great about Grandfather's garden, that he grows a lot of weird stuff so I don't have to. The origin of cytisus is from Greek kytisos for a different shrub, Medicago arborea. Argyro in Greek means “silver,” while Argiro is a female name which means “of the money” or “of value.” The Greek martyr Argiri was married to an honest and religious man, but a Turk fell in love with her and tried to seduce her. Since her Christian religion was an issue in Turkey she was tortured and died in prison, but at least she became a martyr of the Greek Orthodox Church. The specific name honors Jules Aime Battandier, a French botanist and authority on Algerian plants.

Acer palmatum 'Calico'

'Calico' devouring 'Mikazuki'

Acer shirasawanum 'Sensu'

Grandfather has one of the best maple collections in the Northwest and I frequently compliment him on his outstanding source. He diligently prunes yet they are still pushing into each other. Acer palmatum 'Calico' seems to double in size every season, and it won't be long until it devours a nearby Acer palmatum 'Mikazuki'. Reuben obtained a shirasawanum x palmatum seedling from Jim Baggett, an ag professor from Oregon State University who dabbled with maples at one time. I was so impressed with its fall color that I propagated a few, and later it was named 'Sensu'. My wife and I were out in the garden one evening – B.C. (before children) – and she was delighted with the movement of the leaves in the breeze; she likened it to a moving fan, hence 'Sensu'.

Cornus x 'Dorothy'

Near Reuben's property lived Dorothy – I can't remember her last name – a sweet, sharp-minded woman in her nineties who I would have dated if I was single. She had a wonderful collection of trees including what appeared to be a hybrid of our native Cornus nuttallii and Cornus florida. I was fortunate to see it in full flower and later I was able to harvest scions, much to her proud delight. It became Cornus x 'Dorothy', and both Reuben and I have one in our collection. I sell a handful each year, but there are so many Cornus cultivars that I doubt that 'Dorothy' will ever become a mainstay. Nevertheless I am reminded of the woman every spring, so to me she lives on.

Reuben has been married to Harriette (known as Saint Harriette to everyone who is familiar with the couple) for almost 60 years. When they were about to observe their 50th anniversary, I asked him what was their ceremony plan. He didn't know, and said his daughters were in charge of the plans. "For all I know," he quipped, "we'll drive to the Dairy Queen and split a milkshake." Reuben frequently grouses about his spouse's hobby – her job really – of frequenting antique/junk stores where she sometimes sells stuff, but usually brings treasures back home to add to the thousands of items that she has already collected. One time he (foolishly) chastised her for her "clutter" which she did not take well at all. I reminded him that he does the very same thing, just with plants instead of porcelain figurines and antique Santa Claus dolls. "You're probably right," he conceded.

I don't think I would exchange my garden for Reuben's and he wouldn't exchange his for mine. I will admit though that he appears to have more fun with his riot of colors, even if they sometimes clash. A developer bought the land where he used to grow his Rhododendrons and now Reuben has seven new neighbors, but only one is at all interested in what he grows. Nobody else asks to come over and look around. Just as well for he doesn't want their little brats traipsing through his plants. The developer provided a few boring plants for Grandfather's new neighbors, so every house features a Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Pendula' – or three – and an Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku'. The other few plants died because, “Oh, are you supposed to water them?” Hatch's place sits at the far end of a cul-de-sac at an elevated level, a virtual jewel in the rough.


 Below more fun plants from Reuben's garden:

Echibeckia 'Summerina Orange Tuin'

Yucca rostrata

Delphinium species
Eucomis 'Sparkling Burgundy'

Digiplexis 'Illumination Flame'

Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm'

Cercis canadensis 'Appalachia'
Eryngium maritimum

Inula royleana
Embothrium coccineum

Pseudotrillium rivale

Dahlia 'Mystic Illusion'

Cordyline australis 'Sunrise'
Ratibida columnifera

"Nice garden Reuben"

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Dry Land Farming

An article appeared in the recent Maple Society Newsletter (spring 2020) that was written by Alan Tabler, an Oregon nurseryman who has been employed at Don Schmidt Nursery as Production Manager/Grower for the past 34 years. The essay was Small Maples for Small Gardens which I found very interesting and I always appreciate others' learned perspective of the genus I love so much.
Alan Tabler

Besides the encyclopedic detailing of various Acer palmatum dwarves – and at the risk of Maple Society plagiarism – I quote from one of Alan's paragraphs that suitably illustrates the Don Schmidt Nursery's practice of dry land farming.

At Don Schmidt Nursery, plants are grown under a system of dry land farming. Under dry land farming, water availability is managed by regular disking of the soil to allow the moisture to wick up to the root zone by osmosis. This system reduces weed and disease pressures and allows for more environmentally sustainable growth. This method also allows the plant to grow to its natural form based on its genetic potential.”

I wrote to Alan that B.H., a famous plantsman from England, read the article and questioned me about this farming practice. I remember that Alan extolled its virtues in a regional newspaper a few years before, but unfortunately I didn't save it, and would it be possible to get a copy of that?

Alan replied, “I couldn't find the article, so I wrote up a brief description of our practices at Don Schmidt Nursery. Please forward this to your U.K. friend. Please have B.H. contact me direct if he has any questions. I am always happy to spread the faith about dry land farming.”

So, here's Alan's gospel:

Dry land farming is a system of agriculture where water availability is managed by repeated disking of the soil. The emphasis is on maintaining soil health and nutrient bioavailability. This type of farming is not new. It was the way most farming was done before water pumps became readily available after WWII.

It should be emphasized that you must commit to the system for it to be effective. Doing only part of the system will not generate the desired results. Disking of the soil cuts into the soil hardpan and allows the available water to wick up into the root zone by osmosis. Tilling of the soil creates the opposite effect by creating a hardpan that restricts water movement. By not giving the plant supplemental water, it allows the plant to grow in tune with the seasons and to shut down growth when the weather requires it. This leads to less leaf and branch scorch, which eliminates entry of disease and also helps eliminate late summer powdery mildew. It takes approximately 8 days to return to a row and disk it again. While there is a fixed cost of tractor and driver, it is competitive with labor and cost associated with moving irrigation pipe.

At Don Schmidt Nursery, we plant our maple liners in October. If there is anything you can count on, it is that it will rain in the fall in Oregon. Oregon springs are often wet which delays planting too late for the liners to establish themselves before the heat of summer. In spring, maples are trimmed hard to stimulate top-growth, which in turn stimulates root growth. The vigor of the plant is maintained and creates a more hardy, healthy plant able to withstand environmental stress.

Maples in general have limited insect problems. Scouting is used to pinpoint any possible problems. While we are not philosophically opposed to the use of pesticides, we only use them when necessary.

One of the drawbacks of dry land farming is the setting of pre-emergent herbicides. Fall rains make pre-emergent application difficult. Ideally, the February dry spell is the time to spray in Oregon. However, February is also the time for digging, trimming and shipping, etc. So, pre-emergent use is often neglected.

Strangely enough, weed growth in the rows is not a negative in today’s labor situation. Keeping employees productive all year round helps to retain those we will need during digging season. Hand hoeing helps keep our employees productive. The key is to finish hoeing before the weed seeds mature in order to keep next year’s weed population in check. In winter we allow a natural cover crop to grow between the rows for soil stability and to be disked under in the spring to return the nutrients back to the soil.

Fertilization is done in March before bud break. At Don Schmidt Nursery, application is done by helicopter in order to complete the process in three hours, rather than three weeks.

Sanitation is important. If any plant shows a sign of pseudomonas or other disease, it is immediately removed and burned. Low areas that are unsuitable for maple are to be avoided.

The hardest current problem at Don Schmidt Nursery is allowing a field sufficient rest. Ideally, fields should be rested and cover cropped two years before replanting.
The soil is your most valuable resource, and maintaining vigor and the health of the soil is paramount. Our plants have a longer rotation, generally six to ten years. The trade off is a strong hardy plant that will perform for the customer.

While dry land farming is not well suited to Texas and other dry areas, it would certainly work in large parts of the United State and the U.K.

The ultimate goal of dry land farming is to work with Mother Nature instead of against her, forcing the grower to follow the rhythms of the seasons and to appreciate the beauty of maples in all phases.


Well, thank you Alan. I farm differently, though, by using tons of water that nourishes Acer cultivars in “artificial” soil in containers. I will concede that the Schmidt method sounds far more appealing, but unfortunately I am too old and underfunded to give it a try. However, if I won the lottery – which I never will because I never play – I would endow a research institute at Buchholz Nursery to empirically study the Acer genus...with the ultimate aim to advise and encourage the home gardener to further appreciate and to learn how to best succeed with these wonderful trees. Ultimately the proof of Schmidt's theories is demonstrated by the health and vigor of their product.

At this time of our Coronavirus Reality, my Flora Wonder Blog might come across as inane (or insane), as when the Band played on while the Titanic was sinking. It is difficult, but I'm trying to keep my own hopes from descending, and let's hope that some solace can be found with close observation and involvement with nature.

After Alan Tabler declared in his (March 19, 2020) email that he was always happy to spread the faith about dry land farming, he nevertheless concluded with “Strange times they are upon us, Alan.”