I was looking on the nursery book shelves for an inventory of notable trees from my hometown of Forest Grove, Oregon – but I never did find it. However I did discover A Descriptive List of Woody Plants by Brian and Julie Humphrey, two English plant experts whom I keep in touch with. They visited me twenty-some years ago at the nursery and I visited them about fourteen years ago at their nursery in Suffolk. We used to trade scions and cuttings back when the consequences of getting caught were minimal, and though Brian still offers to send me whatever I want, I have to decline these days.
Viburnum plicatum 'Summer Snowflake'
What I find unusual about the Humphrey couple is that they actually do read the Flora Wonder Blog – every word of it – and I know because they are not shy to point out my errors. Recently I ventured into a blog about Viburnums, a plant genus I don't really know that well, and my photo and B.S. about V. x bodnantense 'Dawn' was clearly not, and instead I was depicting V. plicatum, probably 'Summer Snowflake'. I bought it retail I think as 'Dawn' but I don't remember where as it was twenty years ago. I don't mind taking chances in the blog, even if I am sometimes rong, and I appreciate to be told so. Not to sound arrogant but I don't produce the blog for you, or at least not primarily. I like to keep my brain active and I have learned a lot in the research for the stories.
|Abeliophyllum distichum 'Pink Star'||Juniperus squamata 'Chinese Silver'|
|Acer davidii 'Serpentine'||Liquidambar styraciflua 'Moonbeam'|
|Acer rufinerve 'Albolimbatum'||Liquidambar styraciflua 'Silver King'|
|Betula costata 'Fincham Cream'||Magnolia 'Atlas'|
|Betula 'Edinburgh'||Magnolia 'Joe McDaniel'|
|Betula ermanii 'Mt. Apoi'||Magnolia kobus var. stellata 'Chrysanthemumiflora'|
|Betula jacquemontii 'Inverleith'||Nyssa sinensis 'Autumn Blaze'|
|Betula luminifera||Picea breweriana 'Fruhlingsgold'|
|Betula utilis 'Forest Blush'||Pieris 'Firecrest'|
|Betula utilis 'Jermyns'||Pieris 'Havila'|
|Betula utilis var. jacquemontii 'Doorenbos'||Pieris japonica 'Compact Red'|
|Betula utilis var. jacquemontii 'Grayswood Ghost'||Pieris japonica 'Humphrey'|
|Calocedrus decurrens 'Berrima Gold'||Pieris japonica 'Little England'|
|Cornus alternifolia 'Argentea'||Pinus cembra 'Aureovariegata'|
|Cornus 'Porlock'||Pinus mugo 'Ophir'|
|Cotinus 'Grace'||Pinus strobiformis 'Foxtail'|
|Cupressus lusitanica 'Glauca Pendula'||Pinus sylvestris 'Corley's Dwarf'|
|Cupressus macrocarpa 'Wilma'||Pinus sylvestris 'Edwin Hillier'|
|Cupressus sempervirens 'Green Pencil'||Pinus sylvestris 'Inverleith'|
|Daphne acutiloba||Pinus sylvestris 'Nisbet's Gem'|
|Embothrium lanceolatum 'Norquinco Valley'||Pinus wallichiana 'Densa Hillii'|
|Halesia monticola 'Vestita'||Prunus cyclamina|
|Hamamelis intermedia 'Barmstedt Gold'||Sinojackia rehderana|
|Juniperus communis 'Oblonga Pendula'|
Seth is able to sort the Master Plant List by source, so 47 times we came up with the name Humphrey. Two names are fictitious – Pieris japonica 'Humphrey' and 'Little England' – because I had to call them something after a careless employee lost the labels, and they are both still in the garden.
|Magnolia kobus var. stellata 'Jane Platt'|
|Magnolia kobus var. stellata 'Jane Platt'|
I don't remember what I sent to England, with the exception of Magnolia kobus var. stellata 'Jane Platt'. In the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014 edition) the authors give specific rank to both kobus and stellata, a practice I should probably adopt if for no other reason than to make garden labels more simple. Of 'Jane Platt' Hillier says “Named from a plant grown as M. stellata 'Rosea' in the garden of Jane Platt in Portland, Oregon, USA, this form has very profuse deep pink flowers with up to 30 tepals.” Jane Platt and her husband are no longer alive, but they really kept an excellent landscape that plant snobs still love to visit. Unlike my busy gardens, Jane designed with class and elegance, and she truly was an artist with her grounds. M. 'Jane Platt' was actually named by Magnolia expert Roger Gossler, for he was convinced that the pink blossoms were much deeper in color than any 'Rosea' he had ever seen.
|Davidia in the Platt garden|
Davidia involucrata 'Platt's Variegated'
I also named and introduced a tree from the Platt garden – Davidia involucrata 'Platt's Variegated', for my start came from a tree in the bottom portion of their garden. I don't produce it anymore because it needs some age before the cream-white appears, and in fact the “variegation” is nothing more than an abundance of half-half bract/leaves.
|Acer rufinerve 'Hatsu yuki'/'Albolimbatum'|
Acer rufinerve 'Hatsu yuki'/'Albolimbatum'
Back to the Humphrey list, I received a start of Acer rufinerve 'Albolimbatum', and later from an American grower A. r. 'Hatsu yuki', only to find out years later by maple author Peter Gregory that they are one and the same. I don't produce it under either name anymore because sales were weak, and furthermore a significant portion of my original start has reverted back to total green. Still I like it and it has plenty of room to grow, and the fall color is usually outstanding. Acer rufinerve was first described by Philip von Siebold in 1845, and the specific name is derived from rufus for “russet red,” referring to the color of the hairs on the leaves, flowers and seeds. Hatsu means “first” in Japanese and yuki is “snow.” We had a young male intern from Japan named “Yuki,” but his characters did not translate as “snow;” nevertheless we called him “Snowboy.”
Acer davidii 'Serpentine'
Acer rufinerve and Acer davidii are both in the section Macrantha. The latter was named after Armand David (1826-1900), the French missionary and botanist. The davidii species was first introduced into England in 1879 by Charles Maries while he collected for the Veitch Nursery. Since it occurs over a large area in central and western China it can vary in appearance, and three great plant hunters – George Forrest, Frank Kingdon-Ward and E.H. Wilson – also sent versions of the species back to Europe. Mr. Humphrey provided my start of the cultivar 'Serpentine' and he describes it: “A small growing form...with half size rich green leaves which produce excellent yellow/orange autumn colour and light elegant 'snake bark' branches.” We propagate it by grafting onto Acer davidii or Acer tegmentosum, the latter being the more winter hardy of the two. It will also root by soft wood cuttings under mist in July. For me 'Serpentine' can get off to a crooked start with either method of propagation, and one learns that you can't stake away a “dog-leg” trunk, so you prune, prune, prune, and you'll eventually end up with a dense attractive tree.
Betula costata 'Fincham Cream'
I've never been a “swinger of birches” like Robert Frost, but I have been a seller of them in the past. Today a few of the birch cultivars from Humphrey are growing nicely at Flora Farm in the Betula section, in an area of about an acre so they have plenty of room. B. costata 'Fincham Cream' is a favorite and my specimen has an impressive trunk. Seth groans because he has to store the many photographs of it that I seem to take every winter. The costata species is native to northeast Asia and Humphrey describes it as a “smaller growing species than many and therefore is suitable for the smaller garden.” I agree that 'Fincham Cream' “has white bark with a hint of cream, excellent golden yellow autumn color,” but my specimen is already huge – grafted onto B. pendula – so I don't know about the “smaller garden” promise.
Betula apoiensis 'Mount Apoi'
Is it Betula apoiensis 'Mount Apoi' or B. ermanii 'Mount Apoi'? Hillier describes apoiensis as “a variable shrub, closely related to B. ermanii...and that it is found on Mount Apoi, Hokkaido Japan growing with Pinus pumila.” It is a stretch to assign cultivar status to 'Mount Apoi' as it was raised from seed collected on said mountain, and I wonder how it differs from the type when the species is described as “variable.” My specimen from Humphrey – also grafted onto B. pendula – is quite attractive but it is planted way too close to the aforementioned Davidia involucrata 'Platt's Variegated'. Do I let them grow into each other or intervene and remove one? Ah, the gardener's dilemma; so this winter we will propagate both so progeny of each can stay on Noah's Ark. I suspect the birch will remain because a few years ago an attractive Chinese female botanist was touring the nursery – and seldom do the intellectuals know much – but from a distance she asked “Is that Betula apoiensis?” I was shocked, and asked “hhhow did you know?” She replied that she did a dissertation on the genus. I had fantasies that we should marry and procreate biological geniuses, one of whom would take over the nursery and provide me with an exit plan.
Another birch from Humphrey was B. luminifera, and I write was because I have it no more, and I can't remember if the scions ever did grow for me. What a fantastic specific name though, and Hillier refers to its “lustrous” leaves and the “shining reddish brown bark.” Humphrey accounts that “This comparatively rare species was collected in the wild by Roy Lancaster on his expedition to Mt. Omei [China] 1980.” As with girlfriends for a playboy, when the years pass you just can't remember who or what came, then went. My Master Plant List – over the years – contains more no mas than what is here today. I have no regrets, though, for that is the way of this world: far more species have arrived – then disappeared – from this Earth than what exist today. Office manager, Eric Lucas, told his 27-year-old son that he was “lucky to be alive.” The dubious youth, who is happy, still wondered what was his father's rationale. The answer is that something could have gone wrong along the way – along the so many ways – such as an ancestor dying from a lion attack, or from disease during the Great Plague or from being shot as a horse thief. Any little thing could have screwed up the lineage and so...no you. Anyway, no luminifera either.
|Calocedrus decurrens 'Berrima Gold' in Arboretum Trompenburg|
Calocedrus decurrens 'Berrima Gold'
Speaking of luminescent, Calocedrus decurrens 'Berrima Gold' came to me first from Mr. Humphrey, but of course I would have eventually acquired it anyway. It was selected at the Berrima Bridge Nurseries in Australia and Hillier adequately describes it as “A slow-growing form with orange bark and pale yellow-green foliage, tipped with orange in winter. Ultimate height uncertain.” It is incredible when seen combined with the scarlet red of a ladybug. As far as its height, I have never seen one taller than the wonderful specimen at Arboretum Trompenburg in Rotterdam and their specimen – perhaps because it is growing in some shade – is far more tall and narrow than the chubby squatters I grow in Oregon. Understand, however, that not everything is so glorious about 'B' Gold', for it is a notoriously untransplantable tree in my experience, so we keep them in containers from day one.
|Cornus x 'Porlock'|
Cornus x 'Porlock'
Cornus x 'Porlock' forms an attractive little tree, however I have no market for the hybrid (C. capitata x C. kousa) because my customers either 1) don't know it or 2) assume that it is not winter hardy. Of the two species in the cross capitata is the wimp as it is native to lower elevations in the Himalaya and China. 'Porlock' is semi evergreen in Oregon, but I would prefer that it would just go ahead and lose all leaves because as winter advances they become more unsightly. The creamy white flowers are nice but I wouldn't call them wonderful, however the strawberry-like fruits last for a couple of months in fall and they are most ornamental. An ex-employee who was afflicted with ADHD thought he should cut down my specimen at Flora Farm because something was causing the trunk to crack and peel. I responded “No way!” and asked him if he wanted to cut down all of our Acer griseums too? 'Porlock' was a natural hybrid occurring in the garden of Norman Hadden in West Porlock, Somerset in the 1950's, along with another hybrid seedling named 'Norman Hadden'.
Cornus alternifolia 'Argentea'
|Cornus controversa 'Variegata' at Arboretum Trompenburg|
Humphrey also provided my start of Cornus alternifolia 'Argentea' which was rarely seen in the trade at the time. The species is from eastern North America but I don't think it is much used in landscapes. The small-growing silver-variegated 'Argentea' is in much demand however, although when young they can have awkward branching. Again: prune, prune, prune. There is the inevitable comparison between 'Argentea' and the similar Cornus controversa 'Variegata', with the latter being more vigorous and larger growing. Since I am a nurseryman trying to make a living I prefer crops of the variegated controversa, but easily sell out of both species anyway.
|Cupressus macrocarpa 'Wilma'|
Cupressus macrocarpa at the Strybing Arboretum
Humphrey describes Cupressus macrocarpa 'Wilma' as one of the best of the yellow-foliage forms with a “compact upright habit.” One sees tons of 'Wilma' – or a similar cultivar – in festive wrapped-up pots at Christmas time, and I suppose they are produced by the millions somewhere. I even saw them for sale in a tiny flower kiosk in Tokyo. I always keep a few plants around and they're easy to sell – though hardy to only about 10 degrees F – but the problem is that 'Wilma' originated as a sport on 'Goldcrest' and it can revert back to mother's less fluffy appearance. Cupressus macrocarpa is the “Monterey cypress” native to a small coastal area in mid California. In the wild they are windswept and picturesque, but in cultivation – like in San Francisco's Strybing Arboretum – they can grow to an enormous size. Perhaps the most despised of any conifer is the hybrid x Cupressocyparis leylandii which has C. macrocarpa and Xanthocyparis nootkatensis as parents, an example where the offspring is less attractive than the two pure species.
|Liquidambar styraciflua 'Silver King'|
Liquidambar styraciflua 'Silver King' was new and exciting earlier in my career, but now it is firmly established in the trade so we don't propagate it anymore. Humphrey writes, “Edges of the leaves are distinctly margined creamy white. Grows well and quickly forms a very attractive variegated tree. Autumn colour causes the leaves to flush pink and purple.” What is remarkable is that 'Silver King' can withstand full sun in Oregon's hot dry summers, including the 108 degree F (42 C) scorcher we experienced a few years ago.
|Liquidambar styraciflua seed|
It would seem appropriate to group Liquidambar in the maple family (Sapindaceae) due to its maple-like leaves. Hillier puts the genus in the Hamamelidaceae family in his 2014 Manual, while other know-it-alls put it in the Altingiaceae family. The latter is a lonely family for it consists of a single genus Liquidambar with about 15 recognized species. The word Liquidambar refers to its sap, and comes from Latin liquidus and Medieval Latin ambra or ambar. The specific name styraciflua also refers to its sap, and it is commonly called the “American sweetgum.” The fruits are fascinating to me – and I also sold them to area florists as a youth. They contain small seeds within their terminal spikes and they remind me of a miniature version of a medieval weapon. Commonly these are known as “burr balls,” “gum balls,” “space bugs,” “monkey balls,” “bommyknockers,” “sticker balls” or “goblin balls.” The “monkey ball” wouldn't hurt if I threw one at you – they are fairly airy.
|Pinus sylvestris 'Edwin Hillier'|
|Pinus strobiformis 'Foxtail'|
I didn't do so well with Humphrey's conifer scions. If Pinus cembra 'Aureovariegata' and Pinus sylvestris 'Corley's Dwarf' ever lived I have no memory of them. Perhaps there's a section of the nursery where I have never been. I did like Pinus sylvestris 'Edwin Hillier' but nobody would buy the blue Scot's pine and I don't even have one in the garden. I did see it at the Hillier Arboretum and I recognized it from far away. I thought that Pinus strobiformis 'Foxtail' was nice – and what a good cultivar name – but again, nobody will buy them.
|Pinus mugo 'Ophir'|
My favorite of the conifer starts is Pinus mugo 'Ophir' and it is still in production. It is a golden dwarf that emits a beautiful glow, especially in winter. There are other golden mugos that are perhaps more intensely yellow, but 'Ophir'* looks best, at least in my garden.
*Ophir is a biblical land of uncertain origin, possibly southern Arabia or eastern Africa, from which gold was brought for Solomon. 1 Kings 10:11.
If you have actually read this far, you noticed that I jumped back and forth with quotes from Hillier and Humphrey, which is not surprising since Brian Humphrey used to work for Hillier. He is retired from his own nursery now, but still enjoys his garden, and he is writing a book on propagation. Lucky him – he's retired, but I am just tired.