Friday, December 8, 2017

The Chamaecyparis Five

Chamaecyparis obtusa

The garden visitor appreciates the conifers especially in winter, for even in the rain and gloom they preside as cheerful denizens in the landscape. I find myself focusing on the Chamaecyparis* genus, and by coincidence we are in the middle of propagating them. They are commonly known as the "false cypresses," although the scientific name is derived from the Greek chamai for "dwarf" or "low to the ground" and kyparissos for "cypress tree."

*The name was coined by the French botanist Edouard Spach (1801-1879). He was the son of a merchant in Strasbourg, but he spent his career at the French National Museum of Natural History. Spach's name in Middle High German means "dry" or "bone dry" or "a stick," a nickname for a thin person.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana

Chamaecyparis consists of just five species, since now we can skip nootkatensis which has been assigned to a new genus, Xanthocyparis with the recent discovery of a close relative in Vietnam (x. vietnamensis). There was nothing "low to the ground" about nootkatensis anyway, and neither is there for C. lawsoniana*, the "Lawson cypress" from western North America. C. lawsoniana was introduced into Britain in 1854 when seed was sent to P. Lawson & Son's Nursery in Edinburgh, hence the common name. The scientific epithet lawsoniana was coined by the Scottish botanist Andrew Dickson Murray, which seems rather arrogant to name an American native species after a Scot soil grubber. Murray apparently felt qualified because of the foundation of the Oregon Exploration Society when he became its first secretary.

*The champion tree rises to 239'.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana

The Hiller Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014) describes lawsoniana as "A most useful and ornamental tree..." It is one of my least favorite conifer species, as older specimens can look dirty when the blue-green foliage is cluttered with male and female flowers. The trunks can be impressive, though, somewhat resembling those of "Western Red Cedar," Thuja plicata. C. lawsoniana's native range is in the western portion of southern Oregon and northern California, and to me they seem to have been misplaced among the spruces and pines, like nature tried to cram one-too-many conifer into the area. I have never seen a pure stand of C. lawsoniana however, if one indeed exists, but there is nothing majestic about them in the areas I have observed. Anyway it's my blog and that's how I feel.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Blue Surprise'

Many C. lawsoniana cultivars are worth growing, though, and we produce a few at Buchholz Nursery. In every case they are grafted onto C. lawsoniana 'D.R.' (Disease Resistant rootstock) due to the high susceptibility of plants on their own roots to the Phytophthora lateralis disease. One of my favorites is 'Blue Surprise', an upright columnar evergreen with dazzling blue foliage. It prefers full sun in well-drained soil and will grow to about 6' tall by 2' wide in 10 years. The largest specimen that I have ever seen was grown by me, and I cut it down because it began to grow too broad and it fell apart in a wet snow, so I don't consider 'Blue Surprise' to be a long-time resident in my landscape. I first saw the cultivar in England where the above photo was taken about 25 years ago. It originated as a seedling selected by Anthony de Beer of The Netherlands and was introduced to the trade about 1976.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Pygmaea Argentea'

The photo of C.l. 'Pygmaea Argentea' was also taken in England, at the Bedgebury Pinetum about ten years ago. I was told that it was about 100 years old, but maybe that was a joke. The selection was made by the James Backhouse and Son Nursery of York before 1891 and it received an Award of Merit in 1900, so maybe the "100 years" is accurate. The blue-green foliage rises up, and as Humphrey Welch says in Manual of Dwarf Conifers, "When the plant is growing strongly the foliage is almost white in early summer and the whole bush then has the appearance of having been turned upside down when wet into a barrel of flour." In Oregon it can burn in summer if not protected from afternoon sun, but Hillier in England describes it as, "Suitable for a rock garden. Perhaps the best dwarf, white variegated conifer."

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Imbricata Pendula'

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Imbricata Pendula'

Though I grow many other worthy Lawsons, I'll just mention one other – 'Imbricata Pendula' – and despite its cumbersome name it is one of the most elegant of all conifers. It is adorned with slender green (whipcord) foliage and a softly weeping habit. It is fast-growing and my largest 18' specimen is only 12 years old; fortunately it resides in the Upper Garden at Flora Farm where it has plenty of room. According to Hillier, "Raised from seed by R.E. Harrison in New Zealand about 1930 but not introduced until much later by D. Teese, Australia, as propagation is difficult." Nonsense to that, at least if scions are grafted (again onto Disease Resistant rootstock), and no one should be rooting it anyway. We list one and two-year grafts on our Liners Ready Now availability, and you really should order some if you are a grower.

Chamaecyparis formosensis - from Wikipedia

I used to grow Chamaecyparis formosensis, the "Taiwan cypress," but my trees perished in an Arctic blast when we reached 0 degrees F, and besides it wasn't hardy for 95% of my customers. It is a beautiful species, though, with flattened green sprays and a drooping habit. It wasn't particularly fun to propagate (though easy), and Hillier nails it when he says the foliage smells of seaweed when bruised. The wood doesn't smell bad, however, and it is valued in Taiwanese buildings like in temples and shrines. I could easily acquire C. formosensis again, but I resist since I don't need another fast-growing indoor conifer on my ark.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gitte'
Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Baldwin's Variegated'

Chamaecyparis obtusa cultivars are a staple of the nursery, and I have amassed a collection of over 100, a few of which – for better or worse – are my own introductions. The obtusa species is hardy to about -20 degrees F, or USDA zone 5, but some of the cultivars are considerably more winter-tough than others. Cultivars arise as seedling selections or as mutant branch sports, so one can garden with all sizes, shapes and colors. You could call C. obtusa cultivars the "rainbow of conifers."

Rather than rehashing descriptions of obtusa cultivars, I'll refer you back to my April 13th, 2012 Flora Wonder Blog, Heavens to Hinoki, and if nothing else you will learn the origin of the Japanese common name hinoki.

Chamaecyparis pisifera

Chamaecyparis pisifera is another non-low-growing (up to 165') species which was introduced from Japan in 1861 by Robert Fortune, the Chinese tea thief. The species name is from Latin pissum for "pea" and ferre meaning "to bear," referring to the small rounded cones. In botanical literature you will see that it was first described by Siebold & Zucc., and the latter is not short for zucchini but rather for Joseph Gerhard Zuccarini (1797-1848). He was a German botanist who worked closely with Phillip von Siebold in describing plants from Japan, and collaborated closely on Siebold's Flora Japonica published in 1835. In Japan C. pisifera is known as "Sawara cypress" and it grows on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu. It is closely related to the aforementioned C. formosensis and also to an extinct species, Chamaecyparis eureka, known from fossils found on Axel Heiberg Island in Canada's Arctic Ocean.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Filifera'

While the C. pisifera species can grow to a large size, many cultivars are dwarf and stay relatively low-to-the-ground. The pisifera species was introduced (1861) by Fortune, as I said before, and so was the cultivar (or form) 'Filifera'. To some degree it appears like the whipcord-looking C.l. 'Imbricata Pendula', except for being more compact and slow-growing. 'Filifera' often grows as broad as tall with a weeping form, and despite being quite attractive, one seldom encounters it in American landscapes. For some reason, far more common are the golden whipcords which are grown by the thousands.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Lemon Thread' 

John Mitsch
One such is C.p. 'Lemon Thread', a glowing golden conifer that originated as a branch sport on C.p. 'Lutescens' at Mitsch Nursery in Aurora, Oregon in the mid 1980's. That's where I got my start, and the photo (above) is of one of my original trees that I grew in our Short Road section of the nursery, just fifty steps from the office. It was growing in full sun and the foliage burned when we reached 106 degrees F one summer. I grew impatient and we dug the specimen the following winter; I gave it one year in a wooden box to recover and then it was sold. We went from rooting about 2,000-3,000 each year to zero because sales had begun to wane, although there was no sound reason to discontinue it altogether. The fact is that anyone can root a C. pisifera and so we found ourselves competing with large nurseries that grew them by the thousands. Now I don't even have one 'Lemon Thread' on the place, but it was a worthy cultivar and I regret not keeping it here. A nurseryman can easily harbour bittersweet memories, but, as with past girlfriends, one must release, soldier on and find pleasure with what you currently grow.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Harvard Gold'

Old John, from the same Mitsch Nursery as 'Lemon Thread', gave me another golden C. pisifera cultivar, one that was unnamed that came to him from someone at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts. I grew it in a dry field in full sun and it burned like hell, so I dug it back up and grew it in a shaded greenhouse. There it thrived and customers/visitors kept asking about it, and if it was for sale. We began to propagate and soon after I sold the offspring as C.p. 'Mitsch Gold' and it proved to be popular. A few years later I relayed that fact to John – that it was well-received – but I wondered if he would bestow an official name instead of me. Ever humble, he bypassed 'Mitsch Gold' and suggested 'Harvard Gold'. Ok...but crap – I had to change all of my labels. Now I apologize to anyone still growing it as 'Mitsch Gold', and sorry for the confusion. Under the new name we sell tons of them now, and though it still burns in Oregon's summer sun it does well in the more humid mid and east coast of America. I don't have an old specimen here because it is a cultivar that I merely root, prune and sell in small sizes...and I wonder how much longer the 'Harvard Gold' party will continue.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Baby Blue Ice'

Another pisifera of note is 'Baby Blue Ice'. It forms a squat pyramid in the garden and prefers full sun, and it is also used effectively as a container plant. It is easy to grow if given well-drained soil and is winter hardy to -40 degrees, USDA zone 3. It originated as a sport on C.p. 'Baby Blue' at Stanley and Sons Nursery in about 1998, and in fact Larry Stanley gave me my start of the plant. We propagate all of the pisiferas by rooted cuttings and it works equally well no matter if in summer (under mist) or in winter (under less mist).

I have a number of pisifera cultivars in the gardens, often old specimens that we no longer propagate. They had their day when I began the nursery 37 years ago, but I guess they just don't excite the modern gardener.

Chamaecyparis thyoides 'Variegata'
Chamaecyparis thyoides 'Quiana'

The same could be said for the fifth and final species, Chamaecyparis thyoides. It is the smallest of the Chamaecyparis, yet the nation's champion tree soars to 88' tall in New Jersey. The few cultivars we grew never sold well and frankly it is my least favorite of the Chamaecyparis species as a garden ornamental. The so-called "White Cedar" is also known as the "Swamp cypress," and I remember passing native stands as we sped along a toll road in New Jersey 20 years ago. They serviced as adequate greenery for trailer parks and I spotted a sketchy raccoon in the canopy next to a grocery-gas station enterprise. And really, how depressing to relate that it is the State Tree of New Jersey where it can grow in large pure colonies.

My last C. thyoides cultivar ('Red Star') was removed from the collection last year because I was in a cleansing period of my life where I decided to get rid of any tree if it wasn't healthy or didn't look good. I still have a ways to go because a number of so-so trees still remain. It's a subjective task, kind of like dealing with people; some days you see them for their positive traits and some days you can't stand them at all. A tour of the nursery and arboretum reveals that I'm most partial to the C. obtusa species, and like my wife it is my jewel from Japan.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Autumn Long Gone

I don't know about you, but I consider it to be winter already. Leaves have fallen from most deciduous trees and I am faced with a denuded garden, often in a bone-chilling fog and with apprehension over the prospects for the future. Did we store up enough nuts for winter? Will last summer's propagation result in plants to sell for the upcoming season? Will the greenhouses endure another record snow and withstand the howling winds of an Arctic blast? Can old Buchholz continue to summon the energy to orchestrate his troops so that they are not wandering in futile chaotic circles?

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Aurora'

Though it is tempting to go dormant, to lie down and curl up until next spring, I venture into the Display Garden this post-Thanksgiving morning to make a list of meaningful work projects – like raking, pruning, staking, tree-removal etc. – that will keep the crew occupied for the following week. Woah! For a moment the sun breaks through the gray gloom to reveal a golden scepter in the northeast section of the garden...which turns out to be the dwarf conifer Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Aurora'. It is beautifully named, as 'Aurora' is the Roman goddess of the dawn, and my plant rises to 8' tall by only 2' wide. Foliage is a rich yellow – not shining bright at all – and I had no idea when I collected my start 20 years ago...just what it would grow into. The cultivar originated around 1940 as a mutant branch on C. obt. 'Nana Gracilis' at the Koster & Sons Nursery in Boskoop, The Netherlands. No big deal, as most of us have found golden sports in hinokies, but what I find interesting is that my cutting-grown start assumed an obelisk form, where as most nurseries and arboreta describe it as at least as broad as tall. I haven't pruned my golden pillar and it just took off skyward on its own. C. obt. 'Aurora' will not appear as deliciously lemon-yellow as a rival cultivar, 'Nana Lutea', but then it won't sun burn as easily as the latter. I have 'Aurora' in production from both rooted cuttings and from grafts (onto Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd'), so it will be interesting to see how future generations will shape up.

One of the rock paths through the Display Garden reveals an interesting vignette where various leaves have gathered. The leftward-pointing orb is a Cornus kousa which probably came from a nearby row of the cultivar 'Ohkan'. To its right is clearly Acer palmatum...which must certainly be a leaf from my large specimen of 'Shojo nomura', a selection which I enjoy in the garden but which I no longer produce. The brown elliptical leaf is what remains of Corylopsis willmottiae 'Spring Purple', a winter-hazel noted for its plum-purple new growth and showy yellow flower racemes in March. This winter scene should garner some respect, especially when we consider what the trees once were, but I predict that the casual visitor would tromp upon them without any notice or concern.

Acer buergerianum 'Miyasama yatsubusa'

Twenty steps later I encounter Acer buergerianum 'Miyasama yatsubusa' in its golden glory, a dwarf Japanese maple that has arisen to 12' tall at 30 years of age. It is the largest specimen that I have ever seen, but I would bet that one exists larger elsewhere. It is described by Vertrees in Japanese Maples as a “delightful dwarf,” but “rather rare in collections” because it is “slightly difficult to propagate.” Hmm...I would consider it rare in collections because it is so slow-growing that the poor nurseryman makes no profit from it, and it annoys me when our customers stumble upon a group – which are not for sale because they are so old and small – and expect that they'll be priced similar as our other dwarves. In truth, I have my one old specimen and nothing else larger than a few two-footers in pots. “Slightly” difficult to propagate would not be my experience, for I have previously considered it to be very difficult to propagate. From rooted cuttings under mist in summer we achieve anywhere from 0% to 30%, and approximately the same from winter grafts. Then – surprisingly! – our last two summer's-grafted propagants mostly connected successfully, so I sold the majority of the little runts since I won't be around to see any attain the size of my original. In Yano's Book for Maples he indicates that the cultivar originated in 1975, presumably in Japan, and wouldn't it be fun to see the original tree!

Berberis x 'Red Jewel'

Barberries are never considered aristocrats in the garden, but then maybe the elites have never seen my specimen of x 'Red Jewel', a cultivar encumbered with the specific epithet of hybrido-gagnepain, and sometimes more simply as x media. The former name honors French botanist Francois Gagnepain (1866-1952), but I don't know if he performed the cross or simply described it. Hillier in Manual of Trees and Shrubs claims the B. x media originated as a hybrid of B. x hybridogagnepainii 'Chenaultii' x B. thunbergii, and that 'Red Jewel' originated as a sport of 'Parkjuwell' in The Netherlands. Don't worry, because that is too much to remember, and what's important is that the red globe – though prickly – is moderately attractive in spring and summer, but in fall and winter it wonderfully glitters with orange and red foliage.

Acer palmatum 'Bloody Talons'

I passed GH1 and just inside the doorway the new cultivar, Acer palmatum 'Bloody Talons' was showing off. It originated as a seedling but I have no idea what cultivar was the seed parent. I tend to not keep track of parentage anymore because of my employees. It is a compromise that I regret, but most workers just don't get that a cultivar and a seedling offspring from a cultivar are not the same. Now, plants like A.p. 'Bloody Talons', A.p. 'Frosted Purple' and A.p. 'Yellow Threads' are orphans of no known parentage, but we have gathered them into our fold and have bestowed them with names. We can't keep everything – since we can't vet them all – and the outcasts, though very nice, are designated as Acer palmatum 'Rising Stars' Series which are sold at 1/3-1/2 the price as named cultivars.

Rhododendron pocophorum 'Cecil Nice'

It is easy to collect choice Rhododendron species, especially if one frequents the Rhododendron Species Botanic Garden as I do in Washington state. The problem is that I have five or six plants to place in the garden, but I'm stymied by trying to find the perfect site. They would all benefit from PM shade, yet I need a spot where they will have enough room (at least in my lifetime) to grow. R. pocophorum 'Cecil Nice' awaits its place and I think that I'll ground it next Monday whether it's raining or not. The Species Garden calls it “A fantastic foliage plant – the deeply veined, dark glossy green leaves have a thick orange-brown indumentum beneath. Deep red bell-shaped flowers in early spring on this 1971 AM form. Very beautiful and very slow-growing – one of the classic 'collector's plants.'” I've never seen it in flower and I bought it for the foliage alone. It is native to northwest Yunnan, China, where I have been, but I never saw it in the wild.

Rhododendron thomsonii

Cecil Nice
I have Rhododendron thomsonii to plant out as well, a species which received an Award of Merit in 1973. The award was given to the species which is relatively uniform in the wild. The aforementioned R. pocophorum is variable in the wild, and so it was the 'Cecil Nice' clone that was given the AM, not the species in general. The latter was raised from Frank Kingdon Ward-collected seed, and he was famous for not only discovering and introducing species, but also for collecting the best garden forms. There also exists a Magnolia 'Cecil Nice' and Narcissus 'Cecil Nice' which honor the Head Gardener at Nymans who toiled from 1924 until his retirement in 1980, the last 27 years as Head.

Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph'

Chief Joseph
What an incredible phenomena of nature that certain drab-boring pines can evolve from green into brilliant golden beacons in the winter landscape. The transformation began about a month ago when various mugos, Scots, Japanese blacks etc. assumed a slight golden glow...which increases daily from a hint to the profound. The champion, absolutely, is Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph' which was discovered in the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon by the late Doug Will of Sandy, Oregon. Eastern Oregon is vastly different from my home climate, and in the arid winter of the former 'Chief Joseph' shines brilliantly throughout fall, winter and early spring, but in Western Oregon our soggy humid winters cause the pine needles to crud up brownly in March. By April the cultivar can look dreadful – usually when nurseries ship their plants – but then by May the foliage changes to green and the tree is redeemed by fresh new growth. Its color-cycle is frustrating certainly but for the four months in its golden prime one can endure the brown needles of April and May. 'Chief Joseph' has a reputation to be difficult to propagate and so the value of young trees stays at a premium, but lately our grafts onto Pinus contorta rootstock have resulted in over 50% success, so we are able to sell one-year-grafts as well as to keep some to grow on as larger specimens. The pine was named for the remarkable Indian Chief of the Nez Perce (pierced-nose) tribe of eastern Oregon and Idaho.

Of course the pines change color, even beyond the exceptional cultivars that were selected for winter gold, because it is a normal process that they shed older needles. Often times the needles turn to pale yellow, then brown, before falling to the garden floor during winter. It is not bothersome to see this in the forest wild, but it is unsightly for the pines growing in containers and in a manicured landscape. I have even joked before, "I hate nature." Nature means crooked trees, shedding needles and death, and it's hard to make a living with that. To some degree nurserymen are fraudsters since we prune, stake and water our crops to make them more appealing. And that's the key word – crops – because nature herself has too many flaws. At some point I think that I'll go cold turkey and not be responsible for any plant. Record heat, frosts, winds and snowstorms won't bother me at all, just like when I was a child.

Iris species in the Display Garden

I like species Iris – I don't really care for the gaudy hybrids that you mostly see. Our Display Garden has a number of clumps that I've collected over the years, and they give me great joy in the spring and summer. Unfortunately I can't tell you the identity of any of them because their labels are gone – they were thrown away when we clean the garden of leaves and dead foliage every winter. The labels were made of metal and each one had a bamboo stake next to it so we could easily find the name. So why were they thrown out? My employees are hard workers and I think for the most part they care about the company, so I'm thankful for them. But it drives me mad when I see a plant – Iris, maples, conifers, anything – without the label it once had. After all of the years here, and the thousands of dollars that we've spent on labeling, why is there still a disconnect about their importance? A worker can toil in a nursery his entire life without really caring about a plant's name. I find that sad, but maybe I'm the one who is unusual.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Riot of Color Contest Winner

Thanks to all who entered our Riot of Color Contest, and I know it wasn't an easy assignment. No doubt you confirmed many of your guesses by looking them up on our website photo library.

#49 Rhododendron luteum

#32 Enkianthus perulatus

Sok S. was the winner, missing only 7, and some by not much. For example #32 is Enkianthus perulatus, not campanulatus. #49 was Rhododendron luteumn, not Sok's guess of Franklinia alatamaha, but the similarity is striking. Anyway, we'll be in contact with Sok to receive a fantastic plant prize.

The correct photo identifications follow:

#1 Acer rubrum

#2 Ginkgo biloba

#3 Vitis coignetiae

#4 Hydrangea macrophylla

#5 Quercus rubra

#6 Cercidiphyllum magnificum

#7 Hakonechloa macra

#8 Cornus florida

#9 Lindera obtusiloba

#10 Acer nipponicum

#11 Populus wilsonii

#12 Salix magnifica

#13 Stewartia henryae

#14 Berberis replicata

#15 Nandina domestica

#16 Sassafras tsumu

#17 Acer maximowiczianum

#18 Betula nigra

#19 Zelkova serrata

#20 Viburnum opulus

#21 Syringa laciniata

#22 Daphne genkwa

#23 Hamamelis intermedia

#24 Spiraea japonica

#25 Sorbus commixta

#26 Schizophragma hydrangeoides

#27 Toxicodendron diversilobum

#28 Rhus typhina

#29 Acer buergerianum

#30 Quercus dentata

#31 Poncirus trifoliata

#32 Enkianthus perulatus

#33 Parrotia persica

#34 Viburnum furcatum

#35 Mukdenia rossii

#36 Nyssa sinensis

#37 Mahonia gracilipes

#38 Liquidambar styraciflua

#39 Leucothoe keiskei

#40 Geranium clarkei

#41 Fothergilla monticola

#42 Euonymus alatus

#43 Dipteronia sinensis

#44 Cotoneaster dammeri

#45 Morus alba

#46 Crataegus crusgalli

#47 Cotinus coggygria

#48 Carpinus fargesii

#49 Rhododendron luteum

#50 Magnolia macrophylla

Thank you, Flora, for allowing me to depict your creations.