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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Crazy Weather

Iris douglasiana in snow

We feel like we dodged a bullet this week when an Arctic Blast swept through the nursery.  Our temperature yesterday morning was a frightful 13 degrees F.  These are temperatures we occasionally reach in December and January but not late February when so many of our plants have begun their early Spring push.  We were particularly concerned about tender new growth, which can be damaged by freeze and prolonged cold.  When these hardy plants are grown in colder climates, they simply stay dormant longer.  But here in our USDA zone 8-ish climate, Spring comes early.
Cardiocrinum giganteum bulbs -
a few are getting an early season start

Today when we removed the thin, white row covers we use during extreme weather to cover the plants inside our unheated hoop houses, we were pleasantly surprised.  Not only did we see very little damage to foliage, but several plants had decided to put out flowers under what they must have considered the bright, white light of snow cover.  Go figure!
Pacific Coast Irises -
notice the snow outside

Iris chrysophylla flower bud

I had fretted over my iris collection.  Of course, the miniature bearded irises are extremely cold hardy and we have already seen yellow flowers on Iris suaveolens. This morning I could also see dark purple buds appearing on two of the Iris chamaeiris.  I am happy to report that the Pacific Coast Irises look good, too, and I was shocked to see a bright yellow flower bud on a wild collected Iris chrysophylla seedling.  In my “iris house” there is also a bright red flower bud at the base of Tulipa ‘Fusilier’.  We should have some fabulous irises and dwarf bulbs to share at our early Spring plant sales.
Tulipa praestans 'Fusilier' getting an early start

Spring flowering bulbs

 Another reason to be optimistic was found in our seed pots.  Many of you know that, unlike some nurseries, we grow many of our plants from seed.  This gives us the opportunity to offer more native and wild type plants as well as those that aren’t easily grown using the usual nursery propagation techniques.  A good example of this are the Himalayan Blue Poppies, plants that must be grown from seed.  Today we saw many tiny Meconopsis seedlings emerging in several seedpots.  Apparently, they liked the cold.  I’m glad someone did…
Meconopsis 'Lindholm' seedlings for 2012 season
We spend lots of time staring
at seed pots this time of year!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Alpine Treasures: Dwarf Cushion Saxifrages

A group of Cushion Saxifrages in the winter sun

Dwarf cushion saxifrage species and hybrids (Section Porphyrion) are amazing winter and early spring flowering alpines. These tiny cushions begin to form flower buds in late fall to early winter and, just after the new year, the first in a succession of flowers appear.
Saxifraga 'Maria Luisa' is the first to flower
 In our mild maritime influenced winters, the white flowers of Saxifraga x salmonica ‘Maria Luisa’ can appear before Christmas and are in full bloom from January into February. 
Saxifraga 'Suendermanii' covered with flowers
 The next to flower are the Saxifraga x kellereri hybrids, ‘Suendermanii’ and ‘Kewensis’.   These are striking cushions with large gray-green rosettes that contrast nicely with the bright pink buds and flowers.

Saxifraga 'Madedonica' flowers in mid-spring
 The flowering will continue on into May when a beautiful yellow flowering cushion which came to us under the name Saxifraga ‘Macedonica’ will bloom for several weeks.  Incidentally, we have not been able to verify the name on this cultivar.  This sometimes happens with such a large group with so many hybrids.

Saxifraga 'Walter Irving'
 Dwarf cushion saxifrages have been hybridized for well over 100 years.  Hybrids sometimes reflect the name of the hybridizer as in the cases of S. x boydii ‘William Boyd’ and S. x irvingii ‘Walter Irving’, both named for early British saxifrage hybridizers.

The Sax Shack
 In our rainy winter climate where they are not cocooned and protected from winter wet under snow cover, we grow them out of doors under a modified patio-style cover.  Here they are protected from excessive rain and have excellent air circulation and cold exposure.  They do better when grown in this situation than in the conditions found in our well-ventilated, unheated hoop houses.  
Saxifrages in trough with miniature Mugo Pine 'Short Needle'
 We grow dwarf cushion Saxifrages in very gritty soil and provide partial shade in summer.  They are particularly attractive in alpine troughs where their tiny foliage and dramatic flowers are easy to view and enjoy.
Saxifraga 'Cherry Trees'

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dwarf and Miniature Conifers

This year we have an exceptional group of Dwarf and Miniature Conifers to share with our customers.  They include some of the most miniature conifers available today.  With extremely slow growth rates and tiny size and scale, the miniatures are great for use in alpine gardens and troughs, bonsai, fairy gardens and in model railroad gardens.  We also have a select group of larger scale offerings with great character for conifer and rock gardens, Asian theme gardens, containers and general landscape use.

View our video: Build a Miniature Conifer Rock Garden
Many people want to know the difference between a dwarf and miniature conifer.  The American Conifer Society defines miniature conifers as those that grow an inch or less per year while dwarf conifers grow 1 – 6” per year.  In contrast, a full size conifer may grow more than 12” per year.  It is important to select plants with both the right habit and growth rate for your garden situation. A faster growing tree quickly outgrows its space and a small slow growing tree becomes overrun by other plantings.  Conifers are great structural elements in the garden and careful selection makes them lasting garden treasures.

Mixed plantings in a trough
Container grown plants generally grow more slowly than those in the open garden.  Growing conifers in pots confines the root ball and limits their size.  Techniques used in bonsai plantings such as trimming roots and aggressive pruning further reduce growth rates.

Some of our latest and greatest catalog additions include:

Note the golden tips on the 'Jean Iseli' Hinoki Cypress
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Jean Iseli’ is a perfect miniature Hinoki Cypress, complete with swirling fans of dark green, olive tipped, foliage.  It grows a mere 1” per year, making it perfect for the miniature garden.

An established 'Tansu'
The Japanese Cedar Cryptomeria japonica ‘Tansu’ is a slow-growing dwarf with an intriguing jagged upright shape that grows 3-5” per year to a height of 3-5 feet in 10 years.  In contrast, Cryptomeria japonica ‘Tensan’ is miniature with an extremely dense habit that grows only 1 ½” per year to a height of 18” in 10 years.   Both take on a striking bronze blush in winter.

Picea glauca 'Blue Planet'
Our favorite spruce is Picea glauca ‘Blue Planet’.  It is a choice miniature White Spruce that forms a dense irregular bun of tiny blue needles.  Its slow growth, appearance and cold hardiness to -30 degrees F makes it a great addition to an alpine trough.

Tsuga canadensis 'Iron Springs'
Tsuga heterophylla ‘Iron Springs’ is a slow growing Western Hemlock with dark green needles and light colored bark and a distinctive growth habit.  It grows to 6’ tall by 3’ wide in 10 years and gives a sub-alpine feel to your rock garden.

Tsuga canadensis 'Minuta'
 Tsuga canadensis ‘Minuta’ is one of the slowest growing Canadian Hemlocks and it has handsome dark green foliage that forms a dense, bun.  This evergreen is a great choice for a partially shaded alpine garden or container.

An ancient 'Hokkaido' at the Berry Botanic Garden
We also have two wonderful dwarf Elms.  Tiny Ulmus parviflora ‘Hokkaido’ is a very slow growing dwarf Princess Elm with tiny foliage and a knobby, twisting trunk and branches that cause the whimsical among us believe it has an old soul.  The Dwarf Dutch Elm ‘Jaqueline Hillier’ is a favorite for bonsai because of its flexible branches that are easily shaped.  It also makes a delightful small tree in the garden where it will grow to 8 feet tall.

Visit our online mail order catalog to see the complete listing of Dwarf Conifers and Miniature available for shipping.  Additional choices in larger containers are available at the nursery.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Flowers in Winter

Plants that flower in winter and early spring are a delight to the senses and such a surprising sight.  The Hellebores are setting flower buds in the garden but the potted plants in the nursery are already in full bloom.  Here is a photo of my current favorite, a seed grown double flowering Helleborus x hybridus.  You can be sure we will be propagating this one for future sale!

And, yes, I’ve been playing around with Photoshop but I promise I will try to refrain from going crazy with it.  No dogs’ faces peering out of the center of flowers for me!  You might wonder about my selection of the green background color - it is the actual color that appears in the center of the flower.  Look closely and you will see what I mean.

Silver Leaf Cyclamen coum
I’ve been talking a lot about Cyclamen this year and the Silver Leaf Cyclamen Coum are so beautiful right now that I can’t help sharing it again.  Cyclamen are great for adding splashes of bright color to the understory of the winter woodland garden.

Pachysandra terminalis

Another woodland plant is the rarely offered Eastern native Pachysandra procumbens that has the unfortunate common name of Alleghany spurge.  It is a slow growing, clump forming groundcover quite unlike its aggressively spreading Asian cousin, Pachysandra terminalis.  It has attractive semi-evergreen foliage and produces unique clove scented flowers in late winter.  It is found in woodlands along the East Coast from Virginia to Florida and is hardy to -20 degrees F.

Winter flowers of Pachysandra terminalis
Edgeworthia 'Akebana'

Scented winter flowering shrubs include the ever popular winter Daphne, Daphne odora.  Sweet Boxwood, Sarcoccoca confusa, is another attractive evergreen that produces a profusion strongly scented white flowers in winter.  And last but certainly not least, the orange flowering Paperbush Edgeworthia ‘Akebana’ or 'Akabana' are just coming into flower.  It needs a warm protected spot in the garden in order to thrive.