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Adam’s notes from the garden
Spring is in full swing in the garden, with crisp shades of fresh green filling in wherever you look, accompanied by bulbs and spring ephemerals bursting out of the ground and into bloom. All the freeze-killed foliage of the understory plants in the woodland garden has been removed and quickly replaced with tender new leaves as if nothing happened. Everyone comments on what an early spring we appear to be having, but looking back at last year’s photos for comparison, most of what is currently stirring seems to be on the same schedule as in 2016. Either way, let’s hope we don’t get a surprise hard freeze.
In the woodland garden, the bloodroot patch from the Florida panhandle is flowering nicely. Our several patches of the east Texas native Trillium gracile are up, and the buds are starting to open. A few other species I brought from Florida and transplanted last month as they were emerging, are now fully up and beginning to flower, including T. maculatum, T. lancifolium, T. underwoodii, T. foetidissimum, T. decipiens, T. catesbaei, and T. stamineum. Though considered more northerly plants, these are all coastal plain species that I grew in north Florida and should do fine in the area as long as they are planted on a low berm or mound of soil that promotes good drainage. They do appreciate occasional irrigation, but this needs to drain away quickly. They also like some annual supplementation of lime if the soil is otherwise acidic but beyond that, trilliums are quite durable. I was upset to discover my silver leaf variant of T. underwoodii not emerging on schedule following some hog disturbance earlier this year. However, the other day I was relieved to find the plant coming up about three feet away from its original site, resting on the top of the soil, attesting to this genus’s resilient nature when a few requirements are met.
Epimediums are in full flower, complemented with new angel wing-shaped leaves, often initially streaked with random patches of red on light green, which eventually harden off to a dark green plastic texture. This genus seems unknown in Texas, but there are so many wonderful species and hybrids that are great candidates to try.
Various azalea cultivars are replacing the waning camellias, while magnolias of all colors continue to come into flower. Shrub flowers aren’t the only highlight. The new fuzzy metallic gold leaves of Lindera aggregata are emerging subtended by tiny yellow flowers. Most flowering apricot (Prunus mume) cultivars are bloomed out, but a few late-flowering cultivars remain to show themselves.
Out in the arboretum, the oaks are stealing the show. Between flowering and new colorful leaf emergence, the various oaks from Mexico, Eurasia and the southern U.S. offer tremendous ornamental interest, making them the subject of our March 4 Insider’s Tour. A few individual Monterrey oaks (Quercus polymorpha) are fully deciduous and flower en masse before leaf emergence, with each branch tipped with long hanging clusters of male catkin inflorescences. Who would have thought an oak could compete with the more familiar flowering trees? Other oaks have new foliage emerging in various shades of red, bronze, silver, orange, lime green and white. One particular loquat-leaf oak (Quercus rysophylla) is producing blood red new growth that will persist for weeks, a lot longer than our other selections that transition to green rather quickly. These floral and foliar features are highly overlooked among oaks, and some superior selections may be propagated by cuttings to preserve these characteristics if they continue to perform consistently every year.
The first portion of our developing complex of alpine-style rock gardens around the office/reception courtyard looks amazing. It combines several rock gardening design styles: crevice, scree and traditional.Incorporated are plants with features that mimic alpine plants, which tend to be low, compact, creeping or encrusting. Many of these are known performers, or even native to the southern U.S., Mexico, Argentina, China, Europe and other places with hot summers and cool winters.
We have received many other esoteric plants that will be trialed under these well-drained conditions. Other plants with minute qualities are best displayed strategically among rocks since they would otherwise get lost in a typical garden bed. Further rockery additions will be themed, including one featuring plants and limestone all collected from the Texas Hill country. Texas rock gardens don’t need to be limited to cacti, agaves and other traditional succulents.
Preserving a Stunning Golden Live Oak
By Adam Black
Several years ago, a friend sent me an email with the subject reading “Have you seen this?” and a link to a Gardenweb.com forum discussion. When I opened it and saw the photo of a bright gold form of a small tree, I was shocked to see it was a live oak, Quercus virginiana. As common as the tree is in the southeastern U.S., I always had wondered how there were never any ornamental selections of this species. There are clonal cultivars, often touted by nurseries as having some wonderful form for street trees or other landscape uses, but these are selected solely based on a particular clone’s propensity to root at higher rates than typically seen among the species. Still, I figured there should be other unique forms that had presented themselves by now, and here it was, a selection called ‘Grandview Gold.’
How was this not on my radar? A quick search revealed it was simply unavailable anywhere, and otherwise not present in any searchable botanical gardens’ collections. I brought it to the attention of other key figures in the know, and none of them were familiar with it, yet clearly eager to get their hands on it. A few websites listed it as a known cultivar, but information was otherwise lacking. The Gardenweb discussion was focused on a tree growing at a private residence in central Georgia, where someone had discovered the blog of the tree’s owners proudly showing off their specimen. I figured with the lively discussion in the forum, the owners were being bombarded with requests for propagation material, yet I hesitantly contacted them through the blog. I was relieved when I received a kind response from Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder. Despite all the excitement generated online, nobody else had bothered to contact her. She was aware of how special this tree was and was open to my attempt to propagate it. Many other one-of-a-kind plants have been unexpectedly lost forever when effort isn’t put into propagating and distributing back-ups at multiple sites. I planned to visit that winter when the tree was sufficiently dormant in order to collect cuttings to graft.
In February 2013, I made the four-hour drive from my Florida home to Dublin, Ga. Mariette and her husband, Pieter, were gracious hosts and had a beautifully landscaped property with many interesting plants. They gave me a history of their golden oak, a pricey purchase from Louisiana Nursery in January 1996. The tree was offered only once in the company’s mail-order catalog with the brief description: “This wonderful clone found by Mr. Earl Vallot of Grandview Nursery has golden colored foliage.” Grandview Nursery was a well-known source of plants for many years, but has long since closed and Earl passed away a number of years ago. The current staff at Louisiana Nursery have no recollection of the plant.
After seeing the blinding coloration in the photos Mariette posted in her blog, my first-hand inspection of the tree was somewhat disappointing. She explained that the spring new growth is the peak coloration, but as the foliage hardens off through summer, the leaves progressively turn dark green, each with a varying dusting of gold as if lightly accentuated with a touch of gold spray paint. Nonetheless, this was still a very special tree – clearly the anticipated spring highlight in their property. Though clearly healthy, its growth was slowed by its gold coloration, which is basically a genetic mutation that displays a reduction in the amount of chlorophyll and therefore less energy the plant can utilize. Another nearby typical green live oak planted on their property around the same time was significantly larger.
Since the tree was producing acorns, Pieter had been trying to propagate it from seed, hoping to yield some similarly colored offspring. Though most came up green, he had selected a few seedlings that showed some golden coloration, but nothing approaching the parent plant. The fact that some did have a muted gold hue meant that there was the chance better-colored individuals might result if large amounts of seed were germinated. I collected some just in case.
I grafted several dozen cuttings onto seedling live oaks, but none of them survived. I was excited when a few seedlings germinated showing some reasonable gold in the first leaves, but as they grew, the coloration in the new growth became less noticeable. I also had set up cuttings under intermittent mist, but they all failed as well. The following year I visited the tree again for more cuttings, using some of its seedlings as rootstock, but again, nothing. I had heard that live oaks had a reputation for being difficult to graft, and the slight decrease in vigor with this mutation might further complicate things. Obviously, the parent tree was grafted, so it was possible, but perhaps in very low rates, which had kept this plant scarce. I was not going to give up until this tree was backed up, as it was the only individual that seemed to be remaining.
I missed the following grafting seasons due to extra commitments and my relocation to Peckerwood Garden, so I eagerly planned my next attempts in 2017. David Creech at Stephen F. Austin University mentioned he had experience grafting live oaks successfully, so I planned to work with him on this in hopes he had some secrets to success. Scott Reeves at Creekside Nursery, conveniently down the road from Peckerwood, also expressed interest in attempting to propagate ‘Grandview Gold.’ I also sent cuttings to oak enthusiast and experienced grafter Ryan Russell in Missouri. I figure between the four of us we had better get at least one to take.
I still have not seen Mariette and Pieter’s tree in its full spring glory, only their photos. I hope to visit this April, and I hope to have an indication by then as to whether our grafts were successful. Though this will never be the next mainstream landscape tree despite its beauty, it will be preserved among botanical gardens and eventually in the gardens of collectors. I greatly appreciate Mariette and Pieter’s generosity in accommodating me in my visits to propagate their amazing tree.
“Exploring the Spice Islands in the footsteps of David Fairchild”
Chad Husby will present at the Evening at Peckerwood Lecture on March 17th. This talk will feature highlights of an 11-day expedition in the Moluccas (Spice Islands) organized by Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in October 2016, retracing part of the last great plant collecting expedition of Dr. David Fairchild aboard the junk Cheng Ho in 1939 and 1940. The talk will feature the islands visited, natural wonders, plant highlights, people, and history.
Chad Husby, Ph.D. is Fairchild’s Botanical Horticulturist. His work focuses on international plant exploration to enhance the Garden’s collections and to find worthy new plants to share with the public. In addition, he collaborates with the science and education programs at the Garden. He received his undergraduate degree from Alma College, a Master of Applied Statistics from Ohio State University, a Master’s in Horticulture from Virginia Tech and Ph.D. in Biology from Florida International University.
Tickets $10 or $5 for members
Garden Conservancy Houston Tours: March 25
Peckerwood Garden is proud to once again partner with the Garden Conservancy to bring you the 2017 Houston Garden Conservancy Open Day tours and our Peckerwood Garden Plant sale. We will also be open that day for our Peckerwood Garden Open Day, so you are welcome to join us in Hempstead after your Houston tours.
The Garden Conservancy is a national organization that works to preserve and restore gardens. The Open Days allows people access to private gardens in their area. A percentage of the proceeds benefit Peckerwood Garden.
Learn more about the Garden Conservancy Open Day tour program and the Houston tours.
- Sat, Mar 4, 2016, The Oaks of Peckerwood: Peckerwood Insider’s Tour, 10 am
- Sat, Mar 11, 2016, Open Day, 10 am – 3 pm
- Fri, Mar17, 2017, Evening at Peckerwood Garden Lecture, 7 pm
- Sat, Mar 25, 2016, Open Day, 10 am – 3 pm
- Sat, Mar 25, 2017, Houston Garden Conservancy Open Day Tour and Peckerwood Garden Plant Sale
- Sat, Apr 1, 2017, Peckerwood Insider’s Tour, 10 am
- Sat, Apr 8, 2017, Open Day, 10 am – 3 pm
- Fri, Apr 21, 2017, Evening at Peckerwood Garden Lecture, 7 pm
- Sat, Apr 22, 2017, Open Day, 10 am – 3 pm
Plant of the month: Orange Blood Lily
By Adam Black
It is tough to beat Scadoxus puniceus for imposing form and shocking color. This tropical-esque South African geophyte is amazingly hardy in Zone 8 as long as it stays dry and well-drained during the winter dormancy. The cantaloupe-sized flower heads look like giant flaming orange shaving brushes held atop thick, 30-inch-tall stems. Around the leaf bases just above the top of the bulb, dark purple spots and squiggly lines add further decoration. It is fun to watch honey bees diving into the masses of flowers, disappearing completely and reappearing a few inches away, looking like they are enjoying themselves as together they make the inflorescence pulsate. At least half a day of full sun is best, but this plant can take fully exposed conditions as well. Though it likes well-drained soil, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t want some supplemental irrigation through spring and early summer. The plant is dormant summer through winter, but against conventional wisdom, this bulb doesn’t like to be completely buried. Keep the top ¼ exposed and free of mulch. It will begin pushing new leaves, or if mature, inflorescences in late winter, but in my experience, brief hard freezes seem to have no effect on the tender emerging growth. Our flower spikes were emerging during the January freeze with two consecutive nights at 17 and 18 degrees, yet the blooms were completely unfazed. Heidi Sheesley at Houston’s Treesearch Farms (wholesale only) has been promoting and propagating this species for some time, and therefore it shows up in some of our local retail nurseries that carry her plants. The last time I visited her, she had some interesting variation among her seed-grown crops, ranging from narrow to broad leaves, rippled margins, highly pronounced (or completely lacking) purple basal markings..
Volunteers Needed for Spring
By Bethany Jordan
As we enter the spring season, we return to having 2 open days a month for March, April, and May (second and fourth Saturday). We also will be participating in events with other organizations, such as the Garden Conservancy Open Day tours. We will need additional volunteers for these events. Monthly docent training will be merged with our added Open Day and trainee docents will assist with tours and share leadership of tours to learn.
March 25 will be a day we need volunteers both in Houston for the Garden Conservancy Open Day and at Peckerwood Garden for our Open Day, please contact us if you are interested in volunteering for either event.
Weekly workdays on Tuesday and Friday continue and we will need plenty of volunteers to help with the spring season. We hope to begin heavier clearing work soon and would like to hear from volunteers interested in heavier work and preparing trails in the developing areas.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
A Variegated Oak Donated to Peckerwood
By Adam Black
When grafting the golden live oak with David Creech at Stephen F. Austin University, he mentioned a variegated live oak sapling that Leon Macha, formerly of Greenleaf Nursery, had found and was originally interested in donating to the SFA Mast Arboretum. My first impression was how exciting it was that the golden oak, and now a variegated live oak, were coming out of the woodwork. David suggested, with our oak collection and proximity to Leon, that perhaps Peckerwood would be a better home to trial the young plant and see if it turns into anything of horticultural value. I met up with Leon on his way to an event in Houston and received the oak, a seedling that he had spotted as being different. Although the sapling resembles a live oak, it is actually one of the many variable leaf forms of a juvenile water oak, Quercus nigra. The variegation is interesting in that it is a white dusting, which at first glance could be interpreted as a spider mite infestation. However, closer examination reveals that the coverage is quite consistent on every leaf on the three-foot-tall plant, and with inspection under magnification does not reveal any infestations. I am curious how much more sharply the variegation on the new spring growth will look. Though the common water oaks are often discounted as weeds, they can be beautiful native trees for the landscape and a variegated example will add further interest for collectors. We greatly appreciate Leon’s donation and look forward to integrating it into our collection.