Our seed collecting trip to SW China last fall 2010
continues to please us. We had one of our Clematis collections flower
which turns out to be C. otophora. This is a lovely evergreen species
apparently new to cultivation with yellow urn-shaped pendant flowers of
great substance. The very large silken seed heads were what attracted
us initially but the flowers are very pleasing. We've flowered a
Reineckea species which seems to be something new, an Astilbe is about
to open and a climbing Aconitum from a desolate windswept summit is
blooming as well. What is intriguing about the Aconitum is that one of
the plants has double flowers. Sue had been watching the flowerbuds
develop thinking that something funky was going on and was she ever
right. She has an extraordinary eye for such things. Can't say I've
ever seen a double flowered climbing Aconitum but this highlights one of
the best things about growing from seed which is the potential pleasant
We told a lot of people over the last year about how good this trip
was and now the flood gates are open and it seems like everyone is using
our guide and research to have similar great trips going to the same
places. Kinda want to send them a bill but would do the same ourselves
if the tables were turned. Actually Steve Hootman should send them a
bill as he attempted this trip in 2009 as did Peter Cox both of whom
were part of the team in 2010. Dan Hinkley just returned from there
days ago collecting for Monrovia, the French were in previously and now
the English are there. Buggers all!
Ah well, we were first anyway and that is something to hang our hats
on. Much like being first on Mt Saramati in Nagaland or doing the trek
into easten Bhutan from Arunachal Pradesh. And that is really what it
is all about isn't it? A little one-upmanship? Gardeners are
undoubtably the nicest cutthroat competitors of any group - there is
some defective gardening gene that prevents us from NOT sharing our best
plants with those who will propagate and sell them. Our buddy Sean
Hogan is a prime example. He is always foisting something wonderful
upon us saying "You need this" even though we can't help but make more
of them. And of course we reply in kind so tit for tat.
Today was a good day with lots of work done by friends helping out
(Friends of Far Reaches - we can always use more help! "Will Work For
Plants.") and staff. Tulip has been rassling the outdoors production
area into submission getting some order for frost fabric application and
moving those sensitive species into the greenhouses. Graham and Karen
cut back the herbaceous plants so we could pull frost fabric if we need
to and Robert raked out the new seedling beds which will be ready to
plant a gazillion Trilliums next week. Dan worked on relabeling old or
broken tags. We finally found a pot tag which won't get brittle so the
curse of lost labels might be lessened. Sue mulched sensitive plants in
the gardens, Stephanie potted, I got to play on the tractor moving
soil. It always feels so much more productive when there are physical
projects with a defined beginning and a defined definite end that is
readily apparent. Today was such a day and what a treat to finish
jobs. Mostly nursery work is a continuum that stretches to the horizon
and then disappears into a space-time wormhole only to reappear behind
you somehow looking like you have never done a thing. That is the norm
and when it doesn't happen then that is a day to savor.
We did something recreational last week with our dear
friends Cathy & Betsy from New Hampshire. We finally got up into
the Olympics to do some hiking and opted for the Tubal Cain trail which
is a long but gentle grade which allows for conversation! The
wildflower display was at its peak with wonderful overlap from early
bloomers such as Erythronium and Douglasia into the expected later bloom
of Lilium columbianum and Delphinium.
A treat to see the endemic Campanula piperi growing in profusion on a
fine dark shaley scree. This dwarf species requires excellent drainage
and is a good trough plant. Small leaves on ground-hugging plants with
star-shaped nearly stemless mid-blue flowers. We amused ourselves
finding subtle variations in blueness (there are white ones but we
didn't find any) as well as petal shape which varied from pointed to
more rounded and reflexed in one case.
Another endemic (endemic means native to this area only so found in
the Olympics and nowhere else) which delighted us was found at the first
pass where the interior of the mountain range was laid before us with
the intervening valley below. Here Viola flettii was in bloom with
pinkish-lavender flowers held just above somewhat fleshy rounded leaves
colored a rich maroon underneath. This inhabits the most improbable of
habitats favoring rock crevices not directly exposed to full sun.
Sometimes you will see this on a fine grained scree but likely it has
its roots down into an underlying rock crevice.
One of our favorite endemics was present here in quantity and while
long out of bloom, the tuffets of finely dissected dusky silver leaves
were still a pleasure. This was Synthyris pinnatifida ssp. lanuginosa
or Cut-leaf Kittentail. This has short spikes of fuzzy lavender-violet
flowers just as snow melts from the high exposed ridges. We grow this
in one of our troughs from seed collected on a nearby ridge some years
Or the June that wasn't for me. Yesterday was my first
sort of productive day in over 3 weeks after being floored by
pneumonia. I know we all call it Juneuary here as it is usually cool
and cloudy but pneumonia?? I can't remember the last time I spent days
in bed during peak season. So incredibly frustrating to be unable to
work except for token appearances.
And if it was frustrating for me, imagine poor Sue who (what would
the feminine be for Herculean? Amazonian?) soldiered on picking up my
slack while coping with her own respiratory issues. When you are
chronically behind this time of year and you have essentially Mar-Jul
and some in Fall to make your living, losing a key month will keep you
up at nights especially when it follows one of the more difficult
springs in memory as far as weather.
So if we have seemed a little off and haven't gotten back promptly on
queries, this is why. I expect to be fully functional by next week so
that excuse won't play much longer.
We did do something fun last week though. In appreciation for
working their tails off for us this year, we took our staff and
volunteers to the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. Andy Navage,
Director of Horticulture, met us and generously gave us a grand tour of
the grounds weaving stories of the past with visions for future
directions. The grounds were incredibly well-maintained and the setting
and gardens have few rivals in this country. We were vendors at their
inaugural spring plant sale this year which was a huge success and we
could easily imagine then that we were at a Royal Horticultural Society
sale on the grounds of a National Trust garden in the UK. If you have
the chance, go check it out. It is a true destination and a great place
to bring guests. And look for us there next spring at their 2nd spring
Needless to say, I made a beeline for the bed when we got home! Now
I'm looking forward to getting some wind back pretty soon so we can get
some hikes in this summer as well as getting some delayed projects done
around here. I'm a big proponent now of getting the pneumonia vaccine -
I'm so not having this happen again!
have a small retail native plant nursery and also provide wetland and
upland restoration services as well as seed collection. I was given
your card by a client and was looking at your website and was wondering
about a couple things. I do not mean any disrespect with these
questions, just looking for greater understanding, so please keep that
Why do you feel the need to go to china and bring
plants back plants that are native over there? I am assuming you have
considered the potential impacts to our ecosystem from introduced
species and other potential negative repercussions and would appreciate
hearing your point of view, if you care to share.
Thank you for your time.
While we love our native plants and are
members of the WNPS, we find the lowland western Washington flora
comparatively depauperate from an ornamental standpoint when contrasted
with the incredibly rich flora of China or Japan, South Africa or
Chile for example. Many of the native species we enjoy the most are
alpine or east of the Cascades and it could be argued that they are
more exotic to our lowland Puget Sound gardens then say Trillium
camschatcense from Japan growing in conditions comparable to Trillium
ovatum. The western Chinese flora and the Japanese flora have many
parallels to our own plants as well as to those of the east coast and
reflect an ancient common ancestry.
We’re students of plants and one cannot
help but be intrigued by familiar plants in exotic locales that offer
excellent ornamental value to our gardens. The vast majority of our
ornamentals, edibles and pharmaceuticals are not native. The Asian
ecosystem is under tremendous pressure and we do feel like we are
potentially saving species from extinction and contributing to the sum
of human knowledge by introducing new species or new forms of species
to cultivation for purposes of scientific study and just plain
We do consider the invasive potential of
the plants we bring back and are surely among the most stringent at not
collecting and/or destroying plants which show such tendencies in
cultivation. Needless to say, everything is inspected by the USDA upon
entry. Our own property is compromised by alien invasive Phalaris so
we are well aware of the potential impact. One could suggest that with
looming climate change a broader palette of plants might not be such a
bad thing. And we can’t forget that we are not native ourselves and
are the single most harmful and destructive invasive species in the
history of the earth.
We totally support what you and others
are doing with native plants and wish you great success. Much like you
it sounds like, we are following our passion and differing only in
offering regionally appropriate plants from a broader geography. If you
are ever out this way, do stop in. We would enjoy showing you what we
like the anticipation inherent in sowing seed. Especially
seed collected with difficulty in some remote region and most especially
if it is seed of possibly something new. Each seed is a gift-wrapped
promise of possibility. Each seed carries a very clear video playback
of where it was collected and is more vivid than any written journal.
Clematis sp. CGG167 for example is one such plant. We were coming back
down from the top of a mountain in the Dayao Shan and just 600' below
the summit noticed a Clematis overhanging the trail. It was easy to see
how we missed it on the way up as it was layered on top of the
overhanging scrub and totally invisible from below. That and we were
breathing darned hard!
Looking at the Clematis, two things struck me immediately. The first
were the small amber feathered tufts of seeds and the second was that
this was an evergreen species. Love evergreen species! This was
ringing no bells of recognition so into the deep brush I plunged only to
see Clematis seeds shatter and blow away in the wind. Damn! Very ripe
and dry and very fragile. And very hard to reach without them all
falling off and blowing away. One of the rare times I wished for rain
or damp weather which would have kept those seeds nicely intact.
Hmmmm. What to do - how to approach this? Work out on this log a
little ways and just jump a bit and Yes! a seed head in my clenched
fist as others swirl by and away out of reach. With most Clematis a
single seed head would be a good haul but this is a stingy one with few
seeds per head. And they are very dry - well beyond what is considered
ideal for germination. I carefully put them in the seed envelope and
jot a few observations and think that this is a longshot.
But what a great longshot! I'm standing here on top of a remote
mountain with amazing plants all around me not the least of which is an
impressive tree of the rare conifer Fokienia hodginsii just a few paces
ahead of me. I've got seeds in my pack from just up the trail of a
broadleaf evergreen tree that none of us have the faintest clue what it
is (and subsequently, some of the best botanical minds in the US and the
UK are equally stumped - this is when we need that angel sponsor to say
" "Kelly & Sue - here is funding - go see this tree in flower and
collect herbarium specimens and let's get this figured out. The chance
of perhaps a new genus is worth the effort.") and now I have at the very
least, a few seeds of an uncommon Clematis.
This particular sowing is one that I look at 2-3 times every day,
willing germination with a focused intensity and not believing for a
minute in that whole watched pot thing. Finally and well after our
other Clematis collections germinated, one valiant seedling appeared.
This one little pair of cotyledons might be all we get and if we can
nurture this on, this single seedling will become cuttings and will
flower allowing us to finally identify it and hopefully set seed. And
so the one will become many and each of those plants will carry the
memory of one of the best days in my life.
It's bad enough when the rabbits cruise the garden and eat
the little clumps of Ophiopogon chingii down so tight they resemble some
spherical Brillo Pad or when they selectively decide that out of all
the Hepatica in the garden, the hoped-for drift of Hepatica nobilis
'Rubra Plena' is simply "Le Buffet du Lapin". (That would be a "buffet
for rabbits" by someone whose French is heavily influenced by Cotes du
No, they can't settle for cruising the can yard and munching the
smorgasboard arrayed down the aisles - they must further exacerbate the
indignity by standing in the middle of flats and leaving piles of slow
release fertilizer pellets. Oh no, that is apparently not enough during
this year of an upswing in the rabbit population. They have to take it
to the next level.
I was out in Hooker (which is our farthest greenhouse named for Sir
Joseph Dalton Hooker) and saw scattered leaves of Saxifraga aff.
rufescens from Nepal scattered in the aisle and looking at the flats of
plants, saw that a number of them had been eaten down to the crown. We
leave the doors open for ventilation at night but now we have to close
Hooker. Great. One more thing to do. And open it in the morning. Two
more things to do.
That worked great until I was moving the big pot of Carmichaelia
odorata which I use to block open the back door of Kingdon-Ward (Our
second furthest greenhouse named for Frank Kingdon-Ward) and saw that
the ranked flattened leaf-like branches had been pretty much stripped
bare. And I had already in my mind planted the new display container
with this exact plant as a centerpiece. Oh well. The pinkish lavender
Pea-like scented flowers on a uniquely structured plant would have been
real fun in a container. Now those embryonic flower buds and
architectural branches are in the form of compressed oval pellets on top
of that flat of Saxifrage in the can yard. Now we get to close KW at
night and open KW in the morning. Three and four more things to do.
So we run the terriers at night and they have great fun and maybe do
more damage then the rabbits ever thought of but we all go to bed
knowing we at least did something and that we were all magnificent in
that attempt. It was with great interest this week that we observed
tufts of rabbit fur in the field so perhaps the coyotes have deigned to
lend a hand, amused at our ineptitude.
We've been having great fun corresponding with folks in the
UK about the new Lily we found on Mt Saramati. Saramati straddles the
border with Nagaland in NE India and Burma (we're not big on
acknowledging the military dictatorship's name of Myanmar) and is the
tallest mountain in the region outside of the Himalayan chain. To our
knowledge, Saramati had not been climbed by westerners and the upper
slopes and summit never botanized. I've blogged a bit about Saramati
before but will go into a bit more detail.
We were there in the fall of 2003 on a 4 person trip organized by
Steve Hootman of the Rhododendron Species Botanic Garden. This was just
before travel restrictions to this area due to fighting were relaxed.
One of the plants we hoped to find was Lilium mackliniae, a diminutive
species endemic to this area and introduced only from two earlier
collections. The first introduction was in the 1930's by Frank
Kingdon-Ward and the lily was named for his wife, Faith Macklin.
We climbed the second highest peak in Nagaland, Mt Japfu, with high
hopes but no lily was found. (80'+ Rhododendron arboreum trees and
Rhododendron macabeanum were no small consolation). We headed for
Saramati which was some days distant in a section of Nagaland controlled
by the Naga Rebel Army who are seeking independence from India. Our
guide was terribly nervous and told us that if they want to take our
jeeps and all our belongings that we were just going to thank them very
Drawing nearer to Saramati driving all day on narrow featureless dirt
roads in the jungle, we entered into a dark draw when out of the forest
into the middle of the road stepped a man in fatigues with a machine
gun. Needless to say we stopped. Looking out the windows at the top of
the low ridge flanking the road on both sides, we saw more machine guns
and rifles pointed at us. Our guide says, "Stay here - I'll go talk
but we probably won't be allowed to continue."
There was much talking with the captain of the guard who then came to
the jeep to see us. He spoke some English and Sue disarmed him
(figuratively) by telling him that his country was very beautiful. The
distinction being that it was the Naga's country and not India's. The
upshot was that were granted access provided we gave the captain a ride
back to the nearest town 2-3 days distant upon our return. Done! We're
going to Saramati!
This was the hardest hike/climb any of us had ever done. Saramati is
12,600' and vegetated on the summit but snow-covered in the winter.
While it was not a technical climb, there was no trail and it was wicked
steep. We were accompanied by a guide from the last village of
Thanimir, along with 5 village guards carrying old and large rifles as
protection against the Burmese rebels as well as tigers. The rifles
came in handy as one of the guards used his for me to grasp the end of
the barrel and help swing me across this narrow rock face which plunged
away too far for much contemplation.
There were very few plant collections made on this climb due to the
physical nature and the time constraints of having to make it far enough
along on the second day to get to our base camp and be able to get to
the summit on the third day and back down to base camp.
I think I only cried 3 times on the trail. There are virtually no
photographs from any of us except for base camp and the summit and a
lunch break as it was all a dangerous hard scrabble. One of the
highlights though was a single dried capsule of seed from a small
withered lily which Sue found. We were hesitant to proclaim it as
mackliniae because it was small enough to perhaps be Lilium nanum which
might be in this area. As it turns out, this proved to be the only lily
we found in Nagaland and a lot of hopes were riding on a few papery
wafers of seed.
We returned home and sowed Lilum sp. NAPE 049 which was the
collection number assigned in the field for the 49th seed collection on
the Nagaland-Arunachal Pradesh Expedition. The seeds germinated in the
spring and so we waited. Three or four years later we got a call from
Steve who said he had one blooming and it was mackliniae but quite a
different form - Hurray! We were ok with him beating us to flowering as
one of our Rhododendron collections, R. dalhousiae v. rhabdotum,
bloomed before his, not that we are competitive or anything.
Steve sent seed to Peter Cox in Scotland who flowered it and who just
this winter had an excellent article in The Plantsman detailing the
three forms of Lilium mackliniae in cultivation. And Ian Christie has
just written a nice piece on Lilium mackliniae the current Scottish Rock
Current thinking in the UK is that this might be a new species and
there is going to be a botanical review of this new introduction this
spring to determine if it merits specific status or is perhaps a
subspecies of Lilium mackliniae. However it works out, Sue found a
pretty exciting plant! This is what really gets us going is finding and
introducing new plants and expanding the knowledge of a species or
genus. It just doesn't get any better than this.
Our last seed collecting trip to SW China is gaining in
significance as we gain perspective by reviewing our approximately 200
collections and realizing just how many are new species to cultivation
including one small evergreen tree which so far is completely stumping
We have a Primula germinating now as well as a Saxifrage in the
fortunei alliance which are likely new introductions for example. These
were from high elevation in the Wumengshan in an area not previously
botanized. The peak was basically a rounded broad limestone ridge with
rock outcrops tumbled about the low scrub sprinkled in the mixed
grassy/herbaceous swathes. Generally full exposure to the elements
including sweeping wind.
In such a setting one can initially be put off by the apparent
paucity of the flora. No trees, no true alpines, seemingly limited
diversity of woody shrubs and few herbaceous plants of interest. And it
took 2 days to get here. And it will take 2 days to get somewhere
new. Great. Damned if we are going to collect another Cotoneaster just
so we can collect something.
Plant hunting however is our calling and even landscapes such as this
offers treasures if one thinks like a plant and is willing to put out
the extra effort and get dinged up a bit. Off to the left through the
scrub is a 20' high undulating east-facing small cliff framing in this
small area. Most of the cliff is exposed with little of interest but
what is behind that thicket of shrubs growing against that one part?
Possibly something different as it will be somewhat shaded. Pushing
through the grasping branches and hoping that the time spent and new
scratches and rips will be worth it, I find that the shrubs were hiding
narrow deep slots like miniature canyons in the rock face.
These are the perfect niche environment and are what we are always
looking for as often this is where the good stuff is hiding. Just so in
this case. This sheltered narrow cleft was completely shaded and
retained much more moisture and humidity than the surrounding area. The
rock crevices and mini-ledges were cloaked in moss and populating this
moss were perhaps six plants of a Saxifraga species with long panicles
which places it in the section belonging to the familiar Saxifraga
fortunei. This group is a favorite of mine and I could wedge into the
opening just enough to stretch out and grasp a few of those ripe seed
capsules. It was with thanks that I directed some dust-like seed to
hospitable spots on the vertical walls. An amazing and quite unexpected
find and one that would surely have been bypassed except for the tingle
The Primula was further along but in much the same aspect. There was
scrub masking a large individual outcrop which upon penetrating
revealed a shaded rock face with narrow 4" mossy ledge under a small
overhang. It was this ledge that held the Primula and only careful
examination revealed the 3" dried scapes with the small seed capsules
and small leaves already well-withered.
With both the Primula and the Saxifraga, it is quite likely that I
was observing the sole populations on this mountain as these were such
specific environments. These specialized niche environments when
coupled to the fact that elevationally they are at the highest point in
this section of the range makes it quite likely that these are both very
rare and very susceptible to extirpation given even minor fluctuations
in climate or human impact.
The climate is causing stress to such fragile flora. The region was
in the midst of a drought when we were there this fall which after
following a late killing frost in spring made seed collection
challenging. The human impact is easier to gauge as it is pervasive,
extensive and unapologetic. To potentially introduce species such as
these to cultivation and make them available for study as well as
perhaps saving them from extinction is a grand purpose.
Sometimes we feel like our talents are being underutilized even
though we have an excellent nursery with such a range of diverse
plants. Somehow merchandising pales compared to species preservation.
In an ideal world, there would be funding and grants comparable to those
given for food and farming to enable such commercially unprofitable but
critically important ventures. We really do feel as though this is
our talent and we should be maximizing our potential. Introducing new
plants, finding new species, saving species, adding to the sum of
scientific knowledge - it's heady stuff.
Maybe we could be plant hunters for Big Pharma as who knows what
chemical compounds that little Saxifrage developed in order to survive?
Quite a few people said that they hoped it was a profitable trip for
us. It was and immensely so from a horticultural and botanical
standpoint which is why we went. Profiting monetarily from these trips
is always secondary for us and regarded as a bonus when it happens. We
did something really good here and we should be doing a lot more of it
as habitat pressure is getting increasingly critical. If anyone out
there has any suggestions on how to make this happen, we would be most
I just got an email from Ann L. who said we haven't been
letting anyone know about Sue's ankle which she fractured on our seed
collecting trip. It was as good a break as you can get and actually
better than if she had stretched or tore some ligaments so she is doing
very well although it is still quite sore.
She has a walking cast/splint which she has given up on this week as
it is uncomfortable. It is a fracture that is weight-bearing if you are
careful but if you do a sideways movement or walk on uneven ground than
you are in trouble. So she is getting around fine and if anything is
walking too much. I've told her that just because you can walk on it
doesn't mean you need to take the dogs on a 3 mile walk but she is a
stubborn Northeasterner whereas I would be milking it for all it was
worth. During the snow for example. she was out in the nursery
shoveling snow for 4 hours from the aisles to bank and insulate the
containers. Oddly enough her ankle was sore that night.
Right now she is cleaning seed from the gardens and sowing. Lots of
Nomocharis aperta and pardanthina which is great as well as seed from
our yellow-foliaged blue Meconopsis. We are in our blue sky donut hole
of a rain shadow today as it is apparently raining elsewhere.
from our friend Joan today at the annual holiday
Rhododendron Chapter luncheon at the Ajax Cafe was just the impetus
needed to take the figurative pen in hand again. The last blog was back
in mid September and we were entering an accelerated spinup of
preparations dealing with a barely surmountable set of hydra-like
projects. Final sales weekends for the year. Building two new 32'x96'
greenhouses. Prep for a 3 week plant hunting expedition to China
starting Oct 26. Winterize the nursery and gardens. And everything
Sales weekends were good. The greenhouses went up thanks to heroic
work by Jolly, Adam and Joe. The frames got skinned with plastic thanks
to a gathering of friends in the finest barn-raising tradition. (It
doesn't take much of a breeze to make holding onto a 5000 sq ft sheet of
plastic interesting) Prep for the trip continued to the day of
departure. And our dynamite crew winterized their tails off while we
were away and we came home Nov 15 to beautiful readiness for winter
thanks to Sarah, Jason, Tulip, Adam, Robert and Dan.
So speaking of winter - I'm a little ticked off. Did it have to just
roar in without a frost all fall to precede it? That is such bad
form. Last winter I thought we endured as much damage as we all
needed. I would so trade this last event for last winter! Plants were
so soft and the deciduous trees and shrubs still with leaves and then we
get low to mid-teens and a howling wind. Bu hao to lapse into poor
Mandarin - not good.
Hardiness and past experiences and all accumulated wisdom gets
chucked on the compost heap during weather such as this. Plants which
were not phased by similar and longer cold temperatures last December
are the objects of sorrowful wishes that they will sucker from the
base. But for these isolated few days, we could be San Francisco.
So about the trip. Our sponsors have to feel pretty good about
themselves because this absolutely contributed to horticulture. New
introductions to cultivation of Rhododendron, Primula, Clematis,
Araliaceae, Hydrangea, Lindera etc etc. Steve Hootman sent photos to
the UK and the majority were identified as "Wow! No idea." Personally,
those three words are music to my plant hunting ears. Of course, we
have to germinate the seeds, grow them on and propagate from them to
truly establish them in cultivation but we like our chances.
I was glad to get back home but am already chafing to go back. There
are a lot more plants to secure which are in a precarious state with
poor prospects. Also I had 3 weeks without the vitriolic dishonesty and
disregard for the people that is our political system. The money alone
spent on campaigns of obfuscation makes me angry. The outrageous
lobbying and corporate influence has made a mockery of the elections.
And we go along with it. Because we allow it, we are going to get what
we deserve and that will be less of everything really.
Our guide in China said his kids go to school from 8 to 6 and come
home with 3 hours of homework. I think we are all going to be working
in laundries and doing common labor for China before long unless we get
on the stick. Where is the work ethic? Where is the drive? Don't you
feel like more and more of the population is becoming some amorphous
entity hell-bent on consumption as a means of identity and self-worth?
Black Friday with stores opening at 3am makes me want to emmigrate
almost anywhere every year. This year, and maybe it was accidentally
catching a clip of Sarah Palin's 'Alaska' for which she gets a million
an episode, I was thinking that even Somalia had some appeal. At least
there I wouldn't expect rational thought.
Thanks! What good is a blog unless you can vent once in awhile?