Like salmon, maples and roses also have spring run

Posted: Wednesday, April 17, 2002

The whole Willamette Valley groans with the spring run of nursery stock, caravans of refrigerated semi trucks flow south, east, and north. The few hundred headed for the Asian markets are loaded onto container ships in Seattle, and among those will be the infinitesimally small shipment going to Juneau. The parallel to the single tagged salmon in the flood of hatchery fish is impossible to overlook. Those who wait for this shipment, and the lucky ones who will actually lay hands on, plant, and enjoy this bounty, will feel this parallel even more.

David Lendrum is a master gardener and owner of Landscape Alaska. Responses or questions can be sent to

It is one of the most exciting times of the year for the nursery people as the greatest concentration of ornamental plant production in the world, and Oregon's number one agricultural activity, goes into high gear. The sheer volume is staggering, and the myriad hands that produce, grade, dig, load, pack and inventory the goods speak a dozen languages. Spanish is the overwhelming sound, with sparklings of various South Asian tongues and the Old Believers suddenly noticed Russian. Germans are here, but only as buyers. The Chinese are observers, but more interested in setting up joint ventures than becoming customers. This is only a tiny part of the commerce, most of the plants are headed into the expanding domestic market.

New varieties are the top of all the lists; extra brilliant colors, new disease resistance, recently introduced species from the mountains of China or from the reinvigorated eastern European nurseries are all about. Rhododendrons that are trained as small trees, dwarf oriental lilacs grafted onto trunks to become container pieces for deck and porches, and since this is the International Year of the Rose, more roses than you can believe.

The conifer growers are in there too, their brilliantly colored mounds of gold, copper, and a dozen shades of blue, are piled along side of stately green giants. They are destined for hedges, borders, golf courses, resorts and the ten million home gardens that will be installed this year. It's potential that one sees here. Yes it's lovely and exciting, but the real feeling is that the next phase is poised. These perfectly shaped, glowing with good health, plants are all at the end of the production stage, they will be going into new homes this year, no longer a crop, they will be the materials of composition.

I went to a new fellow this season, a friend of a friend, who took me out into his 25-acre Japanese maple field. Trees at every imaginable stage of growth - tiny just-grafted babies, to 20-year-old specimens - trained, pruned and root pruned to be able to be sent across the country without suffering loss. Colors that have to be seen to be believed, lacy creamy pale pinks spread like frosting over deep red feathers, the finely divided foliage unfolds on graceful trunks. Natural shapes are emphasized, the smooth curves of the trunks are real, trees that have never been pruned show the same basic shapes, but have another layer of twiggy growth that partially obscures those lines. The hands of the grower, his wife and their children are continually working with the basic material, refining and softly emphasizing the wild beauty.

Carlos introduced me to a new species of maple, new to me anyway, named Acer seiboldianum. It looked like the full moon Japanese maple, but was from the mountains of eastern Europe. He had 15-year- old specimens, all the older ones had been sold to the Salt Lake Winter Olympics. This intrigued me, since they would have to be hardy to take the climatic extremes of that place. We are too late to get any this year, the leaves have begun to grow and they won't dig any more until mid July. We will have some next season, so keep on thinking of places to try this.

Plant introductions are only part of the expanding choices, new techniques also come along, or old techniques reintroduced with a modern twist. Vine covered walls, rambling roses over trellises, and espaliered fruit trees trained flat onto fences are signals of long established landscapes. We see them as evidence of tradition, history, and established enterprises.

There are now growers who train vines, roses, and fruit trees on large trellises attached to twenty five gallon containers, or as part of a large wooden planter. These can be planted in a new site and the feeling is instantly different.

Nursery shipping season is a real thrill.

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