TREASURES OF THE ORIENT
Two weeks ago I went to a
wonderful lecture at the New York Botanical Garden.
The speaker was Barry Yinger, a well known plantsman
and author who specializes in Asian flora. The topic
for the day was "New Japanese Plants for the Garden.
Mr. Yinger, who also owns Asiatica, a Pennsylvania retail
nursery, is one of those intrepid people who travels
all over the world to find new plant species and varieties.
He walks in the literal and figurative footsteps of
great nineteenth and early twentieth century plant hunters
such as E.H. "Chinese" Wilson and Reginald Farrar, who
were responsible for introducing the Western world to
many of the plants that we take for granted today.
I went to the lecture expecting
to see an array of dazzling plant slides accompanied
by a lot of unfamiliar genus and species names. I was
only half right. The slides were absolutely inspirational,
but many of the genera were very familiar. I felt as
if I had gone to Japan and run across the long lost
cousins of people who live in my neighborhood.
One of the first names I
recognized was Hamamelis, otherwise known as witch hazel.
Lots of people grow Hamamelis molis, the Chinese witch
hazel, others have Hamamelis virginiana, a native North
American variety. The shrubs are easy to spot in the
garden because they are among the first to bloom in
the spring. The spidery gold or yellow or orange blossoms
are, frankly, not much to write home about. What distinguishes
witch hazels in general is fragrance.
Japanese Hamamelis are not
reputed to be as fragrant as the Chinese variety, but
the 'Falling Star' cultivar described by Mr. Yinger
makes up for that probably deficiency with somewhat
more attractive blossoms. Early in the spring a little
color goes a long way.
Arisaema is one of the darlings
of the horticultural world at the moment. This is amusing
to people who have seen Arisaema triphyllum, the common
Jack-in-the-pulpit, growing en masse in wooded areas.
Mr. Yinger described several Asian varieties, all of
which have the same hooded blossom as the common Arisaema.
I am especially intrigued by Arisaema serration, which
has a black-striped flower, and the beautiful Arisaema
candidissimum, with its pink-striped blossom. The influx
of new Arisaema species is a definite boon to those
with an abundance of shade.
Shade is usually a problem
for peony lovers because most varieties crave sun.
This is less true of Paeonia japonica, the Japanese
peony, that thrives in light to medium shade. Mr. Yinger
was especially enthusiastic about the gray-green foliage
and pink single flowers of Paeonia japonica obovata.
This peony also has colorful seed heads and showy fall
fruits, making it perfect for gardeners in search of
In the spring, damp woodland
areas are filled with mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum).
Their large umbrella-like leaves are almost as recognizable
as those of skunk cabbage, and their white blossoms
are easy to spot. Barry Yinger spoke enthusiastically
about two new Asian varieties, Podophyllum difforme
and Podophyllum veitchii. The former with its gray-green
leaves that are sometimes almost silvery, and large
dark red flowers, sounds perfect for people who already
like hellebores and other unusual shade plants. Podophyllum
veitchii, which is sometimes known as Podophyllum delavayi,
also has fabulous foliage. In his catalog Mr. Yinger
describes "Fuzzy umbrellas.with dark snakeskin markings,
often on a red background, changing to patterned green."
The pink, white or red flowers add to the show.
Hydrangeas of all types are
experiencing a vogue right now, and everal Japanese
varieties of Hydrangea macrophylla var. serrata seem
to have great promise. Though the length of the long
botanical name is daunting, it tells you exactly what
you are getting. "Macrophylla" means, literally, "big
leaves." "Serrata" means having tooth-like edges-think
of the edge of a knife with a serrated blade. Therefore
hydrangeas in this group have large leaves with serrated
edges. Mr. Yinger discussed a variety called 'Kiyosumi',
that begins the growing season with burgundy-tinted
new growth, then goes on to sprout dark red buds that
open into pink flowers with red picotee edges. Another
serrata, 'Shichi Dan Ka', features double lavendar florets,
and toothed leaves that turn orange in the fall.
My heart sang when Mr. Yinger
mentioned Camellia japonica 'Korean Fire', a camellia,
that has wonderful single red blossoms. It is special
because it is much more cold-tolerant than most other
camellias. 'Korean Fire' will, survive in a USDA Zone
6 garden, and possibly, said Mr. Yinger, in a Zone 5
garden with protection. Since the creators of the new
cold hardy camellia hybrids have yet to come up with
a good red, Camellia japonica 'Korean Fire' may be something
akin to the Holy Grail for camellia lovers living far
from the sunny south.
Change is hard for most people,
gardeners included. Planting the Japanese or Asian
versions of old garden favorites is a way of combining
the foreign with the familiar to achieve beautiful results.
Most of the plants mentioned by Barry Yinger can be
ordered from his Asiatica Nursery, PO Box 270, Lewisberry,
PA 17339, (717) 938-8677, www.asiaticanursery.com
, catalog $4.00; or from Heronswood Nursery, 7530 NE 288th
Street, Kingston, WA 98346, (360) 297-4172, www.heronswood.com, catalog $5.00.