Fronderosa! Manzanita update. Naming plants.

That’s right, it’s three blog posts crammed into one. Perhaps even four, since we ought to start by confirming our next open house, which will be September 1 – 3. I am giving an exciting presentation on Sept 1 that you will not want to miss! Details here.

And, while I have your attention (because the remainder of this post gets pretty plant-geeky): if you missed our open house, don’t worry – just come and see us this weekend at the Fronderosa Frolic: Details here. It is one of the funnest and geekiest plant sales in the Northwest, and is in Gold Bar Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 to 3:00. Many of the best specialty nurseries in western Washington, and a few from Oregon, get together and bring their coolest stuff; and this year it looks like we might actually have normal, pleasantly warm weather (ever since we have participated it has either been unusually cool and wet, or blazing hot)!

And, just in time for Fronderosa, we have newly updated our list of available specimen plants! It was almost a year out of date for some reason, which I did not realize, but that has all been fixed now. This means if anything on the list interests you, we would be happy to bring it to Fronderosa for you! (Of course, anything on our mail-order list is fair game as well.) Or if you can’t make it, we will probably still have nearly all those plants available at the September Open House.

Here, of course, we must add a few pictures of Fronderosas past to show how exciting it is certain to be.

Not our booth, but this year we will be bringing a fancy canopy like this, so that we can be as cool as all the other nurseries.

This was “the hot year,” 2010. Of course our plants didn’t mind at all!

OK, so about those manzanitas. I finally managed to finish potting up last fall’s Arctostaphylos cuttings a couple weeks back: much later than ideal, but as you may have read about in our previous blog entry, we were just too dang busy with other nursery work. So our new Arctostaphylos introductions are generally coming along well, but especially the ones that got potted up early in the season. Certain forms of A. patula x A. uva-ursi, A. x media, and A. columbiana x nevadensis are developing into vigorous plants that are certain to make excellent plants for the dry garden. Most of the “pure” A. patula forms did not root well, providing us only one or two plants of each. These we will have to coddle along until we can propagate them again and introduce them years down the road. The A. columbiana, A. nevadensis, A. columbiana x patula, and A. patula x nevadensis forms have produced varying results, with a couple not rooting well at all, some that rooted well still looking good but not putting on much new growth, and a few vigorous forms doing very well and looking splendid.

Why do we note these things? Well first of all we want to be able to sell some of these plants and get them into circulation as soon as we can, because they are just pretty dang cool. We want to get our new introductions out there so that more people can have a chance to try them. We have already released one Ceanothus (C. prostratus ‘Goldendale Grey’) and a good selection of Penstemons, which grow to salable size much more quickly than our native Arctostaphylos. We’re also interested in assigning names to some of these forms as we release them, so that gardeners will have something to remember them by besides just a collection number, and because good cultivar names (registered or not) are an excellent promotional tool for nurseries that might want to produce and sell them in the future.

This form of Arctostaphylos columbiana x A. nevadensis from Skamania County is certain to be name-worthy.

Who says Arctostaphylos x coloradensis (A. patula x A. nevadensis) has to be from Colorado? This hybrid also occurs in Chelan County, Washington. These plants are doing great and showing excellent potential.

How do we know what plants to name? Sometimes it is possible to take a good educated guess that a plant will be good in the garden just from looking at it in the wild, and comparing it with those around it. Not all wild plants are equal (particularly when you’re looking at a hybrid swarm of Arctostaphylos!) and some will exhibit better ornamental qualities, disease resistance, and vigor; even in habitat.

Observing wild plants only gets you so far, though; because most of the time nurseries (except certain native plant specialists) are not selling plants to people who are going to grow them “in the wild.” It is also important to observe whether a plant is easy to grow at the nursery. For example, we would never have guessed that our Ceanothus prostratus ‘Goldendale Grey’ would vastly outperform all our other accessions of this species in the nursery, since all the plants around it in the wild looked pretty much the same.

Here’s how Ceanothus prostratus ‘Goldendale Grey’ is looking; I hope it’s not just a fluke!

In conventional horticulture, plants are not released with names until they undergo a series of rigorous trials in various locations around the country to prove their ornamental value and durability in the garden in a wide variety of situations and climates. (At least, that is the theory: I think a lot of breeders bend these rules.) Some would say that all nurseries should do this before releasing and naming every plant, but to do so would present some problems for us. We have only one place to test plants, and that’s here. If we send plants all over the place and then try to find out how they did later, it may be too late to try to apply a name retroactively to a successful plant. Some may propagate it without the collection number leaving no way to trace it back to the name. In some cases nurseries interested in protecting their product have gotten around this problem by putting a trademark name on a plant that was originally collected in the wild (Delosperma FireSpinnerTM being a recent example). Great marketing move, but we’re not going to apply trademark names to plants that originate from the wild. I’m not sure why, we’re just not. Perhaps it’s because we feel that no one should have to pay a royalty to market something that wasn’t developed by a breeder.

This is a good selection of Arctostaphylos patula x nevadensis from Klickitat County.

And this is another really good one from the same area, which will certainly get a name. These cuttings rooted 100%, and very quickly, which I thought was amazing. I know, I’m saying great things about all of them, but that is because I am not showing pictures of the ones that don’t look as good.

So we believe, for the most part, in naming things preemptively, which has certain advantages, the main one being it’s a lot easier to keep track of what name belongs to what plant. Nor are we alone: a lot of specialty nurseries have done this, and continue to do so. For one, we have less at stake since we are not looking to protect patent rights or invest money in trademarks to market our selections (after all, we didn’t breed these things). But perhaps more importantly, since it’s specialty horticulture, not conventional horticulture, nothing we grow is required to perform well in a wide range of climates. Although we like to emphasize plants that are easy to grow, to a point; we are also increasingly devoted to plants that may be rare in cultivation partly because they have a narrow range of tolerances. Does that sound self-contradictory? Well, what can I say: at least we write our descriptions to indicate which plants are which and give you the best chance of success!

The only thing that can potentially go wrong is the possibility that a plant might get named after someone, then prove to be generally difficult or a poor grower in cultivation, resulting in the association of that person with a poor garden plant. This concern will not stop us entirely, though: we’ll just proceed with caution. Anything remotely questionable will be named for something other than a person, and then if it doesn’t turn out to be a good plant, it can go extinct from cultivation and no one ever has to propagate it again – nothing wrong with that.

So on that note, you’ll be seeing more named selections of western and Northwest native plants coming out of our nursery in the coming months, and years. We even have a vague system in place for doing this. Collections from Washington will mostly be named for locations in Washington. This is because some people (Richard Hartlage being one, as per a presentation I heard from him in February) think we have almost no native plants with ornamental value — to which we say, “Faugh” — and we want people to start associating some of our better native plants (Arctostaphylos, Ceanothus, and Penstemon being notable examples, but not the only ones) with the great state of Washington. We shall also name certain really outstanding collections for notable plantspeople of Washington who have had an interest in them.

For Oregon and California (and someday, I hope, Arizona: I am still “Arizona dreaming” big time) we will get a little more frivolous. Sean Hogan has a system for naming his Oregon accessions for Oregon locations. We admit that we are stealing this idea from him, and applying it to Washington. But we will not intrude into his territory. We’ll be giving our Oregon and California collections fun names, mostly after songs.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Riz Reyes
    Aug 09, 2012 @ 22:58:09

    Great post and such exciting things coming up from Desert Northwest! Those Arctos look awesome!! I didn’t know Delosperma ‘Fire Spinners’ is a wild collected plant!!! From my understanding, you can grow and propagate a trademarked plant, you just can’t sell it under the trademarked name. Patents are a whole other ballgame….


  2. Ian
    Aug 10, 2012 @ 08:59:30

    Thanks Riz, we’ll be debuting a few of those Arctos this weekend at Fronderosa, although they’re really little. Perhaps I’ll see you there? Yes, that’s my understanding of trademarks as well.


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