Marvelous Mutant Maples

One of the first lessons I learned in horticulture was that leaves are one of the most unreliable features to identify a plant. For any particular species, cultivars can vary greatly when it comes to leaf shape. Another lesson learned was that the longer and more often a plant is cultivated, the greater the number of mutations and cultivars. The perfect example for each of these lessons is the Japanese maple, Acer palmatum. Japanese maple has been cultivated for centuries, and there are hundreds of cultivars. The leaf variation is simply marvelous. Most often these new plants originate as stem mutations that have been discovered, propagated and named, while others are discovered from chance seedlings and intentional breeding efforts. 

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood'
One of the more commonly grown Acer palmatum cultivars in the nursery business is a hardy selection called 'Bloodgood'. Its leaves are similar to your typical Japanese maple found in nature with the exception of reddish-purple coloration instead of green. But Japanese gardeners, nurserymen and collectors have found numerous other leaf mutations, and it appears that this plant has no limits when it comes to sporting new cultivars. Here is just a small sampling of cultivars I've seen in my travels over the last year.

Acer palmatum 'Crimson Queen'

Acer palmatum 'Felice'

Acer palmatum 'Fior d'Arancio'

Acer palmatum 'Shinedeshojo'

Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki'

Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki'

Acer palmatum 'Pung Kil'

Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost'

Acer palmatum 'Ryu Sei'

Acer palmatum 'Seiryu'

Acer palmatum 'Shaina'

Acer palmatum 'Taylor'

Acer palmatum 'Ukigumo'

Deutzia Redux

Like many ornamental plants, deutzia was not discovered in the wild, but rather as cultivated plant in Japan. Named in honor of Dutch plant hunting patron, Johann van der Deutz, deutzia was discovered, became popular and then with time fell out of favor. So it goes with many ornamental plants, their popularity ebbs and flows like the whims of fashion, just like mini skirts and big glasses become popular once again with the passing of time.

Deutzia setchuenensis

Over the last fifteen years, it has been a standing joke around our nursery that we've cornered the deutzia market, funny only because we've introduced (more correctly reintroduced) a number of beautiful Deutzia species and cultivars like Deutzia setchuenensisDeutzia ningpoensis, and Deutzia scabra, only to find out they don't sell.  

Deutzia x 'Magicien'

Ok, so if people don't want white-flowered deutzias, surely they'll want pink-flowered ones. We proceeded to offer 'Pink Pom Pom', 'Godsell Pink', 'Pink Minor' and 'Magicien', but only to be greeted with poor sales once again. We sold some decent numbers of Deutzia 'Magicien' but within a few years the plant ran its course and sales dropped. Over the last fifteen years, the only deutzia that had any attraction to our customers was Deutzia gracilis 'Nikko'.            

Deutzia gracilis 'Nikko'  

Despite having white flowers, this plant built a following due to its low spreading stature that makes it a great landscape plant. It's the perfect little (2'x4') shrub for covering large areas and choking out weeds. Like many ornamental plants, it was discovered not in the wild, but in cultivation in a Japanese nursery. In 1976, John Creech and Sylvester March of the US National Arboretum found 'Nikko' at the Watanabe Nursery in Gotemba City, and the rest is history. In 1989, the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society awarded it the prestigious Gold Medal Award. Yet even with its PHS honors and useful habit, people complained, "The flowering period is too brief" and "Why can't the flowers be pink?"     

We had what we thought was a major deutzia breakthrough in 2001 when we found a variegated form of 'Nikko' in the Netherlands. At last, we had a deutzia with season long interest, but as is often the case with plant hunting, our initial excitement was unwarranted. Our new find was hopelessly unstable. Even after years of propagating the best variegated stems, the darn plant kept going back to green. As a list ditch effort, I said to our propagator, "Why don't you take cuttings off the stems with yellow leaves. Perhaps we can create a gold-leafed plant that is stable."   

 An unstable variegated selection of Deutzia gracilis

Well, like they say, "Even a blind squirrel can find a nut sometimes." Those yellow-leafed cuttings were the birth of Chardonnay Pearls® deutzia. 

Chardonnay Pearls® Deutzia
Mass planting of Chardonnay Pearls®  Deutzia

We introduced Chardonnay Pearls®  deutzia in 2004 and over the years it has become quite popular, especially at retail. The bright yellow leaves give the plant season long interest while the bloom time coincides with the peak garden center traffic. Finally, cornering the deutzia market was more than just a joke. For the first time, deutzia was selling!     

I never stopped looking for a stable variegated form, and I dreamed of the day we would offer a pink flowered form of 'Nikko'. In our quest for a pink 'Nikko, we enlisted the help of Dr. Tom Ranney of NC State and set him to work crossing 'Nikko' with some of the pink flowered varieties mentioned above. It was a long shot, and it would require an investment of time and money, but you have to make a start and work towards the dream. 

A few years later, we found another variegated sport of 'Nikko' in, of all places, a small Japanese nursery in the original home of 'Nikko', Gotemba City. But again, the plant was unstable. A few years later, we found yet another variegated form of 'Nikko', this time at Les Pepinieres Minier in France. This selection's margins were creamier than yellow. It was quite attractive, but it too had a reversion problem, although not nearly as bad as our previous finds. To stabilize the variegation we took only the best cuttings over successive generations. After about three years and six generations, we had a plant that was quite stable and worthy of introduction. It was christened Crème Fraiche deutzia and introduced in 2013.

Creme FraicheDeutzia

Like Chardonnay Pearls, Creme Fraiche deutzia has great retail appeal and offers season long color. The creamy-yellow variegation is attractive and blends well with other plants. On occasion, it will make a green shoot, but compared to our previous selections, this plant is fantastic. An odd shoot once in a while can be easily pricked out.  
Meanwhile, Dr. Ranney was making a lot of crosses, but with limited success. His early seedlings yielded plants with light pink flowers that quickly faded to white. We also tested some crosses made by the National Arboretum, but these too were more blush than pink. Then, as is often the case, we discover a new plant that had nothing to do with our breeding goals. One of Dr. Ranney's seedlings stood out from all the others, not for its pink flowers, but rather its abundance of flowers. It had so many blooms that you could hardly see its leaves. While it was not what we were looking for, it was too good to pass up. This plant was introduced in 2014 under the name Yuki Snowflake (pronounced U-Kee).      

Yuki Snowflake Deutzia
This spring, we will ship for the first time ever a 'Nikko' type deutzia with saturated pink flowers. It took Dr. Ranney ten years, from concept to introduction, but the results were worth the wait. His last round of seedlings had very good pink coloration, with many holding their color over time. After further testing, we picked the best and introduced it as Yuki Cherry Blossom.   

Yuki Cherry Blossom Deutzia
Deutzia is without a doubt is a beautiful plant. But as we discovered over the years, (while cornering the Deutzia market), the deutzia market is not all that different than the rest of the shrub market. People no longer want 12-15' tall plants. They want smaller shrubs that fit into smaller landscapes, that can be mixed in with perennials, or that look good in a patio container. They want useful shrubs that serve a function. They want more colorful flowers, and they want the season long color you get with showy foliage. So while it's great to corner the deutzia market for fifteen years straight, it a whole lot better now that we have plants that people actually want to buy. I'm so glad the joke is over.

Yuki Cherry Blossom Deutzia the first 'Nikko type with true pink flowers.


Get Ready for Shrub Madness

To say I am competitive is a bit of an understatement, after all, I am the guy that nearly came to blows with my sister-in-law during a game of Monopoly. So when my Spring Meadow Nursery cohorts Shannon, Jane and Stacey told me about Shrub Madness, I was all in. 

Shrub Madness is akin to the March Madness associated with the NCAA basketball tournament, but instead of 64 basketball teams fighting to reach the Final Four, Shrub Madness pits 64 flowering shrubs against each other to reach the Floral Four. Just like March Madness you can fill out a bracket sheet and start a friendly competition in your office, garden club, garden center or with your Facebook or twitter friends. 

Click on this image to get a full sized bracket

Spanning March 3 to April 4, the basketball tournament-style bracket will move through six rounds of competition at Proven Winners Flowering Shrub Facebook page, using popular vote to determine the winner of each match. Those voting will have the opportunity to score one of five grand prizes: a collection of the last four plants standing, known as the Floral Four. Dozens of additional prizes will be awarded throughout the playoffs. 

Competing plants and their tournament seed status were determined by the Plant Selection Committee, a panel of horticultural experts with several pounds of dirt embedded under their fingernails. A mix between heavy hitters like Little Lime™ hydrangea (first seed) and underdogs like Summer Shandy™ hop (14th seed) will make for a balanced competition.

“We feel that the power conferences like hydrangeas and roses are well-represented,” said Jane Beggs-Joles, head of the selection committee.  “But there is plenty of room for upsets from the mid-major genera, and definitely the potential for a Cinderella to make a run deep into the tournament.”

Stacey Hirvela, Proven Winners ColorChoice Social Media Specialist, has insight to Facebook fan behavior and agrees that the popular vote could offer surprising results. “With over 32,000 fans weighing in on the competition, this is anyone’s game,” Hirvela said. “Time and again, our fan base has proven their love for hydrangeas, but they’re a hungry bunch. They’re a smart bunch, and they know a good plant when they see one. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if a truly garden worthy, but less-than-showy plant makes it to the latter rounds. With prizes like these at stake, all I can say for sure is the action will be non-stop, the opinions will be heated, and the championship will be well-earned.”

The first round will set the pace for the tournament, eliminating 32 shrubs in a flurry of activity. The remaining plants will compete in the second round from March 13 – 18 and then the third round from March 19 – 20. The fourth round, March 21 – 26, will determine the Floral Four, which will continue on to compete from March 27 – 30 in the fifth round. The sixth and final round to crown the champion will take place from March 31 – April 4.

So don't delay, start your bracket today. Organize an office pool, but please make it a friendly competition. There's no excuse for taking it out on your sister-in-law. 


2014 Independent Plant Breeders Conference

Save this date. 

October 30 - November 2, 2014
Amway Grand Plaza
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Overview and Agenda:

The Independent Plant Breeders Conference is a great opportunity to learn and network with other plant breeders, horticulture industry professionals involved in new product development and marketing, and intellectual property experts. Pre-registration and a reception will take place the evening of October 30. The next two days will be filled with educational sessions aimed at helping independent breeders be successful, from technical aspects of breeding through product development and marketing. On the final day, we will tour nurseries, gardens and other horticultural landmarks in western Michigan.

A formal agenda and list of sessions will be released at a later date. Expect sessions to cover topics such as:

        Basic and advanced plant breeding techniques
        Managing a breeding program
        Bringing selections to market
        Intellectual property management
        Market trends

Questions? Please contact Ryan Warner, Michigan State University

Registration and Overnight Accommodations:

Conference registration details will be announced in the Spring.

Independent Plant Breeders & Students of Plant Breeding - $99
Professional Breeders & Industry Professionals - $175 (before October 1st) / $225 (after October 1st)
Overnight accommodations are now available at a group rate of $139/night.


We are looking for sponsors at three levels: (All sponsor logos will be on the conference website as the agenda is posted and printed as handouts for attendees)

Platinum ‐ $5,000.00 - This sponsors the opening night reception in your company's name, and a chance to speak to the group about your role in the industry. Your logo will be visible throughout the reception. Your logo is noted as Platinum Sponsor and highest ranking on the conference website. Platinum sponsorship includes 2 gratis registrations for your company's representatives.

Gold ‐ $2,000.00 - This sponsors a coffee break in your company's name. Your logo will be on screen through the break. Gold sponsorship includes 2 gratis registrations for your company's representatives.

Silver ‐ $1,000.00 - These sponsors will be jointly thanked at the coffee breaks and your logo will be on screen. Silver sponsorship includes 1 gratis registration for your company representative.

Student Travel Scholarships - in an effort to bring new students in plant breeding to the conference we are putting together a $500 travel scholarship for promising student in the field of ornamental plant breeding. If you would like to be a sponsor one of these travel scholarships we ask that you do in it addition to a platinum, gold or silver sponsorship. We'd like to have a picture of your company representative and the student who received the scholarship at the conference.

Area Information:

Freaky Foliage A-Z (part 3)

Here is the last installment in my Freaky Foliage photographic series. Those of you that know me or follow me regularly know that i'm a plant geek and foliage freak.That's because flowers, while pretty, are fleeting, so think foliage and form first. Start with attractive foliage and your garden will look great all season long. 

I love hearing your comments, so let me know which foliage plants you like best.

Pinus parvaflora 'Ogon Janome'
Fine Line - Rhamnus frangula

Fine Line - Rhamnus frangula - close up

Bollywood Azalea (Rhododendron) 

Salix helvetica 'Ober Donau'

Glow Girl Spirea - Spiraea betulifolia

Thuja occidentalis 'Linesville' (AKA Bowling Ball)

Anna's Magic Ball Thuja
Ulmus x holladica 'Wredei'

All the Glows Viburnum 

Freaky Fun Foliage A-Z (part 2)

Good Vibrations Juniper

Dream Catcher Kolkwitzia (beauty bush)

Delta Flame Lagerstroemia (crape myrtle)

Sicilian Sunshine Laurus (sweet bay)

Golden Lanterns Leycesteria formosa 

Liriope muscari 'Peedee Ingot'

Mahonia confusa 'Narihira'

Ozmanthus herophylla 'Ogon'

Photinia Pink Marble 

Tiny Wine Physocarpus (Ninebark)

Freaky Fun Foliage A-Z (part 1)

When making your next tree, shrub or perennial plant purchase, think first about plants that have attractive foliage. It could be a plant with variegated foliage, but there are many other types of leaves that add interest to the landscape. Plants offer a wide array of foliage colors such as yellow, chartreuse, blue, orange, copper, bright reds, dark burgundy and even black. 

 Albizia  Summer Chocolate
Mini Salsa Berberis 
Green leafed plants can also have interesting leaves as well. First off there is an endless range of green hues. Leaf texture also adds interest. Leave texture varies greatly from finely cut leaf, to wavy, to crinkled, to big and bold, all of which provide variation and texture that can make a garden more interesting.  

Pucker Up Cornus
Crème Fraîche Deutzia 
Goldy Euonymus 
Forsythia 'Kumson' 
Bangle Genista
Hydrangea a. petiolaris 'Firefly'
Castle Gold Ilex 
 More to come . . .