Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Gerdemann Botanic Preserve: Greenhouses and Grand Trees

It's about time I did another post about the marvelous Gerdemann Botanic Preserve. In this edition, I'll cover the various greenhouses (oh, yes, there are more than one) and highlight some of the trees in the garden.

I'm also linking with Anna of Flutter & Hum for Wednesday Vignette. Be sure to click over to her blog to see other beautiful vignettes. Any one of the following images could serve as an inspiring vignette, but my official contribution can be found at the end of this post.

The first greenhouse is a little lean-to attached to the garage. Looks like it's used mostly for repotting and storage. It looks as if that acanthus is waiting at the door to invite people in. A ray of sun shining at the top of the door serves as the "open" sign.

Next is the vireya house. This is how I first learned of the Gerdemann Botanic Preserve. I was reading about vireya rhododendrons and kept coming across the name, "Jim Gerdemann," and later on I found mention of the preserve. The climate of Yachats, OR, is well-suited to growing these tropical rhododendrons.
This attractive structure comes complete with a license plate proclaiming its contents.

Wait, tropical and Oregon Coast don't usually go together, do they? Well, they do if the tropics in question are cloud forests. Not all tropics are hot. The mountains of Papua New Guinea and other islands in South East Asia and the Pacific reach heights where the temperature rarely surpasses 60 degrees Fahrenheit. But, being in the tropics, it also never freezes save at the very highest elevations, where a very light radiation frost can occur frequently. Radiation frosts form on clear nights with little or no wind, but the air temperature may not actually be at the freezing point. The generally mild temperatures and almost daily mists along the Oregon Coast make it one of the best places in the contiguous United States to grow these high elevation tropical rhododendrons.
A large, fragrant vireya hybrid, likely involving species such as R. leucogigas, R. konori, or R. superbum.

 So why the greenhouse? Well, it can still freeze in Yachats, if only rarely, and most vireyas won't tolerate an actual freeze. The vireyas in this greenhouse are the less-hardy specimens that likely wouldn't even experience radiation frosts in their native habitats. That is, if they were species. Many of these plants are hybrids, some of them created by Jim Gerdemann himself.
The plants in the greenhouse are overgrown, making a jungle-like tangle with flowers visible through the canopy.

 The articles that initially led me to the Gerdemann Botanic preserve also mentioned that there were hardier vireyas out in the garden, where Jim was working on breeding hardy vireyas using some of the species from higher elevations. Hardiness is, of course, a relative term here, though a very few species, such as Rhododendron kawakamii and R. rushforthii are hardy to 10F. Unfortunately, I didn't notice any of the vireyas outside the greenhouse. I'll have to make a point of finding them on my next visit.
An opening in the canopy revealed this lovely truss almost reaching a beam in the roof.
 Down a path, shielded from the house by rhododendrons, fuchsias, and other delightful plants, is the cactus house, the third and final greenhouse. This also happens to be where I slept during my stay. Doesn't it look cozy and inviting? Add a sleeping pad, a warm blanket, and shut the door to keep any mosquitoes out, and it made a lovely, secluded sleeping place. Just make sure you don't stumble into one of those benches in the middle of the night. Oh, I could have slept in the house, but come on, haven't you ever wanted to sleep in a greenhouse?
Can't you just imagine stretching out on the floor, and then waking up in the morning to curl up on that bench with a warm cup of coffee with the cacti?
Now on to the trees. Above the lush tangle of rhododendrons and more unusual treasures is a canopy of majestic Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla). These trees become unique characters along the coast, often growing huge, heavy limbs or multiple leaders, like colossal candelabra. The photo below shows some such branches/leaders in the background. In the foreground is an unusual, gnarled knot of growth that may have begun life as a witch's broom. Now, most of it shoots having died off from lack of light or other factors, it resembles a strange sea creature hanging out of the tree.

Everyone needs a Magnolia macrophylla. I'm not sure if this is the straight species or subsp. ashei, a smaller subspecies. Either way, it provides contrast to the rhododendrons and camellias around it, both in the size of the leaves and, more strikingly, the amount of light that shines through the relatively thinner leaves.

Several specimens of Embothrium coccineum, the Chilean flame tree, are scattered about the garden. This individual has formed an entire grove by itself. What, don't you have a grove of Embothrium in your garden? No? Pity. I don't either. Memory is already becoming warped by imagination, but I still feel comfortable claiming that the largest trunks on this tree were over 6 inches in diameter. The dark grey bark is mottled attractively with lighter grey patches, adding a more subtle dimension to this tree which is so stunning in bloom. Just imagine a specimen like this covered in a conflagration of red blooms.

Not all the trees of note in the garden are living. There are stumps and logs of various sizes and in every stage of decay, though most are covered in a luxurious carpet of moss, ferns, and seedlings of various plants from hemlocks and spruces, to red huckleberry, to rhododendrons. Jim is still creating hybrids in this garden, even after he's gone. But the stump I want to show you is this one, riddled through with the mining of termites or carpenter ants. Just look at the intricate structure.

I don't usually think of olearias as trees, but everything grows larger on the Oregon Coast. This Olearia macrodonta has reached the proportions of a small tree, arching its limbs over the path. The exfoliating bark peals off in long strips, adding an even more exotic flair to this unusual garden. The dappled light filtering through the toothed foliage to splash across the bark made this tree especially beautiful.

Technically not a tree, but what else would you call a pair of 20-foot tall Cordyline australis? These weren't even the only ones. Really, if you haven't figured out this is a special garden in the Pacific Northwest by now, I can only hope these will convince you.

How about a tree rhododendron? Rhododendron arboreum is just that, growing over 80 feet tall in their native habitat in Nepal. On the Oregon Coast, with winter rain instead of summer monsoons, they grow more slowly, but the specimens photographed below were still over 25 feet. They are very upright and with an almost coniferous cone-like silhouette. Older specimens are broader and more rounded, looking rather like evergreen oaks that burst large flowers in trusses of 20 or more. The flowers can range from white, pink, red with white markings, to deep scarlet. The rest of the year, the foliage is an attractive dark green, with cinnamon-colored indumentum on the undersides. You can see some of the colorful indumentum in the photo below. I've pretty much "come out" now as working at Cistus Nursery as a propagator, though I still want to maintain some separation between my personal blog and my job. However, I will share this with you. While we didn't collect any cuttings of these Rhododendron arboreum, which can be a bit tender further inland depending on the subspecies or variety, we did collect cuttings from a hybrid of that species called Sir Charles Lemon, which has the same gorgeous foliage with white flowers, and is hardy to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. They're on the mist bench now. Cross your fingers that they root! Not for small gardens (at least not long-term), this hybrid can eventually reach heights over 20 feet.

Bad blogger. If I had taken notes, or labelled my photos after loading them to my computer, or gotten to this post sooner (if, if, if) I might be able to tell you which species of Eucalyptus this is. I tried to capture its beauty, but I really don't think I managed to do it justice. The late afternoon light was beginning to turn golden, warming the cool tones of the glaucous leaves and highlighting the reddish petioles and smaller branches.

Another not-quite-tree, this is still one of the biggest Tetrapanax papyrifer I've ever seen. Rising 15-20 feet high, with a trunk around 4 inches thick at the base, it rises above the surrounding fuchsias and rhododendrons, looking impossibly tropical.

My trip to the Gerdemann Botanic Preserve provided my first encounter with a mature specimen of Azara microphylla. The surrounding vegetation left me few options for angles from which to photograph it, and the rich, dark, glossy leaves made it difficult to shoot against the bright sky. Still, this picture captures some of the interesting character provided by smooth grey bark covered in moss, supporting a canopy of cloud-like plumes of tiny leaves. I would love to visit when this tree is blooming. I imagine the scent is marvelous.

Just look at the trunk! And this is the narrower side. I couldn't get a good angle to show you how wide it really is, but it's about twice as wide as what you can see from this picture.

Gazing up into the leaves provides an interesting view of sinuous limbs rising up through the clouds of tiny green leaves. I just loved the mossy tufts covering the trunks and branches, as well as the texture of the tiny leaves. The larger leaves photobombing from the right belong to a Eucryphia, also an impressive representation of its genus, but I could not get a good picture of the whole tree.

At least one large, grandiose pine rises above the garden, along with the spruces and hemlocks. Just a few hundred feet to the beach, these pines become windswept masses less than 15 feet tall. This picture also shows the only Thuja plicata, or western red cedar, in the garden, and one of the few in the area. Western red cedar is usually found further from the coast, or further north. This photo was another attempt to capture the golden evening light. To my hyper-critical eye, it just doesn't do justice to the real thing. You'll have to visit the garden to see for yourself.

This final tree was one of my favorite in the garden, which the group tentatively identified as Eucalyptus pauciflora subsp. niphophila. Multiple trunks rose up, covered in smooth bark colored almost white, with darker grey and tan areas. When this tree performs its annual strip, more colors can be revealed, from lime green to copper to shades of purple.

For my vignette this week, I give you one of my more successful sunset shots from the trip, featuring the white trunks of Eucalyptus pauciflora subsp. niphophila in the background, with a palm (Trachycarpus?) silhouetted to the right, and a mound of cordyline growing up front and center. This garden is simply magical. I could wax poetic about it for paragraphs, but this picture says it all much more eloquently than I ever could.

And thus ends the second installation from my visit to the Gerdemann Botanic Preserve. I think there will be one final installation, featuring some of the truly unusual and rare specimens found in the garden. Oddballs and the most lust-worthy of treasures. The final issue (of this trip) will be a must see for plant geeks!

17 comments:

  1. I am still so bummed I couldn't go on this trip! It looks like a wondrous place indeed, full of fabulous things. And yeah - I'm with you - I would totally opt to sleep in a greenhouse if the opportunity was given! :)

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    1. There was talk of future trips. Hopefully you'll be able to join the next one!

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  2. Wow Evan, this is a cool garden indeed. I would love to sleep in the greenhouse, as I'd have more time to explore the grounds :-)
    I really like the Vireya Rhododendrons. They are tougher than given credit for (some can even grow here) and are great for spot flowering all year, in response to cold/warm wet/dry cycles rather than the simple winter/spring cycle of the familiar rhodos.
    I have a R. arboretum growing in my garden. It was planted before my time in between the garage and paling fence (in about 3' of space) so grew straight up rather than out. It is quite a sight when in flower. These gardens look like an amazing place indeed!

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    1. They are tougher than people think, but the northern latitudes occasionally experience Arctic air masses that wipe out many plants like these. Those events can bring the air temperature down to the teens (F) or even, very rarely, single digits for several days or even 2 weeks, and it never gets above freezing during that time. It's also completely dry air, which dehydrates everything. Even the toughest vireyas can only survive those in sheltered gardens. I wish the northern hemisphere had an ocean buffering us from those events. We have no shield from Alaska and northern Canada, save distance.

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  3. Terrific and inspirational trees. (the Eucalyptus is my favorite).
    The greenhouse you called home for a night is so lovely! As long as you don't tackle a cacti, a morning coffee on the bench is very zen.

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    1. The Eucalyptus is my favorite, too! Isn't that cactus house so charming?

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  4. I would think you'd be more at home sleeping in the Vireya greenhouse (and leaving the cactus house for me) but then again it didn't look like there was much room in that one. Oh those Cordylines! And the Azara microphylla, really? That huge thing? Wow. Not to mention the Eucalyptus, and the Magnolia macrophylla. Good stuff all around.

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    1. I would have slept in the vireya house, but I would have needed to be a contortionist to sleep amongst those trunks. And another group pitched their tent right outside the vireya house, with small children.

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  5. Green/Guesthouse: an idea whose time has come. An Embothrium pilgrimage seems in order when they are blooming. Still, this visit during the "off" season reveals subtleties that might be eclipsed by showy displays. I hear frustration at being unable to fully capture the beauty you see. Not to worry: your use of language more than makes up for any lack imposed by the camera...even allowing for a memory "warped by imagination".

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    1. I think you're right, both about the green/guest house and the Embothrium pilgrimage. I'm glad my clumsy words can help make up for the shortcomings of the camera.

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  6. I lived in San Diego for 19 years, so I missed the Eucalyptus trees when I moved up here, and planted one supposedly hardy to 0ºF, but when it was 10' tall the first frost didn't come until Dec. 20, then the temps fell to 6ºF in two days, so it died. I don't try anything tropical anymore. It's great to see all the tropical trees growing there, an amazing garden, Evan. I tried an Azara that didn't make it, so fascinating to see a big one.

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    1. I'm sorry about your Eucalyptus. I've planted 3 in the last two years. I hope it stays mild for a few years. The winter of 2009 it got down to 8 for almost a week at my parents' house. The lowest temp was 5. That was the first and only winter in my lifetime that I saw single digits west of the Cascades. I'm only 26, but still.

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  7. What a fabulous garden! And how lucky Oregon is to have such a treasure as a preserve. I love the greenhouses, especially the last one. I don't know how I'm going to convince my husband that I "need" a greenhouse but someday I will.

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    1. Haha! I'm sure you can call on any of your fellow bloggers to help convince him!

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  8. Thank you Evan Bean for this great blog about your visit to the Gerdemann Botanic Preserve, a place we know and love. We'd like to share some info about the vireya however, we've been unsuccessful in posting here. This is our 4th attempt. Please ask Andreea Ghetie for our personal email. Cheers, Kathleen and Jerry Sand

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  9. Thank you Evan for this blog post ! We enjoyed reading, and viewing your photos of a place we lived, tended and loved for over eight years. Please ask Andreea Ghetie for our personal contact info. We'd like to share info about Jim's vireya collection and the location of at least one survivor that blooms outside the greenhouse. Cheers !

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    1. Your comments seem to be coming through, now. I made some changes in the comments settings hoping it would solve the issue. Thank you for reading! I will ask Andreea for your contact info, though. I'd love to know more about Jim's vireya collection.

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