Saturday, July 16, 2011

Visit to Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery, Gold Beach, OR

Vacationing in Brookings on the Southern Oregon coast, I finally got a chance to visit Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery located 20 miles up the road in Gold Beach. Started in 1993 on a hilly 2½ acre property just south of town by Gib Cooper and his wife Diane, Tradewinds has grown into one of the premier bamboo nurseries on the West Coast, if not in the entire country.

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Oregon coast south of Gold Beach

The location is stunning: The nursery is located less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean. The climate in this part of Oregon, dubbed the “Banana Belt,” is enviably mild. According to Gib, winter lows rarely reach 20°F; some years see virtually no frost. This allows Tradewinds to grow a wide range of both clumping and running bamboos, including species you wouldn’t expect to see in Oregon, such as Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’ and Bambusa textilis, or cold-sensitive Chusquea species such as Chusquea sulcata.

Carrying about 200 species, more than 100 of which are also planted in the ground, Tradewinds specializes in mountain bamboos, including Borinda, Fargesia, Thamnocalamus, and especially Chusquea. Gold Beach’s climate is very similar to southern Chile and hence ideal for most Chusquea. In fact, Gib Cooper was instrumental in introducing several Chusquea species to the United States.

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Potted Drepanostachyum sengteeanum, a very elegant but not very cold-hardy mountain bamboo
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Borinda utilis growing next to 5 ft. ferns. With its small delicate leaves, it’s a beautiful plant that doesn’t seem to be planted much. It’s supposed to handle full sun better than most other borindas.
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18-year old clump of chocolate bamboo (Borinda fungosa), the same species growing in our small Asian-inspired woodland garden. Seeing the size of this specimen, I realized that I’ll have to judiciously prune mine to prevent it from taking over that corner of the backyard.

Chusquea is probably the least understood of the mountain bamboos. Experts indicate that many species are yet to be identified, and even named species are in a state of taxonomic flux. Gib showed me three or four forms of Chusquea culeou that were so different in size and growing habit that some of them may well be assigned species status down the line. My favorite Chusquea culeou form was one with particularly red culms that Gib found in more than 1,000 seedlings. He appropriately named it ‘Roja,’ and a small specimen made its way home with me.

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Chusquea culeou, weeping form
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Chusquea culeou, green form
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Chusquea culeou ‘Caña Prieta’
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Chusquea andina
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Chusquea bilimekii in a conifer forest on Gib’s property. This is rare species grown from seed Gib collected during a 1999 expedition to Mexico. There it grows in pine forests at 9,000 ft.
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Chusquea cumingii.
This is a very interesting climbing bamboo which in its native habitat clambers up trees. Without support, the culms flop over and form an impenetrable barrier as seen here.

The most impressive Chusquea species of all might well be Chusquea gigantea. I planted a small one in my in-laws’ yard last year, and I was thrilled to see mature specimens at Tradewinds. Chusquea gigantea is Gib’s most productive species. He harvests many culms each year, some of which he turns into bamboo doormats. Since Chusquea culms are completely solid, as opposed to the hollow internodes of most other bamboo species, they are ideal for construction projects.

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Chusquea gigantea. While technically a clumping bamboo, it has a relatively open growth habit. In a mature stand, the culms don’t grow at an angle but straight up, much like those of a running bamboo.

I was also happy to finally see in person a number of other mountain bamboos I’d read about, including the numbered forms of Fargesia nitida ‘Jiuzhaigou’ (1, 2, 4, 10) and some recent Borinda introductions such as Borinda lushuiensis, potentially the largest and most beautiful Borinda in cultivation in the U.S., and Borinda papyrifera with arguably the bluest culms of any bamboo. I know of no other place in the U.S. where you can see so many mountain bamboos in one spot. The fact that Chris Stapleton, the world’s leading expert on Asian mountain bamboos, has visited Tradewinds on more than one occasion is a testament to the caliber of Gib Cooper’s collection.

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Borinda lushuiensis

Ironically, as ideal as the climate of Gold Beach has proven to be for so many clumping bamboos, some common running bamboos are struggling. Gib pointed out a stand of black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) that looked rather sad, with half-withered leaves and unremarkable culms—the opposite of the vigorous specimens with elegant dark-green leaves and polished jet-black culms I’m used to seeing around Sacramento. Apparently some Phyllostachys have a hard time with the often violent winds and the salty air.

Other Phyllostachys are doing better, especially moso (Phyllostachys edulis). While the culms weren’t as thick as some I’d seen elsewhere and the growth habit was more dense, the plants were clearly thriving. Gib also has some rare striped moso (Phyllostachys edulis ‘Goldstripe’) which he culled from the several thousand seedlings he started with.

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Moso (Phyllostachys edulis)

In addition to local sales to homeowners and landscape designers, Tradewinds runs a successful Internet operation at BambooDirect.com. Most of their stock is available for purchase online, and I encourage you to take a look at their huge variety of mountain bamboos.

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I also saw my first Yushania alpina, one of the few bamboos native to Africa. This open clumper has root primordia on the lower internodes (the thorn-like protrusions in the photo above).

It is truly impressive what Gib and Diane have accomplished. Working their tree-studded hilly property cannot be easy, and planting and taking care of so many bamboos is back-breaking labor. I can’t imagine that the monetary rewards are commensurate with the work that is required, and it is clear that the Coopers are doing this because they love bamboo and want to promote its use in the U.S. both as an ornamental landscape plant and as a timber crop. Considering the intractable resistance much of the general population seems to harbor towards bamboo, it’s an uphill struggle, but without pioneers like the Coopers we’d never get there.

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Gib Cooper in front of Chusquea culeou

More posts from our trip to Southern Oregon:

Friday, July 15, 2011

No azaleas, but…

The Southern Oregon coast is home to five native azalea species, now protected at Azalea Park in Brookings. Together with native rhododendrons, whose habitat stretches south into the northernmost tip of California, they provide a spectacle of color in April and early May. We were a couple of months too late to see any azalea blooms, but I was delighted by what I did find at Azalea Park and elsewhere in and around Brookings.

The biggest surprise was waiting for us right at the parking lot of Azalea Park: a Gunnera tinctoria, also called Chilean rhubarb although it’s not related to common rhubarb. I had been dreaming for years of growing one of these in our garden, but our summers are just too hot and dry. This was the first time I’d ever seen one in person, and it was every bit as stunning as I had imagined. Check out this detailed post.

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Chilean rhubarb (Gunnera tinctoria) at Azalea Park, Brookings

Ferns are ubiquitous in this part of the state, both in natural environments and in man-made landscapes. I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they just came up by themselves, much like weeds do—not that I’m denigrating ferns!

Here are some vignettes featuring ferns of different kinds (sorry, no ID since I’m not a fern expert).

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Fern with lacy filigree
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(Sword?) fern at the base of tree trunks
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Fern and weather-bleached driftwood
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Fern against lichen-studded rock

Rocks define this part of the Oregon coast—not just on the beach and offshore, but also in public and private landscaping. Even by themselves they add great interest to the garden.

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Rock assemblage
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Rock surrounded by California poppies. This was the only spot I saw California poppies, so I tend to think they were started from seed. I don’t think the Oregon Coast is sunny and dry enough to be an attractive habitat for poppies.

While common in many places (including Oregon), hydrangeas are an exotic plant to me since they don’t grow in Davis. Whenever I visit our friends in Portland, I’m amazed by how large hydrangeas get in their cool climate. The same is true for Brookings. The hydrangea in the next photo was more than 6 feet tall.

The color of the flowers is unreal. They look like they were dyed with some garish food coloring. From what I understand (which is little), the type of soil affects the flower color: acidic soil produces blue flowers, neutral soils pale cream, and alkaline soils pink or purple.

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Blue hydrangea at Azalea Park, Brookings

I don’t know that the tall purple flower is in the next photo, but the I loved the juxtaposition of its lacy foliage and the leaning tree trunks.

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Tapestry of purple flowers and tree trunks

Another surprise I came across at Brookings’ Azalea Park: two Japanese dogwood trees (Cornus kousa) in flower. I would have expected these to bloom earlier in the year, but I was happy to find them covered with flowers (actually, the white “petals” are bracts surrounding the inconspicuous flower in the middle).

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Cornus kousa
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Cornus kousa

And back at the log cabin we rented outside of Brookings, one of the biggest surprises: a blooming passionfruit vine (Passiflora caerulea). This turned out to be a classic case of “here today, gone tomorrow.” The day after I photographed this flower, it closed up and rapidly started to decline. Maybe it will turn into a fruit, but probably it won’t since the climate in Brookings isn’t quite warm enough.

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Passionfruit vine (Passiflora caerulea)

More posts from our trip to Southern Oregon:

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    Postcards from the Southern Oregon Coast

    Our family vacation this year took us to the southern Oregon coast where we rented an isolated log cabin with an ocean view. No TV, no Internet, no telephone—not even cell phone reception. It felt weird at first being so disconnected from the outside world, but vacations are about unplugging from everyday life, and I quickly got used to the much slower pace.

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    Panoramic view of Lone Ranch Beach outside of Brookings, OR

    The coast around Brookings, OR is stunningly beautiful, featuring sheltered beaches piled with rocks and driftwood and surrounded on the inland side by wildflower-studded meadows. Tall sea stacks just offshore create a picture-postcard backdrop.

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    Dunes at Pistol River
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    Driftwood at Whaleshead Beach
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    Rock on driftwood

    Even though you’d think that this would be the peak of tourist season, many beaches around Brookings were all but deserted. At times, it seemed as if we had our own private beach. Sitting on a rock listening to the sound of the waves and smelling the heady smell of the Pacific Ocean, I felt more relaxed and care-free than I had in a long time.

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    Panoramic view of Lone Ranch Beach outside of Brookings, OR
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    Rocks and waves
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    Our own “private” beach
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    South end of Lone Ranch Beach
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    Dead crab

    The meadows surrounding the beaches were carpeted with grasses and wildflowers. While most gardeners, including myself, aren’t interested in creating naturalistic meadows in their yards, I love the almost two-dimensional tapestry effect and the contrasting colors.

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    Horsetail rush (Equisetum hyemale) and flowering grasses
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    Flowering grasses with wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum)

    There is one plant I associate with the Oregon coast more than any other: cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum). It can grow to 8 feet, but most of the plants I saw here were in the 5 ft. range. It’s found in most states of the U.S. and most of Canada and seems to grow particularly large in Alaska.

    While many people wouldn’t find cow parsnip “refined” enough to plant at home, I think it would look impressive in a cool shady corner. Too bad it wouldn’t tolerate our summer temperatures.

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    Cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) at Harris Beach, Brookings, OR
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    The umbel is typical of the carrot family to which cow parsnip belongs
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    Underside of umbel with section of hairy stem

    More posts from our trip to Southern Oregon:

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011

    Mount Shasta Lavender Farms

    One of the most spectacular summer attractions in far Northern California has got to be Mount Shasta Lavender Farms. It’s open only in June and July to coincide with the lavender bloom, but if you happen to be in the Mount Shasta area during that time, be sure to visit.

    Mount Shasta Lavender Farms is located in the high desert north of Mount Shasta and east of Weed. The private drive off Harry Cash Road climbs up a steep hillside for a few miles until you reach the parking lot. The view will knock your socks off. In front of you is 14,167 ft. Mount Shasta, a massive shield volcano that is the dominant landmark in this part of California. To the right, at less than half the height of Mount Shasta, is Black Butte, the cinder cone so familiar to travelers on Interstate 5. Further to the west is the snow-covered peak of Mount Eddy, at 9,025 ft. the tallest peak in the Trinity Mountains. In my opinion, this is most impressive view of Mount Shasta because you can see it in its topographical context.

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    Panoramic view from Mount Shasta Lavender Farms

    By most people’s definition, Mount Shasta Lavender Farm is located in the middle of nowhere. From Weed, the sleepy town with the unforgettable name on Interstate 5, it’s a 25 minute drive east, first on Highway 97 and then on County Road A12. This area of Northern California is sparsely populated and, because of the arid climate, its natural vegetation is sparse as well. A desert rat at heart, I love the silence and remoteness of this place.

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    Mount Shasta Lavender Farms is located on a sunny slope high above Shasta Valley at an elevation of 3,500 ft..

    Mount Shasta Lavender Farms grows two kinds of lavender: English and French. The English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) was blooming profusely, maybe a week away from its peak. I’d say ⅔ of the fields are planted in English lavender, the rest is French lavender (presumably Lavandula dentata) which hadn’t started to bloom yet.

    The lavender is grown for oil, cut flowers, dried lavender products, and also for culinary use. Most of the products sold in the gift shop are made right here on the premises, including ethereal oil, soap, sachets, etc. Lavender-scented candles are made in Redding, 1½ hours to the south.

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    Rows of English lavender
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    Looks just like the ‘Hidcote’ lavender in our garden
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    Visitor cutting lavender
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    Juniper tree at the end of a lavender field
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    Juniper trees in the middle of a field of French lavender (not in bloom yet), with a row of blooming English lavender in the foreground
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    Lavender rows forming interesting patterns
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    Rock marking the center of the lavender maze
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    Cut English lavender

    I remember visiting Mount Shasta Lavender Farms for the first time when our now 13-year old daughter was in first grade. It had only been in operation for a couple of years at the time and hardly anybody knew about it. They have done a tremendous amount of work since then, adding more fields and building a stunning gift shop that looks like it came straight from Tuscany (see photo below). I was glad to see that the parking lot was almost full this morning and that people were spending money in the gift shop. Mount Shasta Lavender Farms is such a unique place that I want it to stay open to the public for many more years to come.

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    Gift shop and patio
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    Cluster of terra cotta pots at the edge of the gift shop patio
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    Lavender lemonade, available for free in the gift shop

    The web site of Mount Shasta Lavender Farm has more information about their operation and gives driving directions. They also have an online store.

    This year the season at Mount Shasta Lavender Farms runs until July 31st. They are open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Do not miss this one-of-a-kind attraction. It’s worth a detour if you happen to drive north or south on Interstate 5.

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    Before leaving, one last look at a view I’ll never get tired of


    Plug for one of my favorite landscape photographers, Roman Loranc, now based in Weed: If you love black-and-white photography, check out this photo taken at Mount Shasta Lavender Farm. The gift shop had a 16x20” print on display, and it took my breath away. Just like Mount Shasta Lavender Farm is a must-see destination, Roman Loranc’s photographs are must-see works of art.

    A few years ago, San Francisco PBS station KQED produced a segment on Roman Loranc’s work in the Consumnes River Preserve south of Sacramento. Click here to view it.