Phalaenopsis Aurora Australis

About four years ago, Courtney, my Mom and I were driving back up the Pacific Coast Highway on our way back from Big Sur, when we stumbled accrost a large orchid dealership called Sheldance. It was right outside of San Francisco where we had planned to have dinner, so we went in to check the place out.

It was a huge greenhuse with thousands of orchids and very friendly people. None of the plants had price tags on them, which added to the mystery, since you had no idea if the orchid you were looking at was $30 or $3,000. The one I ended up liking the most was pretty much unlike anything I had seen before, so, of course, wanted to buy it.

When I asked them about the price and what it was called, they grumbled and muttered, but didn’t really give me anything to go on. “Great”, I thought to myself, “I’ve picked up some $10,000 plant”. I pressed them a little more, and they finally said that they would let it go for $75. They were not fully sure about the name, but thought it was called Phalaenopsis Aurora Australis.

I really got the feeling that they didn’t want to let it go, because when I told them that I would pay the price, they tried to talk me out of it. When that failed, they began interrogating me on my knowledge of how to keep orchids alive. Apparently I satisfied them, because they seemed to back off after that. I can’t blame them for worrying though. Orchids are pretty much immortal, so it would be a shame to sell such a nice plant only to have it die a few weeks later.

In the end, I didn’t pay the price. My Mom bought it for me. Along with a nice white Phalaenopsis for herself, and a yellow Dendrobium for Courtney. The plant was in full bloom when I got it, and it didn’t stop flowering for fourteen months! It then went into a long rest, and has finally flowered again. I wonder if it will stay in bloom as long this time?

2005 New England Bonsai Show

Last Saturday, New England Bonsai Gardens held their annual Fall members day and bonsai show. For years now I’ve been attending this event, but it was only this year that I finally decided to enter my best tree into the show. I’ve owned the Japanese Maple I entered for six years now, and have taken a number of private tutorials with John Romano and Kenji Miyata to get the tree where it is today.

Going into the show, I had very high hopes for my tree to do well. After all the scores were tallied, however, I received no awards. Reading the score sheet I was extremely interested to find that my tree scored quite low on surface roots, which are known as nebari. I was surprised not only because the nebari on the tree is quite pronounced and prominent, but because I had always felt that the surface roots were one of the strongest points about the specimen.

Talking with the judges, I discovered that, while the nebari is nice where it is present, there are not enough surface roots surrounding the trunk to create an overall pleasing effect. Because the tree has only one truly pronounced surface root, it gives the impression of a “foot” and not the general effect of age and strength found in trees with truly exquisite nebari.

Nebari, being one of the most difficult features of a tree to develop, is a major factor when selecting bonsai for the purposes of show. In many cases, the Japanese, always looking to the future, will select a tree based almost entirely on the quality of its nebari and resolve whatever other aesthetic problems the tree has by pruning and wiring over time.

To resolve my tree’s nebari problems, I will need to do the following:

Year 1: Root cuttings from the tree
Year 2-3: Grow out cuttings
Year 4: Graft cuttings to base of trunk
Year 4-5: Allow graft to take
Year 5: Bury grafts, remove foliage, and get them to sprout roots
Year 6-Futire: Grow out roots and let them grow bark

Toichi Itoh Hybrid Peonies

People like to say that if you remain motivated and work hard all your effort will pay off in the end, and you will be rewarded with great success. That may well be true, but if you are an artist, or your name is Toichi Itoh, that success may come a little later than you hope for.

For years, peony growers had tried to cross Herbaceous peonies with tree peonies, but because they are not closely related within the genus, most had assumed this was impossible and largely given up on developing Herbaceous plant with the rich yellow flower displays found in the tree peony. That is, however, until a breeder in Tokyo Japan named Toichi Itoh came along.

In 1948, after a monumental effort (some say he tried more than 20,000 crosses), Itoh finally succeeded in making an intersectional cross between Paeonia x lemoinei, a hybrid tree peony, with P. lactiflora ‘Kakoden’, a white-flowered herbaceous peony which was to serve as the seed parent. He planted the resulting 36 seedlings, but would never realize the fruits of his effort, as he died in 1956, just eight years before the plants that had been his life’s work were to bloom.

In 1964 Itoh’s first crosses began to bloom. Of the 36 plants, six were considered outstanding, and became the first peonies of herbaceous character to have deep yellow, double flowers. These remarkable plants may have been lost forever, however, had it not been for an American horticulturist named Louis Smirnow who discovered them and obtained permission from Itoh’s widow to patent four of the plants in the late 1960s. He imported them into the United States and named them ‘Yellow Crown’, ‘Yellow Dream’, ‘Yellow Emperor’ and ‘Yellow Heaven’.

These intersectional hybrids are vigorous plants that appear to have good resistance to peony blight (Botrytis paeoniae). The foliage looks much like tree peonies but they are herbaceous in habit, and die back to the ground in autumn. They form a dome-shape and bear single, semi-double or double flowers.

From these original crosses, we have seen some notable improvements by American breeders, including Don Hollingsworth’s Paeonia ‘Garden Treasure’ (P. lactiflora ‘Carr East #2’ x P. x lemoinei ‘Alice Harding’), which was introduced in 1984 and Roger Anderson’s ‘Bartzella’ (P. lactiflora double white cultivar x P. x lemoinei ‘Golden Era’) raised in 1986. ‘Garden Treasure’ is the only intersectional hybrid to have received a gold medal from the APS, and demand for ‘Bartzella’ was so great during the late 1990s that divisions were sold for more than $1,000 each.

The Itoh Hybrids:

More information on peonies >
Buy the Itoh Hybrids for your own garden >