Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

The Best Season Ever: Upright Plum Yew

Cephalotaxus harringtonia Fastigiata overall 011616 640

 

The pollarded white poplar is so exciting in or out of leaf—and even when it's in the act of being pollarded—that nearby plants can only play second fiddle. But in Winter, the poplar's canopy is shorn. For three months, the tree is just a spindly trunk (see it at the left above) and, so, what's around it assumes center stage.

 

To the right, a gold-leaved holly, Ilex x meserveae 'Gretchen'. At the center, the vertical stems of unusually long needles are, unmistakably, an upright plum yew, Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Fastigiata'. This specimen is easily a decade or two older than that of the variegated cultivar, 'Korean Gold', growing near the terrace. Even so, this 'Fastigiata' is still young; a similar habit and size are the future of the 'Korean Gold', but only near-term. 

 

This 'Fastigiata' is already nearing eight feet tall; you can just see the top rail of the six-foot fence at the upper right. Typical mature height is usually given as ten feet, but even that is just near-term: mere decades, it seems. 'Fastigiata' is reported as having been introduced from Japanese horticulture to that of Europe way back in 1830. A specimen at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is much larger than mine—about eighteen feet high and wide—and, therefore, much older. 

 

How much older? Decades? Generations? I've been to the Edinburgh Botanic, but so far just once: over forty years ago, after my freshman year in college. Back then I didn't know about any such conifer as Cephalotaxus and, despite an evident interest in plants (I was visiting the Edinburgh Botanic Garden, remember), a career in horticulture wasn't in sight. Indeed, any career was a puzzle for years to come, as I completed an undergraduate degree in chemistry, then attended medical school for a couple years, then ditched that in favor of piano and voice degrees at a conservatory. (Here's more of the story.) 

 

Forty years ago, would the Edinburgh 'Fastigiata' have been only the size of mine? Forty years from now, will mine be the size it was then? And how is it doing now? Does any 'Fastigiata' keep increasing in size until felled by some deus ex machina? Perhaps the garden has been repurposed—destroyed and redeveloped as, say, a big box store—and, so, the tree has been cut down. Or perhaps it died from some disease.

 

Failing a malady or the chain saw, how long does such a tree live? Until its end, the plum yew plays the long game, chugging along steadily, decade by decade. From this perspective, the poplar's annual cycle of pollarding and speedy regrowth is hardly more significant than the weather. Yes, dramatically different every day, week, month, and season—but those differences are inconsequential year by year. 

 

It's impossible not to be aware of the poplar's fireworks; not least, because they are the result of pollarding, which only happens because I drag out the ladder and do it. I'm aware of the plum yew when I slow down, overlook the poplar, and think, "So, my friend. How's it going? How is the world different for you now than when you were three feet tall?"

 

Different it is—somehow, mysteriously—and, yet of course, I'll never know directly. 'Fastigiata' doesn't speak or, by human standards, even think. It simply is.

 

There's another question posed by a plant whose slow-and-steady growth is observed over many years: How is the observer? As with the crazy month-to-month changes of the poplar, the answer from any given day can vary. What's more meaningful is the direction and length of the curve. Overall, is it still pointing onward and upward? At best, the answer can be "So far."

 

Here's how to grow 'Korean Gold', the gold-needled form of Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Fastigiata'. Its hardiness and handling are the same.

 
 
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