When I first got interested in shrubs, most of the books in print were by English writers. As helpful and inspiring as they were, for practical information there's nothing like a book written by experts in our very own region.
We're fortunate now to have 'The Gossler Guide to the Best Hardy Shrubs,' written by passionate plant lovers close to home - Roger, Eric and Marjory Gossler. Their nursery and garden,Gossler Farms Nursery, (GosslerFarms.com) ) is in Springfield - an easy destination for a day trip, by appointment.
My car knows the way there by heart. The pleasure of wandering through the intriguing demonstration gardens, and Roger's encyclopedic knowledge, which he shares enthusiastically, would be enough. But the chance for instant gratification - being able to buy the plants I admire, and take them home - makes the trip completely satisfying. Over the years, unusual varieties of viburnum, hydrangea and stewartia and more have made their way up the valley, thanks to the Gosslers.
Sometimes, I'd refer back to their mail order catalog to learn more about the plants I'd purchased. But the new book offers so much more.
Humor comes through with advice
Each plant is described in detail, through the eyes of an observant plantsman. For example, strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) 'has fissured bark and stems that curve attractively. The flowers are small white urns that appear from late summer to early winter, coinciding with the appearance of round red fruit.' This is one of my favorite evergreen shrubs, and I'm glad to see it profiled so well.
The Gosslers' book is peppered with Roger's wicked sense of humor. I love his description of prickly 'Flying Dragon' hardy orange (Poncirus trifoliata), a curiosity that's been popping up recently in gardens. He writes, 'This demented plant is only for the garden sadist. Everything is contorted on it - stems, leaves, flowers, fruit - and you must be careful to avoid getting caught in the thorns. It is a wonderful container plant, however, because it is slow to grow, and it makes quite a statement.'
Roger's stories about how he acquires plants, and the people who first grew them, adds a charming element of gardening history to the book. One of his customers, Jack Richards, kept requesting 'Pink Sensation' viburnum. Richards finally sent the Gosslers cuttings from the mother plant growing in legendary Connie Hansen's Lincoln City garden (ConnieHansenGarden.com).
Desperate gardeners will go to great lengths to get their hands on the plant they want. I especially appreciate this story as I also coveted the plant when I saw it in Connie's garden, even though I didn't go as far as Jack went. Thanks to Connie, Jack and Roger, I now enjoy this viburnum in my own garden.
Making friends among the shrubs
Stories like this abound in the book, as the Gosslers travel in search of interesting plants, forming friendships along the way. They collected cuttings and plants from Heronswood, from the late Jane Platt, from Michael Dirr, from the late Bob Tichnor of Oregon State University's North Willamette Research and Extension Center.
These connections, ignited by plant lust, become the seeds of rich friendships over time. Our shared passion for plants sweeps us into an exciting family of plant nerds.
Even though I grow plenty of shrubs and read voraciously, the Gosslers' book introduced me to new varieties that I want to try. For example, Aucuba japonica 'Rozannie,' a compact evergreen to four feet tall, with dark green leaves that 'almost glow with glossiness,' and rich red fruits. Deutzia x hybrida 'Magicien' also calls to me. Roger writes, 'The flowers are deep pinkish purple in mid to late spring, and our plant weeps from the weight of the massive bloom.'
Two sentences about beautyberry (Callicarpa) explained why mine never forms much fruit -I have the wrong cultivar. With Roger's advice, I will buy a better plant, and prune it properly. He writes, 'Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion' is the only cultivar that has fruited consistently and proven hardy for us. … The only maintenance we do is to prune out old fruiting wood in spring to reinvigorate the shrub.'
'Profusion' beautyberry is one of Roger's favorite shrubs for fall color - the purple fruit holds on until late December. He also recommends 'Grace' smoke tree, a large shrub I first saw in his garden in autumn, when the foliage glowed like stained glass. I gave a place of honor in my own - I adore the purple leaves in spring and summer, and the radiant fall color, when the foliage takes on pink-orange tints.
• Introducing Native Shrubs to the Established Woodland Shade Garden, presented by J. J. Sweeney for the Northwest Hosta and Shade Gardening Society, 7 p.m., Nov. 23, Smile Station in Sellwood, 8210 S.E. 13th Ave., Portland. Free event. For more information, call 503-643-2387.
• West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District and Audubon Society of Portland present a Bird Nest Workshop (How to build bird nest boxes to keep birds warm in winter, with free bird nest boxes for participants to take home). 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Nov. 18, Audubon Society's Heron Hall, 5151 N.W. Cornell Road, Portland. Free event, registration not required. For more information, call 503-238-4775 or www.wmswcd.org