In California, it is hard to imagine that hinoki cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa, gets big enough to be harvested for lumber in Japan. Almost all of the local garden varieties stay quite short. The largest rarely get up to second story eaves. The most compact types that are grown for bonsai, do not get much more than a few inches tall. Most are somewhere in between, to about ten feet tall.
The ruffled sprays of evergreen foliage are surprisingly dense relative to the soft texture and often irregularly loose branch structure. Mature trees often shed branches to reveal sculptural reddish trunks and limbs within, while maintaining the distinct density of their foliar tufts. The minute leaf scales have rounded tips. (Other specie have pointed leaves.) Tiny round cones are rarely seen.
Because of slow growth and irregular form, hinoki cypress is an excellent specimen ‘trophy’ tree, but not so useful as hedging shrubbery. It prefers a bit of shade, and will tolerate considerable shade. However, varieties with yellow new growth are more colorful with good (but not harsh) exposure. It does not take much pruning and grooming to enhance form and expose branch structure.
‘Shrubbery’ sounds so unflattering for a pine; but mugo pine, Pinus mugo, is not really much of a tree. The tallest trees do not reach eaves. Most old trees are only a few feet tall and about twice as broad, with strictly rounded form, and dense forest green foliage. The stout paired needles are only about one or two inches long. The plump cones, which are rarely seen, are not much longer.
Although very rare in other types of landscapes, and originally from the Austrian and Italian Alps, mugo pine is one of the most popular and traditional features in Japanese gardens. Even though it grows very slowly, it should have enough room to do so without competing with other more aggressive plants that might overwhelm it. It should neither be shorn nor pruned back too aggressively.
Tet, Vietnamese New Year’s Day, is today! This is the first day of the Year of the Dog! Tet is celebrated for at least three days, and besides all the popularly known traditions that go along with it, a few horticulturally oriented traditions are also observed.
When I grew citrus back in the early 1990s, I can remember than we sold every kumquat and calamondin tree that had fruit on it prior to Tet. When those ran out, we sold every fruited mandarin orange and tangerine tree, and then every fruited orange and lemon tree. Eventually, just about every fruited tree we could supply was gone. Citrus trees with colorful ripe fruit are traditional decoration for Tet, and might even be a gift for someone lacking such a tree. Kumquat trees are the favorite, but others will do if necessary.
Fruit baskets containing primarily citrus fruits are also very popular and traditional. Bananas, pineapple and any colorful fruit are fair game as well. Shaddock fruit is popular if available. Shaddock is the dwarfing understock for other dwarf citrus trees, but is not commonly grown for fruit production.
Blooming stems of apricot, peach and plum, as well as Saint John’s wort flowers, are the favorite traditional cut flowers for Tet. Each type of flower corresponds to the region of Vietnam from which the family displaying it originated. In the Santa Clara Valley years ago, there were plenty of fruit blossoms to go around. The stems were sometimes cut early and forced to bloom on time for Tet. Nowadays, such blooming stems can be purchased from florists, along with the other traditional flowers; chrysanthemums, narcissus, marigolds, pansies and cockscombs. Families who own a bonsai or more display them prominently for Tet.
Happy Tet and Year of the Dog!