The garden is still in that enviable moment when there is room to plant trees. I have been planting birches because they are tolerant of the poor soil and exposed site and they have all done quite well. They have produced some surprises: the River Birch (Betula nigra), planted as a small whip, sulked for a year, then actually got smaller but this year has burgeoned and is a super bush 1.5m high; some one year B. papyrifera whips are now 2m high and all the B. albosinensis are starting to display their distinctive barks. Most disappointing have been the ‘Long Trunk’ which I didn’t realise was weeping. I moved them and planted two to frame a path and one was stripped, last month, by what appeared to be a single caterpillar. I left it to do what it wanted to do since it had already done the damage – I just hope it doesn’t bring its friends next year! But back to today’s topic!
The other week I finally took the plunge and bought a Metasequoia glyptostroboides. For the past few years, every time I passed one in a garden centre I stopped and pondered, especially if it was the yellow-leaved GOLD RUSH (‘Golden Oji’), but never popped one in my trolley. But then I finally took the plunge and came home with a 1.5m plant of the ordinary species. Part of the reason is that I had just finished digging a bed that was going to be perfect, moist all year, being at the lower end of the garden, relatively sheltered and very slightly shaded at midday, though not in high summer.
I like this deciduous conifer for a multitude of reasons, not least because of the name which is a perfect combination of hard and soft consonents – it is just a joy to say out loud. It also includes ‘meta’ which if, like me, you are a fan of ‘Yes Minister’ you will remember well. Featured in the episode ‘The Greasy Pole’ from 1981 you can find out what ‘meta’ means here (youtube link). Meta seems to have many definitions including: showing an explicit awareness of itself, occurring later or after, situated behind or after or transformed or with, among or after.
Metasequoia is a genus of just one species, or at least one extant species because this is a prehistoric conifer and there are 20 species known to science, but only through fossils. Metasequoia glyptostroboides was first identified in 1941 as a fossil but was found in the wild, as a living tree, in the same year – only later were the two discoveries linked. The species was formally described in 1948 but a major seed collection (several kilos) was made in 1947 and the seeds sent to arboreta all over the world, later that year and the next. (Seed was also collected from the wild in 1979) In the wild the tree grows in moist valleys in Hubei, China, often by rivers. The vast amount of seeds that made up this first introduction contributed to the diversity of genetics in cultivation but the tree can also be propagated by cuttings and this is common now, especially with selected cultivars.
Metasequoia glyptostroboides is completely hardy and has delicate foliage in summer that turns cinnamon shades in autumn. It has flaky, cinnamon bark and the trunk is as sinuous as its name. It is pyramidal when young and can be fast growing. It is tolerant of moist soil but will not thrive in the wet soils that suit that other deciduous conifer; taxodium.
It looks happy where it is planted and I have a feeling that I may have to plant another at some time. Elsewhere in the garden I have a ginkgo, another fossil conifer. It was among the first plants to go in the garden but I discovered that rabbits loved the taste of ginkgo and three others were quickly destroyed. The one survivor is doing OK and will have to keep the metasequoia company, with old tales of dinosaurs, for now.