Home & Garden

Joy of gardening evident at Hong's

Editor's note: The Eagle is following the Sedgwick County master gardeners on a tour of six homegrown garden centers in Wichita this spring. This week we visit Hong's Landscape & Nursery.

Immersing myself in the exotic lush evergreens at Hong's Landscape & Nursery — the different textures, cones, shapes and colors — I could see why owner Il Sik Hong likes to stick around when the business closes and just look at everything.

Hong grew up in Korea, where his grandfather grew melons and other crops as his livelihood, and the nursery in the United States was a natural progression for him.

"I love doing a garden," Hong told the master gardeners on their recent trip to the nursery off Rock Road on 31st Street South. "It's just a joy all the time."

Hong started out with a landscaping business in 1979, and opened a garden center on the south side of 31st Street 12 to 15 years ago. He moved into a new building on the north side of the street in 2008.

Remember the garden hut Hong made for last year's garden show? It was meant to mimic his grandfather's wondumak, or look-out shack, where Hong used to camp out during his childhood and from which his grandfather would guard their melon patch. You can see it now in front of the store.

"Elegance" is the word one master gardener used to describe what she saw at Hong's. Its music is the clinking of bamboo wood chimes. Hundreds of colorful pots are an impressive sight arrayed together outside.

Among plants, Hong's specialties are unusual evergreens and Japanese maples.

And while Hong cautions customers about the need to protect some trees and shrubs from full sun and scorching wind, some report back that they've broken the rules and have evergreens and Japanese maples that are doing just fine in full-sun western exposures.

"I have no clue what causes that," Hong says.

Here are some of the trees and techniques Hong highlighted for the master gardeners:

Shrubs

* A bird's nest spruce can handle full sun if kept consistently moist. It grows slowly and makes a really nice dwarf specimen.

* You can trim a mugo pine like a juniper. If you round the top, it stays that way. You can cut off almost all of the candle (the new growth on the ends), and you only need to shape it up every other year.

* Murasaki is a shrub form of Japanese maple that can be placed in a tight area. It needs afternoon shade. You can round the top with scissors and it will stay that way, with a shape-up once a year.

* Chamaecyparis verdoni is an evergreen shrub with yellow-green foliage. It's a slow grower that responds well to pruning. An all-green variety has a more loose form. Also comes in a lollipop form. Protect from late-afternoon sun. Hong says he's come to discover that the brown color that it takes on in winter is actually a protective burn that does not last.

Trees

* Hong's is pushing the Katsura Japanese maple. Its leaves start out a beautiful orange in spring and turn a light green in summer. "I've been enjoying these greatly," Hong said.

* Japanese maples generally grow fast. Lion's head Japanese maple is one of the slowest-growing, making it good for a courtyard. It has green leaves.

* Emerald Lace is a weeping Japanese maple with green leaves and petioles that stay red.

* Divinely Blue is a dwarf variety of Deodar cedar in a pretty dark bluish green. It likes dry soil and warm temperatures.

* The serpentine form of the Blue Atlas cedar is the most popular tree at the nursery. It also comes in an upright form that gets very large. The Blue Atlas and Deodar cedars need dry soil, so be sure to elevate them when planting so that water drains away.

* The most asked-about tree in Hong's garden at the garden show this year was the Ice Blue Arizona cypress. "If you want something unusual in (a) small area, try this," Hong says. It gets about 15 feet tall when mature.

* Picea orientalis, dark Oriental spruce, originated in Korea and is slow-growing but also the largest-growing tree in the spruce family. It has a very small needle so it doesn't burn in the summer like a spruce. Very symmetrical. "We're probably the only one who has it in Kansas," Hong said.

* California incense cedar adapts well to Kansas weather but also needs a dry site, not an irrigated one.

* As a replacement for Austrian and Scotch pines, which are prone to disease, Hong recommends Southwest white pine. They're hard to come by right now, so he's selling the Vanderwolf white pine, too.

* An Irish yew tree grows almost like a pencil or a pole, straight up. Hong has seen Irish yews planted 3 feet apart in a long line that grew like a living fence.

* Stewartia pseudocamellia is a tree that bears a beautiful white flower almost like the dogwood's in mid-May and has bark that exfoliates in pretty colors. Hong's also carries a Korean Fire camellia shrub that needs some special planting and care but that can start blooming in February.

Next week: We're off to Dutch's.

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