Friday, October 12, 2012

The Conifer Blues Part 2

Conifers in the Flora Wonder Arboretum

Last week's web log celebrated conifers with outstanding blue foliage. With conifers, I used to say that blue outsells green, although that probably was never true. But imagine a blue arborvitae, say 'Smaragd', and I think, at first anyway, that the blue would outsell the green. Once the novelty wore off, then probably green 'Smaragds' would be back in favor. I have nothing against green of course, and I realize that most of nature is green, not blue, and the various shades of green provide great visual entertainment. Nature doesn't often produce conifers with blue foliage, unless it is a means to survive in hot dry locations. It is the horticulturist who champions the blues, and when you think about it, most of today's garden plants are the aberrations, the freaks of nature.

Abies concolor 'Candicans'

Abies concolor 'Sherwood Blue'

Many species of Abies, native to very diverse locations, are famous for their blue selections. From western North America Abies concolor has cultivars that range in size from miniature cuties to full-size trees. 'Candicans' can grow to large size, and the foliage is truly blue. This old cultivar is not favored by nurserymen anymore because of its sparse, awkward habit when young. I know a few growers in Oregon still produce it, but we haven't propagated it in ten years, and I doubt that I even have one left on the place. 'Sherwood Blue' is very similar and I keep a few of them around, most likely because it reminds me of the late great plantsman, Andy Sherwood, to whom I am distantly related.

Abies concolor 'Blue Cloak'

Abies concolor 'Wattezii'

Abies concolor 'Blue Cloak' is more dwarf than the two mentioned above, and it is semi-pendulous as well. The name is perfect, and it was discovered many years ago by Dave Helms of Washington state in a Christmas tree planting. 'Wattezii' is a broad form which features vivid chartreuse new growth, a color that blends well with the older blue foliage. It has been in cultivation for over one hundred years, and was selected from a mutation on Abies concolor by D. Wattez from Holland. The alleged 'Wattezii Prostrate' was probably a low side-branch source of scion wood which would promote a spreading ground-cover form. The same could be said for 'Gable's Weeping', a selection that can sprawl on the ground, although I have grown a few that shot straight upward.

Abies concolor 'King's Gap'

Abies concolor 'Masonic Broom' is a miniature dense spreader, but one that is not easy to grow. In Oregon it can rot due to its density and our wet climate for most of the year. We don't propagate it anymore, and prefer 'King's Gap', which is more vigorous, but still with a dense spreading habit. Both of the above require full sun in well-drained soil.

Abies balsamea 'Tyler Blue'

Abies balsamea 'Tyler Blue' was also found in a Christmas tree planting. Greg Williams of Vermont, who is probably the most knowledgeable of all conifer people in America -- although he would certainly dismiss that notion -- gave me the start of 'Tyler Blue' about fifteen years ago. I presume that a Mr. Tyler was the Christmas tree grower.

Speaking of Greg, he bas been my source for a countless number of conifers. The list includes Abies balsamea 'Eugene's Yellow', Abies balsamea 'Tyler Blue', Abies balsamea 'Weeping Larry', Abies concolor 'Masonic Broom', Abies fraseri 'Blue Bonnet', Juniperus horizontalis 'Golden Wiltonii', Picea abies 'Acro Yellow', Picea abies 'Vermont Gold', Picea glauca 'Ketch Harbor', Pinus strobus 'Diggy', strobus 'Louie', strobus 'Mini Twists' and tons more, including many Tsuga canadensis cultivars. Not to say that Greg Williams found and introduced all of these great plants.

Abies lasiocarpa 'Hurricane Blue'

Abies koreana 'Blue Magic'

But back to blue. Two new European selections (or at least that's where I first saw them) are Abies koreana 'Blue Magic' and lasiocarpa 'Hurricane Blue'. From a distance they look alike, but on closer inspection they are very different. My plants are still quite small, but my memory from Europe is that 'Blue Magic' has a sparkle to it, probably from the white buds.

Abies procera 'Silver'

Abies procera 'La Graciosa'

Abies procera 'La Graciosa'

Western North America's "Noble Fir," Abies procera, has a strong growing selection with unbelievably glaucous-blue foliage. It arose as a seedling here about twenty five years ago, and was eventually propagated and named 'Silver'. Note the enormous cone, typical of the species. Our twenty foot Abies procera 'La Graciosa' has never coned, but what a remarkable specimen we are lucky to have. It is possibly the most tall and narrow of any, for they can grow in a variety of shapes. Some, in fact, never shoot to the sky, as they are happy to remain low and full, but of course still weeping. Interestingly, our happy spire was the preferred perch for a pair of finches this past spring.

Abies pinsapo 'Horstmann'

Abies pinsapo 'Horstmann'

Abies vejarii 'Mountain Blue'

Abies veitchii 'Glauca'

I'll mention three final Abies, all exotic: Abies pinsapo 'Horstmann', Abies vejarii 'Mountain Blue' and Abies veitchii 'Glauca'. 'Horstmann', from the German nursery, probably originated as a witch's broom mutation from pinsapo 'Glauca', the "Blue Spanish Pin Fir." I have never seen one in cone, even on old specimens. Abies vejarii 'Mountain Blue' was our selection of twenty five years ago of a hardy Mexican species. I used to grow a lot of conifers from seed, or purchase seedlings, and in the case of 'Mountain Blue' I simply pulled out the most blue from a group of blue-green seedlings. Abies veitchii 'Glauca' is a selection from the Japanese species with bluish needles. What is most dramatic, however, is the needles' bright silver undersides. Porterhowse Farms is where I first saw veitchii 'Glauca', and Don Howse kindly shared a plant with me.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Blue Surprise'

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Van Pelt's Blue'
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Pembury Blue'

Ok, now a few blue Chamaecyparis. Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Blue Surprise' is probably the most silver-blue of all the lawsons, and it usually grows into a narrow pillar. 'Pembury Blue' is a more full selection with light blue sprays of ascending branchlets. 'Blue Surprise' is the more dramatic of the two, while 'Pembury Blue' is the more utilitarian (as in large hedges). 'Van Pelt's Blue' is similar to 'Pembury Blue', but with foliage more purple-blue than the light blue of 'Pembury Blue'. All of these color adjectives are probably hard to follow on paper, but when you see the trees next to each other, no doubt you would agree with my descriptions.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Rimpelaar'

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Rimpelaar' forms a dwarf globe with juvenile blue foliage. I remind the reader again that all lawsoniana cultivars should be propagated by grafting on a disease resistant rootstock, so as to avoid the killer Phytophthora lateralis. Shame, shame shame on those growers who hook their own-root lawsons on fungicides to get them to market alive...and then to hell with the ultimate consumer, to those who then wonder what they did to kill their pretty little trees. Yes, it's a shameful dollar that drives these despicable nurserymen, some of whom own well-known and highly thought-of nurseries. Ha!

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Splitrock'

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Baby Blue Ice'

Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Nidifera'

Three final species of Chamaecyparis with blue foliage selections: obtusa 'Splitrock', pisifera 'Baby Blue Ice' and nootkatensis 'Nidifera'. The 'Splitrock' hinoki is rich blue in color, and can produce adult and juvenile foliage on the same tree. 'Baby Blue Ice' grows into a dense fat pyramid, and sparkles with astonishing silver-blue foliage. Nootkatensis 'Nidifera' is an old cultivar (from Italy in 1889) with light blue lacy-like foliage. It usually has a wide multi-leader form. I got my start from Bedgebury Arboretum in England, and all who see it like it, but for some reason I have never seen anyone else in America who grows it.

Cupressus arizonica var. montana 'Blue Column'

Cupressus cashmeriana

Cupressus arizonica var. montana 'Blue Column' was a Buchholz seedling selection from years ago. Sadly, the original tree in the photo above blew over in a windstorm. The top was about fifteen feet tall, but the roots descended only two feet deep. The top was just too fast and happy in our lush environment. Cupressus cashmeriana has been discussed by me before. Those in mild climates think of this cypress as the most beautiful of all, and perhaps the most beautiful of any conifer. I can't be without at least one of them, but my problem is when my specimen hits the top of the protective greenhouse, then I must quickly seek a buyer.

Juniperus deppeana 'Ohmy Blue'

Juniperus deppeana 'Ohmy Blue' was officially named when a visitor first saw the original seedling and declared "Oh my, that really is blue!" This selected "Alligator Bark Juniper" was grown by me when I was younger, when I assumed that if I liked a plant then surely many others would too, and all I had to do was grow it and then rake in the profits. But I think most potential customers got tripped up with the "J word," that is Juniper, and instantly decided that deppeana must be a cheap boring species. And I'm certainly not on a mission, not on a crusade to promote and cheerlead obscure species.

Larix laricina 'Blue Sparkler' in July

Larix laricina 'Blue Sparkler' in November

Larix laricina is an eastern North American species. Its common name "Tamarack" is the native American (Algonquin) name which means "wood used for snowshoes." 'Blue Sparkler' is a dwarf with a globose form, but eventually our trees develop a leader, resulting in a broad dense pyramidal tree. Currently this is our best selling larch, due to its glittery blue foliage and cold hardiness to -60 degrees F. This excellent blue conifer was selected by the late plantsman Sid Waxman from Storrs, Connecticut.

Pinus koraiensis 'Morris Blue'

Pinus koraiensis 'Silveray'

Finally, we'll briefly discuss blue needle pines. Pinus koraiensis 'Morris Blue' and 'Silveray' have been discussed in previous posts. Suffice it to say they are popular for their long luxuriant needles, as well as being hardy to -40 degrees F, USDA zone 3.

Pinus parviflora 'Cleary'

Pinus parviflora 'Blue Angel'

Pinus parviflora 'Blue Giant'

Three Pinus parviflora cultivars also display soft luxuriant blue foliage, but needles are more short than with the koraiensis species. 'Cleary' is slow-growing with a compact pyramidal form. Foliage is silver blue, and most colorful (in full sun) in summer. Light literally shimmers off the bright needles, making it easier to photograph on cloudy days. 'Blue Angel' from Germany features soft light blue needles and a dense pyramidal habit, and so does 'Blue Giant', except its needles are slightly longer than with 'Blue Angel'. So far my experience is that these latter two exhibit the same rate of growth, but then in Oregon we always candle prune our pine. The extra effort is probably why ours are easier to sell.

Pinus mugo 'Mr. Wood'

Lastly, a favorite Buchholz introduction is the diminutive Pinus mugo 'Mr. Wood'. This was a seedling discovered by the late Edsal Wood of Oregon. One time when I visited him, he said with a gleam in his eye that he had a dwarf mugo to give me. It turned out to be a microscopic seedling with blue foliage. I thought that Ed had perhaps started drinking too early, because it sure looked like a Pinus parviflora, especially with the blue needles. When I got home I observed it more closely, and sure enough it had fascicles of two--a mugo indeed. At the same time, unknown to either of us, Mr. Wood gave a sister seedling to Larry Stanley of Stanley and Sons Nursery. The tiny needles of both seedlings display a slight curve. Eventually Larry named his 'Fish Hook' and I named mine 'Mr. Wood'. So they're absolutely not the same clone as some have suggested.

There are hundreds or thousands more blue conifer cultivars. But enough! Enough of the blues. It is easy to overindulge with blue in the garden, as nurserymen will provide you with endless choices. After just two web logs I'm already sick of them. Maybe some day I'll celebrate the greens, maybe that's better for our plant diet. As one man complained to his friend, "You never eat anything green. In the last month I've never seen you eat anything green." His friend replied, "Yes I have. Last night I had pistachio ice cream."

An autumn morning

1 comment:

  1. Thank You for interesting posting! This is very helpful for novice gardener.