I was looking through some very old pictures the other day and I was transported back in time. It must have been a combination of the scent of the old leather binding of the 60 plus year old photo album or the slightly faded and partially blurred look of the photographs themselves – whatever it was, I had returned to my childhood and was flooded with memories of the many visits to my grandmother’s small two acre farm.
As I looked at pictures of the old barn I could smell the straw and feel the rough, splintery texture of the old wood. I could almost taste the tart-sweet juiciness of the plump, purple grapes growing on the arbor. I remembered the dreamy state as I swung slowly on my grandmother’s garden swing, the creaking, squeaking sound it made as it swung to and fro while the dappled shade created kaleidoscopic patterns of light on my closed eyelids. I remembered climbing the old oak tree and how proud I was when I was finally able to jump up to reach its lowest branch enabling me to climb up and into that grand old tree.
And then I saw it.
In the background of one of the family group shots – in the back corner of the yard – was one of the most graceful trees I had ever seen. Even as a young boy, I recognized the graceful beauty of Tsuga heterophylla, the Western Hemlock.
Back in the day, it was a huge tree – possibly the oldest at grandma’s house – it was a graceful giant. Tall and dark green with slightly down-turned branches full of lush, soft needles, this native forest tree is very possibly responsible for my initial interest in conifers.
Many years later, when I began to pursue the amazing world of conifers on a more scholarly level, I came across a book written by John Swartley titled, The Cultivated Hemlocks. This was a fantastic reference to many of the unique cultivated varieties of the Canadian or Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Most of the garden hemlocks that have been discovered are variants of Tsuga canadensis, but over the years, a few wonderful new forms of the Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) have been propagated and made their way to collector’s gardens and into the marketplace.
One of my favorite hemlocks just happens to be a cultivar of Tsuga heterophylla called, ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’. This completely prostrate growing conifer, if left to grow naturally, will be a ground-hugging spreader which will create a rich green carpet of conifer. Its natural form will flow between large garden rocks and spill over walls softening hard architectural edges and give the suggestion of water flowing in the garden. Most likely, you’ll find it in the independent garden center staked to a height of three or four feet. Once in your possession, you could continue to increase its height by staking it as tall as you like, confident that when it reaches the top of the stake, it will turn and flow right back to the ground.
A staked ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’ will grow in its weeping fashion, layer upon layer as it fills out to eventually look like Cousin Itt from the 1960s TV series, The Addams Family. You may then choose to allow its branches to trail along the ground, continuing to grow as a dense ground cover, or if you like the Cousin Itt look, you might prefer to keep the branches trimmed as they reach the ground. Either way, ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’ is sure to become one of your most treasured and talked about garden conifers.