Raise your hand if you remember the ’80s

Jean Iseli
Jean Iseli was a visionary with a passion to bring the world of the conifer collector to the everyday gardener.

The 1980s were a fascinating time for conifer lovers. It was the decade that saw the obscure conifer collectors and the nursery industry begin a kind of partnership that is very influential in the contemporary dwarf conifer movement. One of the early gurus of the movement, Jean Iseli, was a very good friend of mine and made a huge impact not only on my life, but the lives of many others before he passed in 1986. 

Some of those he influenced were the young men and woman that he gathered and inspired – the workers who dedicated their lives to growing and bringing to market premium dwarf conifers that earlier had only been known to collectors. Most of those same hard-working individuals are still the driving force behind the products grown under the Iseli name today.

I have had the pleasure of knowing these fine folks all these years. They are always kind enough to allow me to wander the gardens to learn about new and exciting discoveries long before they will ever make it to the marketplace.

Multiple conifers in one plant construct
'Rheingold' x 'Heather Bun' x 'Rhiengold' - imagine a "wall" planted in a checkerboard pattern of alternating orange and green - Just one of the creative constructs to come from the encouragement of Jean Iseli.

There was a time in the ’80s (and carried well into the ’90s) when Jean’s eccentric creativity and quirky sense of humor inspired the Art Form Division of Iseli nursery. Back in those days, employees were encouraged to create some extremely unusual creations through the technique of grafting several different cultivars onto a common, large, rootstock. Some of the more successful creations were combinations of dwarf or miniature conifers of different colors and or textures grafted either as a tiered construct or a multi-branched sculpture. These things were truly remarkable.

I have often wondered what happened to all of those hundreds and hundreds of unique works of art that were sold and shipped all across the United Sates. There were a few forms that were very popular and were created and shipped for a great many years. Did they survive? Were they cared for and maintained? Are they neglected and forgotten oddities, overgrown and ignored? Who knows?

Multi-generic constructs
Multi-generic constructs were the combination of cultivars of different genus and or species into one colorful conifer. In this case, a Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Lutea' floated above a Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star' which floated above a Thuja occidentalis 'Rheingold'.

What I do know is that those were amazing times in the world of conifers. We wouldn’t have the incredible selection of dwarf and miniature conifers available today, from many growers all over the world, if it hadn’t been for the inspiration and dreams of people like Jean Iseli. I miss him.

Conifer Lover


8 thoughts on “Raise your hand if you remember the ’80s

  1. I still have some miniatures from the mid-80s that I had in New Jersey. They are in my Maine garden now – still miniature.

    I have to say that the pom-poms are not my favorites to put it in gentlemanly terms.


    1. Bob, it’s great that you were able to take your collection along with you – they must be a real treasure after all these years. Thank you for being a good example by taking the gentlemanly high road regarding your feelings about the poms. ;^)


  2. In my retail nursery experience, these kinds of things were mainly purchased by folks who weren’t really plant people. Plant people would create their own I’m guessing. Most believed that those spiral Dwf Alberta spruce grew that way!
    Not my cuppa tea either.


    1. Hi Marcia – It is interesting that folks seem to think the spirals “grow that way,” but always ask what I have done to the dwarfs to make them grow more slowly.


  3. Ed, What a great walk down memory lane. How wonderful to have a boss that encourages creativity like that. I love those photos, what a treat it would be to see some of those standards planted in a garden.


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