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.
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?
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.