Back in the day—the late 1970s and through the mid-80s—Jean Iseli encouraged his employees to stay alert, no matter what nursery chore they may be involved in, and be on the watch for unusual mutations growing on the hundreds of thousands of conifers being grown at any given time. That is precisely how many plants, which have come into the marketplace over the past 25 years were discovered, by the watchful eyes of the workers. Well known examples are Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’ which was observed as a single oddity growing among thousands of young J.h. ‘Wiltoni’ plants. Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’ was discovered as a sport growing on Picea glauca ‘Pixie’ while P.g. ‘Rainbow’s End’ and P.g. ‘Jean’s Dilly’ were both discovered as mutations growing on Picea glauca ‘Conica’.
One of those plants, Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’ had been spotted as a witches’ broom growing on a small plant in a #1 container and, as was the tradition, was brought up to the sliding glass door just outside of Jean Iseli’s office. New discoveries were brought to this location for further observation where Jean could keep an eye on them and show them off to any visitor who showed an interest. This mutation had been brought to the observation deck and caught the attention of the chief propagator, Paul Halladin, who began to propagate the mutation because of its desirably unique characteristics. After the death of his brother, André Iseli wanted to name a great new plant after Jean. During its years of observation ‘Jean’s Dilly’ was proving itself to be an extraordinary new, improved form of the old Alberta. Being grown under the name of ‘Paul’s Dwarf’ for the first years of its propagation, it was decided that the name would be changed to ‘Jean’s Dilly’ and the nursery would begin to market the plant.
‘Jean’s Dilly’ is overall a much smaller version of the Dwarf Alberta Spruce, with its annual growth of about one third that of its parent. It also has distinctively shorter, thinner needles which give the plant a finer texture and smoother appearance. ‘Jean’s Dilly’ begins its spring flush of new growth three to four weeks after ‘Conica’ which can be a handy natural protection against early frost damage. With only a couple of inches of annual growth, it remains a small plant for a great number of years and makes it a perfect candidate for growing in a mixed container with other miniature conifers or flowering plants.
Both, this great little conifer, and the memory of the man it was named for, are truly something extraordinary.