Grafting goodness into the garden

The past couple of winters I have enjoyed adding a few new conifers to my collection through the process of grafting. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to graft thousands of new conifers, professionally and just for fun. Although, for an assortment of reasons, my grafting years came to a sudden halt some time ago. In recent years I have enjoyed propagating a few sought after treasures in my little hobby greenhouse.

Picea omorika 'de Ruyter'
Originally a seedling selection in 1938, 'de Ruyter' is a slow-growing tree with unique characteristics.

I planted a number of those treasures in my garden this past summer, and I am terribly excited to watch them grow and become mature specimens. One of those new conifers to my collection is one I have been interested in for a number of years. It has a very unique texture in its growth habit, and is one of the finest of the silvery/blue/greens to be found due to its prominent white stomatic lines on the underside of each needle, which are held on their branches in such a fashion as to light the tree up with their bright waxy brilliance.

Picea omorika 'de Ruyter'
As a frost covered winter specimen, or a silvery spruce in the summer garden, 'de Ruyter' is worthy of the hunt. It might be a good idea to special order this one through your favorite independent garden center.

The Serbian Spruce is known for this feature of bicolored foliage, and its cultivars, in their various shapes and forms, all display it to one degree or another. Picea omorika ‘de Ruyter’ is unique in its growth habit on this otherwise relatively “normal” broad, upright conical form. Each year the terminal cluster of buds – whether at the apex of the tree or at the tips of each branch or branchlet – will push forth a dominant central extension of new growth. At the base of this six or seven inch terminal growth are a thick cluster of buds, which also burst forth their new growth, becoming smaller branchlets of just two to three inches in length. All of this new growth is covered with varying lengths of blunt-tipped needles, longer at the base of the branch, held at an outward angle, while becoming shorter and lying more closely to the branch as they approach its tip.

My little tree is essentially just a terminal stem and its first cluster of branches at this point, and it will be many years before is becomes a notable specimen in my garden.

Although grafting is not for everyone, I intend to add a few new cultivars to my collection each year. I suppose I should begin to make my list for this winter’s fun!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Dear Santa…

It’s been a very long time since I have written a letter to Santa Claus. I remember one of the first times I wrote to Santa – it was a cold and rainy day, I was probably being fussy (as small children can get when the big holiday gets closer and the days are shorter, colder and wetter). I suppose I was five or six years old. I remember trying to write the letter, getting frustrated with my ability and going to Mom for help. She ended up doing most of the writing while I dictated my Christmas wishes to her, trusting that Santa would approve.

Picea omorika 'Kamenz'
Picea omorika 'Kamenz' is an excellent spreading specimen.

This year there are three conifers on my Christmas list that I am hoping Santa will find a way to deliver on that special morning. I’ve been admiring these three for a number of years during my visits to the display garden at Iseli Nursery. I love a good conifer hunt, and these three may still be rare out in the independent garden centers, I know I could make a special order through my favorite retailer, but I just haven’t done it yet. So, Santa, it’s up to you.

These are a few of my favorite things – all three are forms of Picea omorika, the Serbian spruce:

First on my list is a low, spreading, dwarf form named Picea omorika ‘Kamenz’. The one I’ve been admiring at Iseli is four or five feet across and about 10 inches tall. It has the typical two-toned needles of Picea omorika, with its green top and silver-coated underside. The needles radiate out from the branches in a way that they catch the light very well and seem to almost shimmer as the sun moves across the sky. This one looks to be a great choice for where a sturdy ground cover is desired as well as being a distinctive specimen in its own right.

Picea omorika 'Minima'
Picea omorika 'Minima' captivates my attention.

Number two is Picea omorika ‘Minima’. This enchanting little globe is covered with tiny, thin, two-toned needles giving ‘Minima’ a soft or delicate looking texture. Being the Serbian spruces are hardy to Zone 4, they are anything but delicate. Growth rate is still within the Dwarf range according to the chart published by The American Conifer Society, but it is on the slower growing end of the scale, creating a captivating, small globe-shaped plant that I have a difficult time taking my eyes off of when I am near.

Picea omorika 'Silberblue'
Picea omorika 'Silberblue' is a stunning beauty with silvery-blue needles and a perfectly symmetrical form.

Picea omorika ‘Silberblue’ is the third item on my wish list. This is a large growing tree with a perfectly symmetrical Christmas tree shape. It’s two-toned needles give the tree a silvery blue color that shines in the sun capturing the attention of anyone in its vicinity. Should Santa come through with this one, I’ll place it in a prominent place with room to grow and plan on it becoming a featured tree for future holiday decorations.

That’s it – my entire wish list for 2010. I’m hoping Santa reads my blog.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Silver in the garden

One of the reasons I love conifers so much is the grand assortment of cones that are borne on their branches. Springtime is great because all the plants in my garden begin to wake up after their winter’s nap and show new life. The beauty of fresh new conifer foliage is a wonderful highlight to the garden in spring. Most of my attention is drawn by the new foliage on my conifers and Japanese maples, as well as the various flowering bulbs and perennials that begin their show in spring. With all that going on, it can be easy to miss the early cone development stages of some of my conifers. With young cones ranging in colors from scarlet red, to dark blue and purple, to yellowish green, and with their assortment of sizes and shapes, I want to be sure to discover every one in my garden.

'Silberlocke' cones and curved needles

Abies koreana ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ is one conifer that sets its cones prolifically in the spring. The young, light yellowish green cones might be missed with casual observation, but by looking closely, one may find a treasure of small, highly detailed cones among the upper branches of even young trees. Later in the season, as the cones mature, they become a darker brownish purple color and are often found to be oozing a significant amount of resin. The cones are a real bonus since ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ is already a great conifer even if you don’t have a particular interest in cones. The “Silberlocke” translates to “silver lock” because the  green needles curve upward around each branch exposing their bright white undersides. The overall effect looks like silvery locks of hair.

Abies koreana 'Silberlocke'

The tree grows into a formal upright conical shape that can look great as a lone specimen commanding all attention, or placed in a large border with other colorful conifers and flowering plants. I purchased my ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ about 18 years ago through a special package deal that the American Conifer Society was promoting. My tree is now close to 15 feet tall and a specimen that always draws “oooos” and “ahhhs” from my guests.

Ed-
Conifer Lover