Better Selections Now!
A guide to choosing superior garden plants
Blue Sterling's Newsletter

F or Collectors Only (part 3)

This edition of For Collectors Only includes some short notes on 4 unusual selections. Pinus virginiana 'Wate's Golden', Thuja plicata 'Grune Kugel', Picea glauca 'Pendula' and Davidia involucrata.

We love plants with unusual color, especially when that unusual color appears unexpectedly. It is an extra bonus when the cultivar in question is from a native tree. Here is one to confound your guests: Pinus virginiana 'Wate's Golden' is a rugged looking but otherwise unexceptional native pine most of the year. A good problem solver, it tolerates dry soil and hot summers. But winter is really the season for this tree to shine. And shine it does! You will wake up one frosty morning to the brilliant foliage of this peculiar pine. As the days become colder, 'Wate's Golden' needles change from green to bright gold. The color intensifies as the temperature drops.

We doubt that Jim ever anticipated that owning a nursery would mean spending 3 months a year away from the beautiful Idea Garden. However, plant collecting is a love affair that makes folks do crazy things! Crazy things like searching European gardens and nurseries for that special cultivar that sends us running to the reference books to discover "what is it?" Recently, Jim has been the only guy who can answer that question. Of all the gems he has brought back home, our favorite is the little 'Grune Kugel'. Who is Grune Kugel? Well, it's not a person; Grune Kugel is German for "green cushion". Surprisingly, 'Grune Kugel' is a cultivar of the western arborvitae, a U.S. native!

It seems European nurserymen are intrigued with this tough native arborvitae. And no wonder. Thuja plicata grows well in shade and even tolerates boggy conditions! 'Grune Kugel' is a diminutive cultivar that grows under two inches annually. This plant is such a recent introduction that nobody in the United States has a mature specimen! Jim tells us that 'Grune Kugel' maintains a mounding habit as it matures. It is densely branched and is covered with bright green foliage that resists bronzing in winter. We planted 'Grune Kugel' in partial shade in the Idea Garden with other miniature conifers. You may want to try it out in a small container. The glossy foliage is a nice contrast to the short, prickly foliage of Cryptomeria japonica 'Tensan' and the curved leaves of Tsuga canadensis 'Curly'.

'Grune Kugel's unusual name and slow growth rate will probably keep it a rare collector's plant. Don't be shocked if this plant turns up in some catalogs as 'Green Cushion', but you know the real name!

When most of us think about white spruce, we think of the classic dwarf Alberta cultivar. The dwarf Alberta is a worthy tree, tidy and neat. However, if you need a narrow specimen tree for a small garden, you can't go wrong with another white spruce cultivar. The weeping white spruce, Picea glauca 'Pendula' is a slender tree covered densely with soothing gray-green colored needles. A 12' tall tree is only 30" wide at its' base! 'Pendula' has weeping branches that hang close to the trunk, yet it has an upright leader. The weeping is so pronounced that this tree has a tidy, almost formal look. You won't need to stake this tree to maintain this slender, upright habit. It has soothing grayish color needles and is salt tolerant.

Picea glauca 'Pendula'

A. Carriere discovered this cultivar in 1867. We don't know why, but this handsome tree has never received the acclaim it deserves. Most folks know weeping Norway spruce, yet few could identify this tree, fewer still grow it. For unknown reasons this tree has never captured the imagination of gardeners the way weeping Norway spruce have. Consequently, this hidden gem is usually found in collector's gardens. Like yours.

Remember the first time you fell in love? If you'd like that feeling again, we suggest you see a dove tree in bloom. The small flowers of Davidia involucrata are surrounded by a pair of large white bracts. These creamy bracts can be eight inches long! In a spring breeze, a blooming tree resembles a flock of fluttering doves! Davidia grow slowly, requiring a decade to reach flowering size. Once you've seen a dove tree flower, you'll be anxiously inspecting your garden every May to see if "this is the year". Mature trees in America are about 40' high with a variable spread. Fall color is not special, but the bark is a warm orange color that makes gray winter days a bit more cheerful.

This tree is so rare it is almost a rumor. Armand David discovered the dove tree in China in the early 1800's. He collected enough seed to produce one tree. Yet this tree was so beautiful, gardeners waited years to grow one. Today nurserymen are reluctant to grow Davidia because it doesn't flower when young. Similarly, all but a few courageous retail garden centers stock this unusual tree.

Rare plant collecting is a healthy habit, and one that all of us at the nursery have developed. These collector's plants are only a small sample of the spectacular cultivars Blue Sterling Nursery grows. Please check more of our web site for more new cutting edge plants.