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

F or Collectors Only (part 4)

This edition of For Collectors Only includes some interesting stories on 4 unique plant cultivars. Ilex crenata 'Golden Heller', Cryptomeria japonica 'Tensan', Ginkgo biloba 'Jade Butterfly' and Juniperus formosana.

There is nothing special about Ilex crenata Helleri, is there? Usually, we would agree with that statement. Helleri holly are dependable foundation plants, certainly worthwhile additions to a perennial border. And sometimes, Helleri holly can be very exciting. In 1967, R. Block discovered a unique Helleri holly. This holly, Ilex crenata 'Golden Heller' is stunning golden yellow color. Its' habit is similar to 'Helleri' but more flattened. 'Golden Heller' will eventually reach about 3 feet tall. It is densely branched and rarely produces fruit. The vibrant gold color mutes to lime green in partial shade. 'Golden Heller' remains rare, despite being cultivated for over thirty years.

Ilex crenata 'Golden Heller'

Japanese cedars are among the easiest care plants you can choose for your garden. So why is it so hard to find some of the best Cryptomeria japonica cultivars? The answer is straightforward: As carefree as Japanese cedars are in your garden, the miniature and dwarf cultivars are very tough to propagate. Despite a dedicated, full time propagator and an amazing facility, we have a tough time coaxing the miniature cedars to live. Once they pass their precarious first year, miniature Japanese cedars bring decades of carefree charm to your garden.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Tensan' is our favorite Japanese cedar cultivar. It is a tiny, bun shaped plant. Here in the East, 'Tensan' grows about 1/2 inch annually! This plant is tiny in all aspects; the foliage is the short juvenile type. This bright green foliage forms a dense cushion; winters' chill reddens the needles. This little cedar is perfect for the alpine garden or in a windowsill planter. While 'Tensan' grows slowly, it starts its spring flush early, so provide it with some protection from late frosts. Some European nurseries call this cultivar 'Tenzan-sugi', the word "sugi" translating as "cedar". We do not know of any Japanese cedar smaller than 'Tensan'.

The deciduous Ginkgo tree seems lost among the other conifers, sort of an apple among oranges. Botanically, it is a gymnosperm like other conifers. But it sure doesn't look like any other conifer! Ginkgo was once common throughout temperate regions around the globe. Fossil evidence shows that the leaf of Ginkgo biloba has remained essentially unchanged for about 150 million (give or take a million) years! Charles Darwin called plants like Ginkgo "living Fossils" since they apparently have evolved very little over thousands of centuries.

So, you can understand our excitement when we learned about a Ginkgo that remains a dwarf plant rather than a large tree. Ginkgo biloba 'Jade Butterfly' has deeply divided leaves that are borne in dense clusters. The dense arrangement resembles a swarm of butterflies feeding on nectar. Instead of the pleasant medium green color leaves you usually find on Ginkgo, 'Jade Butterfly' features deep green-blue foliage. A slight breeze makes these "wings" flutter furiously. Some folks say this leaf arrangement reminds them of Acer palmatum 'Shishi-gashira' (the Lion's Mane maple). No one has seen a mature 'Jade Butterfly', but that does not diminish the significance of this unusual tree. 'Jade Butterfly' has the tough as nails qualities we value in Ginkgo biloba. It lives in urban sites, clay soil, and boggy areas; in short, Ginkgo biloba will solve almost any challenge your garden offers. This small tree reaches about 8' tall in a decade. The beautiful foliage makes this an ideal specimen for small gardens. It is hard to find sufficient scion wood to propagate enough 'Jade Butterfly' to satisfy demand, so grab this tree while you can!

Remember when Taiwan was called Formosa? No, we don't either, but that doesn't make the Juniperus formosana the Formosan Juniper (below) any less desirable. This uncommon juniper may remind you of a soft green, bubbling fountain. Others compare it favorably to the weeping Temple Juniper, Juniperus rigida 'Pendula' with some important differences.

Juniperus formosana

Both junipers feature evergreen foliage and exfoliating reddish bark. Juniperus formosana has a more regular habit than Juniperus rigida 'Pendula', and features soft, family friendly needle foliage. The needles are blue-green color and appear shiny thanks to a broad stomatal band. Formosa juniper usually grows as a narrow, multiple trunk plant. The main branches are upright or spreading while side branches weep gently. The weeping side branches make this rare juniper the perfect pond side companion plant.

Juniperus formosana was discovered in 1844. It is untroubled by pests and uncommon in cultivation. A ten year old tree is about 6' tall and 2' wide. We believe we are the only nursery east of the Mississippi to grow this beautiful but uncommon 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.