1 Oct 2012

The Conifer Collection:The Heart and Soul of Whistling Gardens

DSC_0133I don’t remember having quite this much fun in a very long time. It was somewhat reminiscent of my first visit to Lost Horizons, some six and a half years ago, but here, it was more about falling in love with a group of woodies that I’d pretty much admired from afar – namely the wonderful world of conifers. Over the past fifteen years I’ve only had four in total on my property, and this past Summer that number was reduced by one. [I adopted out Abies koreana ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ after watching it languish for a year and a half] Suddenly, as a direct result of this amazing adventure at Whistling Gardens, I’m ready to start my own collection of some of the wonderful ‘dwarves and miniatures’ that crossed my path during my six and a half hour visit!

DSC_0132I’m the first to admit that I’m not well versed when it comes to conifers, and in the excitement of the moment, I forgot to mark down the names as I feverishly snapped photo after photo!

DSC_0135DSC_0137I want to say this cone belongs to A.k ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ but I might be mistaken. The point of this photo is that it captures what is the largest cone of any that Darren has come across in his conifer arboretum! Apparently women visitors are the first to offer a remark…… yes, you’re thinking along the very same lines. One older patron commented that she hadn’t seen one quite like this in over fifty years! I’ll leave you to to decipher its hidden meaning in private. I have my idea as to what exactly she was referring to!

DSC_0138DSC_0145     The shrub in the foreground looked so fake that I had to go up and actually touch it! Against the frosted blue it was for me the best of my favourite two worlds…… fabulously chartreuse and icy blue!

DSC_0147DSC_0151Walking along the grass pathway, it became readily evident that this magnificent property is indeed home to the largest public collection of conifers in the world! There are in excess of over 2200 species, hybrids and cultivars on site!

DSC_0152DSC_0154   It was nearing the six o’clock mark as we rounded the last corner of the Conifer Garden in the company of Darren. never before have I had such personalized attention lavished upon me when visiting a plant nursery. With few other employees in sight, it was an honour to afforded not only an interview, but a guided tour that was only briefly interrupted by other customers/clients. I was struck by Darren’s momentary moments of bashfulness, such as in the photo below when I asked if he would pose for a photograph!

DSC_0161    Reemerging from the entrance gate to the gardens, we discovered ours was the last remaining vehicle in the parking lot. ‘Have a look around the nursery stock, I’ll be back in a few minutes,’ and with that he disappeared back amongst the trees. Perhaps he was checking on the progress of his latest project, an aviary that will one day house exotic birds like pheasant, peacock and swans, or maybe he’d spotted an unruly patch of weeds while accompanying us through the Rockery. I don’t think the man stands still for very long, and after my visit, its definitely a case of this being a man whose mind rarely rests! There is always something shimmering on the distant horizon that only Darren can see. It will be most interesting to see what he has hidden under that cap of his for 2013!


Kindest thanks Darren for taking time out of a busy day to accompany my friends and I through this spectacular property! It is a true testament to your passion, dedication and unwavering enthusiasm towards plants of all types – annuals, perennials and of course the intoxicating world of conifers! I have come away with a newfound sense of respect, admiration and awe, and look forward to adding a new and exciting, albeit diminutive selection of these intoxicating beauties to my own property in the coming garden season. You will definitely see me next Spring when the new arrivals start trickling in! I’m looking forward to our upcoming telephone/radio interview which I hope to conduct by the middle of October! I look forward to many more wonderful garden conversations and visits in the coming years!

I did manage to curtail my enthusiasm when we finally hit the nursery section. I’d begun compiling a Wishlist some six hours previously, but had come with two plants in particular in mind:

DSC_0016Disanthus cercidifolius ‘Ena Nishiki’

I fell in love with the genus Disanthus five odd years ago when I discovered it while employed at Lost Horizons. At the time there was only one species available, which in a matter of hours of having been introduced made its way home with me. It survived for close to two years before succumbing to what I now realize was improper placement and a lack of a vital requirement: acidic soil. Imagine my thrill last winter to discover a new variegated cultivar – D.c ‘Ena Nishiki.’ Even more thrilling was, whilst perusing Darren’s amazing catalogue, stumbling across this exciting plant! Fingers were crossed in the days leading up to my adventure that there would be one available for sale. And there was! A single specimen that was instantly recognizable with its slightly rippled, heart shaped, variegated foliage. Darren made mention of its Fall beauty, when the narrow white variegation turns a delightful pink! I can hardly wait!


Disanthus cercidifolius ‘Ena Nishiki’

This extremely rare cultivar of an extremely rare Japanese native woodland shrub is prized for its 3" heart shaped leaves that are edged and punctuated with bright cream-white variegation. Like the straight species the fall color is spectacular with rich burgundy and hot pink tones dominating for more than a month.

My other Wishlist selection will have to wait until Spring 2013. I’ll keep everyone [except Darren, who can expect a wishlist in the coming days] in suspense over the coming winter months!

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