Plant Collector: Picea albertiana 'Conica'

Picea albertiana 'Conica' after a mere 20 years

Picea albertiana ‘Conica’ after a mere 20 years

“So how old is the small Picea albertiana ‘Conica’?” I asked. “Not very old,” he replied. Then we worked out that this little specimen, under 2 metres high, is in fact over 20 years, whereas the big one (a scaled up version about 4 metres high) is 60 years old. Time can fly in the garden.

When conifers fell from grace after their heyday in the 70s, we threw some babies out with the bathwater. P. albertiana ‘Conica’ is a dwarf sport from the timber tree, Picea glauca. Glauca just means blue, and the fine foliage of the dwarf form retains a blue-grey hue. P. glauca is commonly known as the white spruce growing naturally right across from east to west of the northern states of USA, Canada and even Alaska. It is a valuable timber tree. You would be waiting a long time to get any timber out of P. albertiana ‘Conica’. In fact it is such a slow grower that it is a favourite candidate for bonsai. Our two specimens are in our rockery and the perfect icecream cone shape that gives them a wonderful silhouette. The leaves are fine, short needles, densely packed. I always want to put stars on top of them at Christmas.

That said, they may be on borrowed time. Coming from a very cold climate, they survive here because Mark is willing to treat them each year for red spider. These are two of the only plants in the garden he still sprays. If we get much more purist in our quest to garden without chemical sprays and fertiliser and shun treating even these, they are likely to kark it over time. We know this because the one in our park that he didn’t get around to spraying died. I would miss their tight cones.