by M.J. Harvey March 2003
When I moved to Victoria I wasn’t particularly interested in conifers but this is changing. For one thing people keep giving me rare ones (Fitzroya, Tetraclinis) and the property we bought was planted about 30 years ago with an extremely eclectic selection ranging from a Sequoia simpervirens which must be about 25M tall and is the tallest in the district, to a couple of tiny ‘buns’ on some exposed gravel. All these are without labels except for Pinus wallichiana, which I chopped down because it was overwhelming its bed. I might have kept it but didn’t find the label until I was sweeping up the debris. It is obvious that one of the previous owners deliberately collected rarities, but putting a name on some of them is proving difficult.
The diminutive buns are what is concerning me currently. The two plants are a 200 and a 70 cm. diameter and 60 cm. maximum height. The implication of these sizes is that to have only grown 60 cm. high in 30 years – these are true dwarfs. Most conifers sold as dwarfs are not really so and in 30 years would be quite tall. My mystery conifers have died out in the centre and now look a bit spready but they were obviously handsome plants for a long time.
The question has been in my mind for many years as to what these plants are. I recently borrowed the van Gelderen and Hoey Smith pair of volumes: Conifers – The Illustrated Encyclopedia and among the photographs of dwarf conifers Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Globe’, ‘Lohbrunner’, ‘Pygmaea’ and ‘Minima’, seem good fits.
The plants are grey-green in colour with highly branched compact shoots covered in tiny scale-leaves. The overall effect is a solid mass of shoots which must have been hemispherical in their youth. The site is exposed to wind and sun and has not been watered for probably 20 years. This implies that they are tough.
I deduce from the surviving selection that the original gardener was an extreme enthusiast and since I suspect that 30 years ago the average Victoria nursery was not brimming with rare conifers, it seems most probable that she obtained her plants from the Lohbrunner Alpine Nursery on Blenkinsop Road. This was the local and in fact international source of rare dwarf plants. The best match in the picture book is indeed Cupressus ‘Lohbrunner’ and I need someone to confirm or deny this suspicion. I was talking to Robin Dening of Brentwood Bay Nursery and he said that the best person to ask was Al Smith because Al and Shirley had many of the Lohbrunner conifers and I shall do this. Robin also said that Junipers in general root readily from cuttings and that it sounded an interesting plant. What I want to know is this something that everyone has masses of or have I got a rarity?…..Later: The author reported with some embarrassment that the mystery plants turned out to be Hebe cupressoides, and not conifers at all. He says a simple smell test would have told: the Hebe doesn’t have that resinous odour. The question still remains: “does anyone have a Cupressus ‘Lohbrunner’? (Such is the hazard, and pleasure, of inquiry).