25 Years of Collecting Conifers in Belgium

by Clément Anthoine
© ACS Bulletin, Vol. 16 No 4, Fall 1999, page 181-2.

Until the age of 10 my interest was mainly bird watching and their protection. This changed to conifers during forest ranger training at the Technic Horticol School of Mariemont in Belgium, following my military service in 1971-72. I do not work in forestry and collecting conifers is simply a hobby that takes up most of my free time.

I have collected conifers for 25 years. In the beginning I collected only species and varieties for the first 10 years, with the exception of several large cultivars that are "Aurea" (gold or yellow), "Glauca" (blue or grey), or "Fastigiata" (tall and narrow). I then began collecting mediumsized cultivars and for the last five years the smaller conifers and witches' brooms.

My favorite conifers are Abies, Pinus , Picea and Pseudotsuga. They are the most represented in cultivars and witches' brooms.

The first part of the collection contains species and varieties planted by geographic origin on one hectare (2.47 acres) with a southward exposure. The rest are planted on .3 hectares (0.74 acres) around the house. There are also several trees and shrubs, especially those with yellow and variegated foliage.

"Every winter I visit the nurseries in Belgium and neighboring countries to complete my collection."

Our soil is clay with schist (metamorphic rock with a plated structure in which the component flaky minerals are visible to the naked eye), and good drainage because of the hilly slopes. I am USDA Zone 6 to 7, according to Krussmann's Manual of Cultivated Conifers. Our temperature ranges from -12° C to + 30° C (10° F to 86° F) and we receive an average of 700 to 800 mm (27-32 in) of rain with very little snow in winter. We have snow only 20 or so days with an occasional accumulation of 20 cm (7.9 in). We are located at a latitude of N. 50° 21' 5" and longitude E. 4° 25' 20", at an altitude of approximately 150 meters (492 ft).

A small greenhouse allows me to protect the most fragile plants during the winter. It also permits me to propagate the plants by both seed and grafting. Those plants that I have a surplus of are used for exchange with others in the US and Europe who are interested in conifers.

"Today my collection consists of about 1'700-1'800 species, varieties and cultivars."

Every winter I visit the nurseries in Belgium and neighboring countries to complete my collection. Several of the species and varieties are almost complete in my collection, however a few are still missing.

Some conifers I would like to find are : Abies densa and A. mariesii, Picea hirtella, Pinus leiophylla var. chihuahuana, and Pseudolaxus chienii. I have not found them locally.

I have selected eight to ten cultivars that are still under observation. Today, my collection consists of about 1,700-1,800 species, varieties and cultivars. It is very difficult to chose favorites but I have listed a few of them. I have found that beginning with the species and getting to know conifers well aids enormously in the identification of cultivars and witches' brooms.

About the author : Clément Anthoine currently works for a wholesale natural food business.

Some favorite Conifers Species
Abies amabilis, A. gamblei, A. concolor
ssp. lowiana
Pinus albicaulis, P. culminicola, P. balfouriana
Tsuga mertensiana, T. jeffreyi

Abies koreana
'Blauer Eskimo'
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana
Crytomeria japonica
Juniperus communis
Picea abies
Picea glauca
'Arneson's Blue Variegated'
Pinus contorta
'Chief Joseph'
Pinus jeffreyi

Some favorite variegated or gold trees and shrubs are :
Acer campestre 'Postelense' Leaves gold
Acer campestre 'Carnival' Variegated
Acerplatanoides 'Drummondii' Leaves with white edges
Acer pseudoplatanus 'Leopoldii' Variegated
Betula pendula 'Golden Cloud' Leaves gold
Comus alba 'Aurea' Leaves gold
Fagus sylvatica 'Dawyck Gold' Leaves gold
Quercus rubra 'Aurea' Leaves gold
Ulmus minor 'Argenteo-variegata' Leaves speckled white
Cotoneaster dammeri 'Rosa Stetler' Queen of Carpet

© ACS Bulletin, Vol. 16 No 4, Fall 1999, page 181-2.