Rich's Foxwillow Pines Nursery, Inc

Rich's Foxwillow Pines Nursery, Inc

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Picea Pungens Thomsen

Catching Conifer Fever

Chicagoland Gardening
Nov/Dec 1997

By Adele Kleine

Rich and Susan Eyre’s nursery is… one part beauty, one part uniqueness, and two parts enthusiasm.

“See that blue color over there? Perfect!” shouts Richard Eyre. He strides- cap jauntily askew, cellular phone in hand, customers trailing- toward the perfect plant through a pathway lined with towering blue, green and golden conifers, glowing against a cloudless sky.

It’s planting season at Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery in Woodstock, six acres of diverse conifers punctuated with rare cultivars of deciduous trees. Filled with 50,000 trees from 2,000 cultivars, more than 1,500 of them landscape-sized conifers, this is plant collector’s heaven. Hundreds of plants you have never seen before are waiting to go home with you.

Unlike most nurseries, Foxwillow Pines is laid out to showcase its plants with benches and chairs in landscaped areas for viewing and study. At the entrance, a large pond and waterfall are visible behind the old willow, which gives the nursery its name. An encircling rock garden surrounds the pond area, spotlighting small plant gems. A new brick terrace tops a low hill and overlooks the nursery grounds. It’s entrance steps are enhanced by a pair of dwarf globose blue spruce standards, among other choice plants, while a windbreak of dark, narrow, fastigate Scotch pines controls the breeze.

The diversity of conifer shapes is the most striking feature seen on a walk through the grounds. Weeping hemlocks, prostrate pines, pendulous blue spruce, narrow junipers and dwarfs grafted to standard plants are mixed among globose balsam fir, spreading false cypress, and pyramidal spruce conifers. Those diverse silhouettes highlight a mix of colors, including yellow and white needles of a Taxus cuspidata ‘Bright Gold’, lacy golden Chamaecyparis boughs, or a Korean fir with violet purple cones. An area of brilliant blue Colorado spruce adjoins another plot filled with many shades of green, from the light green of a larch to the deep green of a hemlock. Conifers are ranked by size: miniature, dwarf, intermediate and large, and all sizes mingle here.

But the specialty of Foxwillow Pines is dwarf conifers, slow growing plants such as prostrate juniper or short-needled pine that may reach a height of only two feet in ten year’s growth. “We have one of the largest collections of Zone 5 dwarf conifers anywhere in the world. We are the conifer specialists in the Chicago market,” says Rich with his unusual passion, while his wife Susan nods in agreement. “Dwarf evergreens for some reason fail to attain the size and stature of the parent plant. True dwarfs can stop growing at three feet,” continues Rich, speaking with the zeal of an evangelist intent on converting the masses. It’s easy to catch conifer fever from him.