American Pillar Arborvitae



In all my dealings with plant breeders and nursery people, I  never met anyone who  believed in their new plant as much as John Houser. Certainly every plant breeder feels his or her new invention is the best, but how many would postpone their retirement at age 85 to start up a nursery based on it. Houser did and said, “I’m too old to work hard, too mule-headed to retire.”

You see, John knew in his heart that he had found his “one in a million shot,” when he discovered an unusual branch mutation on an arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) on his property. That mutation was an ultra-fast growing branch sport with a dense, narrow growth habit.  
“This particular arborvitae [‘American Pillar’] will withstand extremes of heat, cold, and moisture, making it a candidate for home landscapes, and screening situations in most of the lower forty-eight states.  Other plants commonly used for screening purposes, such as hemlock and pine, have diseases that are depleting their usefulness.  Leland cypress is being attacked by the lethal Cercospora needle blight which is now widespread across the South and East.  The American Pillar Nursery is positioned to fill the demand for a better, disease-resistant replacement plant.”  John Houser

In August of 2009, just days after Thuja ‘American Pillar’ was granted U.S. Plant Patent number 20,209,  Houser called  to sell me on ‘American Pillar’. At the time, I eschewed arborvitae because one variety, Emerald arborvitae, dominated the market. It was the only cultivar our customers wanted to buy, grow, or sell. Selling a new cultivar would be difficult if not impossible. But John was, well, mule headed. He was not about to take no for an answer. He wore me down; I acquiesced and sent him a trialing license and he sent me 100 trial plants. I soon discovered that  John was right. His plant was special. With a growth rate of a meter (nearly 40”) a year, ‘American Pillar’ was the fastest arborvitae I had ever seen; much faster than ‘Green Giant’ and tighter, too. And when it comes to screen and hedging plants, fast and narrow is what every   one wants: growers, landscapers and homeowners. And because of its ‘Hetz Wintergreen’ bloodline, John’s  plant was both hardy and heat-tolerant. Most definitely, there was a market for this plant.    

In the meantime, John was ramping up his business, planting, hiring and selling to everyone in the greater Atlanta area. McMansions were being built at a crazy pace and these people wanted fast privacy. Of course, John was more than happy to help.  He developed a software program (AsICit) that showed people how an ‘American Pillar’ hedge would look in their yard. 

He took before and after pictures to show everyone how fast his plant grew. And his dogged persistence and old-fashioned work ethic was paying off. Growers and landscapers began to discover they could make money with such a fast growing plant.




John made money too, but like most people that develop new plants, he never got rich. But for these people it’s not about the money. It’s about that special feeling you get when you invent something useful, something beautiful; something that your fellow man appreciates. It’s about that one-in-a-million moment when you drive through a neighborhood and see your plant in someone’s yard. John got to experience that before he died last August. Some 70 years since he pulled his first paycheck from the landscape trade in 1938, John Houser has retired and is at rest.       

I didn't have to travel far to find these new plants



You don't have to get on a plane and travel to an exotic location to find great new plants. Here in West Michigan we are blessed with many fine nurseries that develop or introduce new plants. The relatively mild climate, an abundance of water and our Dutch heritage have all contributed to the local nursery industry.

Walters Gardens, which is located about 20 minutes south, in Zeeland, Michigan, has a long history of introducing new perennials. Walters is introducing some 30 new plants under the Proven Winners brand in 2012. Here are some of my favorites.     

DECADENCE™ ‘Blueberry Sundae’

Baptisia is one of my favorite perennials. It is adaptable, easy to grow and once established quite drought tolerant. The Decadence series brings us an array of vibrant colors, attractive blue-green foliage and a more compact plant that is better suited for the garden.

  • Spikes of deep indigo blue blooms provide superior floral display from late spring to early summer
  • Blue-green foliage forms a more compact, uprightmound with excellent branching
  • Low maintenance and drought-tolerant
  • Vigorous grower
  • Zones 4-9
  • 36" height; 30-36" spread
  • Part to full sun
DECADENCE™ ‘Cherries Jubilee’

  • Unique flower color features deep maroon buds that open to bicolor maroon and yellow blooms
  • Secondary branching on the flower stems makesthis variety especially floriferous
  • Superior floral display from late spring to early summer
  • Well-branched stems form a bushy, upright spreading mound of foliage that is relatively short for Baptisia
  • Zones 4-9
  • 30-36" height; 36" spread
  • Part to full sun
DECADENCE™ ‘Dutch Chocolate’

  • Rich velvety chocolate-purple blooms on upright stems provide superior floral display from late springto early summer
  • Foliage remains densely compact as the plant matures, making it ideal for smaller urban gardens
  • Leaves start lower on the stems, covering the base of the plant better than other Baptisias
  • Low maintenance and drought-tolerant
  • Zones 4-9
  • 30-36" height; 24" spread
  • Part to full sun
DECADENCE™ ‘Lemon Meringue’

  • Spikes of lemon-yellow blooms provide superior floral display from late spring to early summer
  • Forms an upright, vase-shaped mound of attractive blue-green foliage
  • Long, charcoal-colored stems offer a stunning contrast to the lemon flowers
  • Vigorous grower
  • Zones 4-9
  • 36" height; 36" spread
  • Part to full sun

Hosta ‘Empress Wu’

I'm crazy about plants with bold foliage and Hosta Empress Wu is in my mind a most have perennial. Weeds don't stand a chance against this large leafed beauty.

  • Huge, thick, dark green, deeply veined leaves can measure 18" wide and long
  • Strong, upright habit forms a massive clump topped with pale reddish-violet flowers in early to midsummer
  • Zones 3-9
  • 3-4' height; 5-6' spread
  • Part to full shade
‘Autumn Frost’

Don't you just love the foliage on this plant. Autumn Frost is a bold plant that offers gardeners season long color. 

  • Leaves emerge frosty blue with a bright yellow, extra wide margin that lightens to creamy white during the summer
  • Forms a medium-sized mound topped with light lavender flowers in mid to late summer
  • Zones 3-9
  • 12" height; 24" spread
  • Part to full shade
Wedding Ring Boxwood

Wedding Ring boxwood comes from a small nursery down the road in Spring Lake, Michigan. There are other variegated boxwood out there but none are as hardy and attractive as this compact boxwood. Its rich glossy green foliage has a lime margin that matures to gold as summer progresses. It holds its color well in summer and winter. This is an excellent addition to formal gardens, or as a year-round accent plant in any home landscape.

  • Huge, thick, dark green, deeply veined leaves can measure 18" wide and long
  • Strong, upright habit forms a massive clump topped with pale reddish-violet flowers in early to midsummer
  • Zones 5-9
  • 1-3' height; 2-3' spread
  • Part sun to shade
North Star Boxwood

This cold hardy boxwood comes from the same nursery as Wedding Ring. It is a dense globe that requires little if any pruning to form a low, dense, thick hedge. Shiny dark green leaves maintain good winter color. Use NORTH STAR™ as a low-growing hedge, or even to create the borders of a formal herb garden. It’s a beautiful evergreen that will provide four seasons of enjoyment in the landscape. Plus deer won't eat it!

  • Dark green foliage remains attractive though the winter
  • Extra hardy and dense growth habit
  • Zones 5-9
  • 2-3' height; 2-3' spread
  • Full sun to part shade
Pinky Bells Abelia

This flowering shrub originates even closer to home as it is a plant that I hybridized here at Spring Meadow Nursery. It is a cross between Abelia Bumblebee and Abelia Little Richard. This resulted in a compact plant with the largest flowers I've ever seen on Abelia. The flower buds are purple and open to a purplish-pink. 

    • Big, colorful flowers mid-summer to fall. Attractive reddish new growth.
    • Extra strong root system and dense growth habit
    • Zones 6-9
    • 1-3' height; 2-3' spread
    • Full sun to part shad