Full Speed A Hedge with American Pillar

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 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
Full Speed A Hedge is perfect for hiding bad views PDQ

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 very 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 narrower 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 landscapers used to show 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 paid off. Growers and landscapers began to discover this super fast growing plant. Today, landscapers are buying every, decent sized plant available. Demand has been incredible.  

Mavis Houser next to an American Pillar Hedge.

But you don't have to be a professional landscaper to have access to this new, fast growing privacy plant. And you don't need to buy large, expensive landscape grade plants to get the same results. A new online retail program called Full Speed A-Hedge offers a tray of (8) 2 Qt sized plants that will quickly make 20 feet of privacy hedge. Plant them at 2 1/2 fee apart and 8 plants = 20 feet of privacy. The beauty of these smaller plants is that they're easy to plant and they establish faster than larger, more expensive plants. Below two photographs of a hedge at my brother's house. He had a neighbor that was, dare I say, a jerk, who put up an ugly, eighty foot long, 5' tall cyclone fence. To hide the fence and the neighbor I gave my brother four trays of the Full Speed A Hedge. In 2 1/2 years, planted 2 1/2 feet apart these little 2 quart plants had hidden the fence. In two years the plants were taller than the fence. In less than four years, you could not longer see the neighbors house or pole barn. Problem solved.  

American Pillar planted as Full Speed A-Hedge plants after two years reaching the top of a 5' fence

My wife standing next to the same fence and "Full Speed A-Hedge" after only four years

The key to getting the fasted possible growth is to make sure the plants get watered regularly when young. The soil should be moist but not soaking wet. Fertilize them in early spring. I recommend a high nitrogen fertilizer at label rates. Keep the plants free of weeds! Weeds will rob your plants of growth by competing for water, nutrients and sunlight. Mulch is a good way to prevent weeds. A two inch layer of composted wood chips will do the job and help retain water. That's it.  

John, like most people that develop new plants, never got rich. But for plant breeders 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 a few years back. Some 70 years since he pulled his first paycheck from the landscape trade in 1938, John Houser has retired and is at rest, but his plant lives on. 

To locate plants for purchase visit FullSpeedAhedge.com     

The Beauty of Bark

Bark can be one of the most beautiful aspects of a tree. When you walk through the woods or through a garden, it is usually what you see at eye level. Every tree species has its own unique bark, offering different colors, patterns and textures, some quite mundane and inconspicuous to the untrained eye, while others are a piece of precious art, giving the viewer an easy means to recognize the species. 

In my travels, I get to see a lot of plants, but it is a special joy to visit a garden with a diversity of mature trees - even better if they are labeled. I always stop to photograph them, particularly their leaves and bark, but it is the bark diversity that fascinates me the most. Andrew Bunting, a old friend with whom I interned with at the Chicago Botanic Garden, got me in the habit of noticing and photographing tree bark. He had written an article on bark in some magazine and had accompanied it with a series of beautiful pictures. "How beautiful," I thought, and shortly thereafter I started shooting bark. I don't see Andrew all that often anymore (he is now working at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and I'm in Michigan or off traveling the world), but each time I take a photograph of bark, I think of him. 

As children we are taught in school to learn the trees by their leaves. Who hasn't made a leaf collection as elementary school project? But leaves are often hard to view on large mature trees until they fall. The leaves of a species or cultivar can also be quite deceiving. Think of all the plant names that end with the Latin word for leaf, -folium, such as Acer carpinifolium and Viburnum acerfolium. There must be a hundred different leaf shapes in Acer palmatum. Bark gives us one more clue when identifying a tree or shrub, so get to know your bark. You'll find it quite useful when walking in the woods in the winter months. 

Below are 25 diverse images of tree bark, and they're not is any particular order. Some are easy to recognize, while others are a bit more challenging. See if you can identify them on your own. Then try matching them up with a list of names provided. How'd you do? Share this post with your friends and cohorts to test their tree and bark knowledge. It's kind of enjoyable, at least for me, but then again, I'm a bit of a plant nerd. Enjoy.       

Scroll down below the pictures see the plant list and even further to see the answers.





















Twenty One

Twenty Two

Twenty Three

Twenty Four

Twenty Five


Acer griseum - paperbark maple
Ailanthus altissina - tree of heaven
Alnus incana - European gray alder
Arbutus menziesii - Pacific madrone or madrona
Betula alleghaniensis - yellow birch
Betula papyrifera - paper or canoe birch
Carpinus betulus - European hornbeam 
Carya illinoinensis - hardy pecan
Castanea dentata - American chestnut
Cornus florida - Eastern Dogwood
Davidia involucrata - dove tree
Diospyros virginiana - American persimmon 
Fagus grandifolia - American beech 
Gymnocladus dioicus - Kentucky coffee tree
Lagerstroemia x 'Natchez' - Natchex crapemyrtle
Pinus bungeana - lacebark pine
Prunus serrula - Himalayan birch bark cherry  
Robinia pseudoacacia - black locust
Sequoiadendron gigantieum - Giant Sequoia 
Stachyurus praecox - stachyrus shrub 
Stewartia pseudocamellia - Japanese stewartia 
Syringa vulgaris - common lilac
Taxodium distichum - bald cypress
Tilia americana - basswood or American linden
Zelkova serrata - Japanese zelkova

Scroll down ever further, if you wish to view the answers with clues for remembering them.

1     Betula papyrifera - paper or canoe birch - WHITE PAPER
2     Ailanthus altissina - tree of heaven - STRETCHED SKIN
3    Taxodium distichum - bald cypress- FLUTED
4    Tilia americana - basswood or American linden EVEN BASKET WEAVE
5     Lagerstroemia x 'Natchez' - Natchex crapemyrtle  ARTISTIC BEAUTY
6     Betula alleghaniensis - yellow birch - SILVER PAPER
7     Alnus incana - European gray alder - FORGETTABLE GREY
8     Arbutus menziesii - Pacific madrone or madrona BEAUTIFUL CREAM AND RED
9     Syringa vulgaris - common lilac ANGULAR NARROW RIDGES
10   Robinia pseudoacacia - black locust COURSE BASKET WEAVE
11   Stewartia pseudocamellia - Japanese stewartia  ARTISTIC BEAUTY
12   Pinus bungeana - lacebark pine  - PATCHY
13   Castanea dentata - American chestnut SMOOTH IRREGULAR PATCHES
14   Carya illinoinensis - hardy pecan TIGHT BASKET WEAVE
15   Zelkova serrata - Japanese zelkova CHUNKY PATCHES 
16   Carpinus betulus - European hornbeam SMOOTH
17   Cornus florida - Eastern Dogwood - ALLIGATOR BARK 
18   Acer griseum - paperbark maple - RED PAPER
19   Davidia involucrata - dove tree IRREGULAR FLAKES
20   Diospyros virginiana - American persimmon - THE HULK
21   Sequoiadendron gigantieum - Giant Sequoia - SOFT RED PILLOW
22   Stachyurus praecox - stachyrus shrub LINEAR SMOOTH AND ROUGH 
23   Gymnocladus dioicus - Kentucky coffee tree - LONG FIXED FLAKES
24   Fagus grandifolia - American beech - SILVER, OFTEN CARVED
25   Prunus serrula - Himalayan birch bark cherry - RED GLOSSY