The collection of dwarf and miniature conifers located across the length of the Educational Garden has been accepted by the American Conifer Society as a Conifer Reference Garden.
The conifers chosen for the garden display a variety of colors, texures, shapes and sizes with the intent that visitors will recognize plants that may be of use in a small residential garden.
Dwarf conifers have a growth rate from 3-6" a year as opposed to 12" per year for standard conifers. While dwarf conifers are relatively small, they may be 8' tall after 10 years growth and even taller after 25 years. The miniature conifers are the slowest growing group at about 1-2" per year. Since their growth is very slow they may only be one foot tall after 10 years.
Dwarf and miniature conifers are genetic mutations: chance genetic changes that alter a seedlings growth rate, shape, or color from that of a parent. Usually seeds of the mutants are sterile, but can be propagated by grafting. Many mutants appear as witch's brooms, multiple side shoots with small leaves. These off-shoots can be successfully propagated by grafting.
There are several sources of these diverse and interesting dwarf and miniature conifers. Some cultivars are genetic sports that appear when masses of seed are germinated. Others appear as "witch's brooms" or dense clusters of growth on a standard conifer. Branches from these witch's brooms are grafted onto normal root stock and propagation usually has to continue in this same way since these sports rarely produce viable seeds. There are groups of botanists who wander the world's forests looking for new witch's brooms.
This garden meets the criteria to be established as an American Conifer Society Reference Garden, some of which are:
- The garden is non-profit and open to the public.
- The garden is a current Institutional Member of the American Conifer Society.
- The garden has a minimum of 30 conifers representing at least 8 genera.
- The conifers are accurately labeled as to genus, species and cultivar.
- The garden is properly maintained: weeded, pruned and mulched.
- The garden will be reviewed annually to assure its appearance, accuracy and maintenance.
A short history of the development of the conifer garden can be found in the Wellesley College Friends of Horticulture Fall 2006 Newsletter, and the Summer 2011 issue of the Conifer Quarterly.
Photos by Mary D. Coyne