Published August 8, 2011 | By Robert LaHoff, Halls Garden Center & Florist

Believe it or not I have been touring nurseries in the Garden State and purchasing plant material for Spring 2012. To ensure quality, voice issues that may have arisen this past year, learn new plants and simply have a face-to-face meeting, I try to visit all our growers at least once a year from coast to coast! Touring South Jersey and looking for more great “Jersey Fresh” plants, I had my friend, salesperson and overall plant aficionado John Stella by my side. When we are together we tend to have longer meetings as we throw Latin names around comfortably and become engrossed in conversation; sharing plant stories, talking industry trends and pointing out all the attributes of every plant we see. Yea, we’re plant geeks!

This particular day, however, had a bonus. We started early in the morning, jumped on a golf cart and proceeded to tour a nursery known for “cutting edge” plant material. While driving the rows of beautiful plant material we happened across a most pedestrian tree. Alleghany Serviceberry, Amelanchier laevis is certainly not an uncommon tree. However, the bounty of fruit draped on its limbs was extraordinary and we saw it as a sweet treat. Allegheny Serviceberry has rich purple-black fruit at maturity and today was that day. We scooped up handfuls of the fresh fruit and enjoyed at least a pint full. For those of you who do not know this wonderful tree, Serviceberry is a native tree that flowers in mid spring with white, fleecy clusters (panicles) up to 4” long. Good fall color, this small to medium sized tree does well in filtered light and can be used most effectively as an understory tree.

Pressing on we came across the “Holy Grail”. This years hot tree, for us at our garden center, was ‘The Rising Sun’ Redbud, Cercis canadensis ‘The Rising Sun’. An Eastern Redbud whose foliage starts off peachy-apricot, maturing through chartreuse-yellow and finishes a deep green. A smaller tree, ‘The Rising Sun’ has lavender-purple flowers very early in the spring and is hardy to zone 5. A native that I have seen in full sun to part shade doing very well, we have Ray Jackson of Belvedere, Tennessee to thank for this garden gem. Not far from this group was another coveted Redbud… ‘Ruby Falls’, Cercis canadensis ‘Ruby Falls’. ‘Ruby Falls’ is a weeping form of the very popular ‘Forest Pansy’. Velvet-purple foliage hangs on graceful, weeping branches and later turns to a bronze-green in late summer. Add to this purple waterfall, purple flowers born directly on the bark and running the length of the branches. I always think Redbuds look like they have streamers attached to their branches when they are in flower. Again, a native whose attributes would fit into most any garden.

Finally, for this nursery, a pair of Zelkova’s! One I had not seen in person… Variegated Japanese Zelkova, Zelkova serrata ‘Variegata’ and another, its brethren ‘Ogon’. ‘Variegata’s’ leaves are smaller than many other types and have a narrow, white edge around them. Better for a small garden than other types, ‘Variegata’ has crinkled, textured foliage that I instantly fell in love with. We had one of these in our new Nexus greenhouse at the garden center and when we hosted Garden Centers of America in June we stumped almost everyone on the tour. Most thought it was a type of Ficus tree or another indoor houseplant. The markings are so pronounced and the gracefulness of the tree is so picturesque that I wish I had not planted Zelkova serrata ‘Green Vase’ at our house. The fall color is an exciting orange-brown as well. Again, smaller than most other Zelkova’s, I can only imagine and hope that the bark will become exfoliating, like other Zelkova types, with age. Last but not least ‘Ogon’ Zelkova, Zelkova serrata ‘Ogon’. Striking yellow leaves that hold in the hot summer months, ‘Ogon’s’ bark is also amber-yellow. Dr. Michael Dirr compares the trees bark, in the winter, to that of Newcastle Ale amber… great reference. Barry Yinger and Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD appear to have introduced this tree.

A great day all around! Any time I have the chance to talk plants, learn a new tree, partake in the harvest that nature provides and share all this with a great friend like John, I’d say it’s a great day. Blessed to do what I love everyday it really never feels like work.