Most of us have heard the story of Socrates and his untimely death, at age 70. Standing before a jury and fellow Athenians, Socrates was sentenced to death in 339 BC. His anti-democratic views and impious acts lead to a guilty decision, a vote of 280 to 220, thus providing a suicide story for the ages. What most people don’t realize however is that the poison hemlock consumed was not the evergreen type, Tsuga, but rather a deadly, poisonous herb of the Apiaceae family, Conium maculatum. Mistaken for fennel, parsley or wild carrot, poison hemlock has tiny white flowers clustered in umbels. Native to
Tsuga Canadensis, Canadian (Eastern) Hemlock, has long been a staple for the industry because of their tolerance to shady locations. Eastern Hemlocks, left to their own devices, can achieve heights of 50+ feet and 25+ in width. An exception to the rule, this conifer can be planted close to one another with hopes of creating a dense hedge line. However, spruce varieties can not achieve the same results. A candidate for moist, not saturated, areas Hemlocks have gorgeous leaf color complete with dark greens and two glaucous bands underneath. Suitable wherever drainage is good, keep the parent plant and its offspring away from windy areas and be considerate during times of drought.
Cultivars available to gardeners today are plentiful, exciting and diverse. Options include mounding, columnar, variegated, prostrate and globose types. One cultivar that I am asked about time and again, especially by those who visit our home, is Tsuga canadensis ‘Albospica’. A treemendous open growing hemlock which has snowy, white- tipped leaves almost the entire year. This unique attribute stands out against its darker, more mature, foliage. Planted on the north side of our home is a grove of them defining a corner and embedding the glorious earth tones and exfoliating, puzzle-like bark of a Stewartia pseudocamellia (Japanese Stewartia). The texture and colors that the two offer are only heightened with an occasional snowfall. Cultivated since 1866 and still going strong. Another one of the variegated types and often confused with ‘Albospica’ is Tsuga c. ‘Gentsch White’. A variegated globe which also offers white branch tips. Suitable for container gardening or as a small punctuation amongst your foundation plantings, this one benefits from routine pruning. We have Otto Gentsch in