The herbaceous plants and woody ornamentals in my garden are like my children. I love them all and value them for their attributes and differences. Some are always reliable, temperature-tolerant, pest- and disease-free, but if there were a beauty contest, hands down my most beautiful child is 'Horstmann's Silberlocke' Korean fir (Abies koreana).
'Horstmann's Silberlocke' is a mouthful, but it's also the biggest and best eyeful in the garden. Conifers tend to be the innocuous bulwarks of the landscape. They come front and center in the winter garden when the palette is starved for color and their green fulfills that need. During the other seasons, they function more as a neutral backdrop, allowing the showier divas to sing their arias. They are content to be members of the chorus and support the song. Not 'Hortsmann's Silberlocke.' This is a four-season, all-about-me showstopper.
This is a unique specimen. Its needles are held in whorls and curve back to reveal a silvery white underside. The branches appear to be holding rounded tunnels that glow from within. This wonderful fir was discovered in Germany by well-known plantsman Gunter Horstmann, who ran a nursery specializing in conifers with his wife, Elisabeth. They introduced this Korean fir cultivar in 1986. Once you see this incredible fir, you will immediately begin to look for just the right spot in the landscape to showcase its beauty.
Many beauty queens can be demanding, but not this one. It simply requires full to partial sun and well-drained soil. Unlike most Korean firs that grow high in the mountains and prefer cooler climates, 'Horstmann's Silberlocke' can take the heat and not succumb to the temperatures when they escalate. This is a slow grower that increases in size about 3 to 6 inches a year and eventually reaches a height of 15 feet and a width of 5 feet. Well before this reaches maturity, move everything in the landscape that is within close proximity out of its way so that it can receive the attention it deserves.
In addition to the circular, silvery needles, cones that are a dazzling blue violet appear near the most upright branches. The wow factor just keeps getting more intense.
I have had my 'Horstmann's Silberlocke' for four years. In that time it has never been bothered by insects or disease. A small amount of dieback, which I clipped out, appeared this spring at the base of the tree. A deer once munched on the main leader, but this managed to regenerate and fill out well. Keep this sprayed with deer repellent such as Liquid Fence and reapply after a heavy rain. As with all conifers, this one prefers acidic soil. I fertilize all my acid-loving plants at the drip line in spring with Hollytone.
If you want a truly unique specimen in your landscape, 'Hortsmann's Silberlocke' will fulfill that role. It will radiate beauty throughout the seasons. It is also available in a prostrate form that has been culled from the vertical. This one will slowly cover a bank or open area. Just clip off any leader that appears upright, and it will continue to lie low. Get them both. I did. They are my most beautiful children.
Susan Silverman, a master gardener from Murrysville, was a co-winner, large garden category, of the 2006 Great Gardens contest.