Sandra’s Story

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My introduction to the Gotelli Collection of Dwarf and Slow-Growing Conifers came during the busiest weekend of the year at the U.S. National Arboretum. It was Mother’s Day and the azaleas were in bloom. The Arboretum contains one of the largest collections of azaleas in the world, with over 60,000 plants. The blooming azaleas cover whole hillsides in a riot of color. People come from all over the world to witness it firsthand. It really is spectacular!

My husband and I drove from Ohio, staying overnight in West Virginia so we could get an early start Saturday morning. We were at the Arboretum when the gates opened, and started with a drive-through to see the roadside view of the azalea collection, then a walk-through, savoring and trying to absorb the beauty surrounding us.

We were so impressed with what we saw of the U.S. National Arboretum, that we spent the rest of the day visiting each of the separate collections and gardens. Each collection is quite wonderful, unique and an education in itself.

It was after we had visited most of the collections that we came to the Gotelli Collection. We were both amazed at the beauty and variety of plant material. It was hard to believe that an ‘evergreen’ (it was a while before the word ‘conifer’ came easily) could take so many forms, with so many variations in colors, textures and sizes. I had no idea that such variety existed. I was fascinated and wanted to know more.

When we returned home, I went to the library, and several bookstores, in search of answers. I wanted to know more about those wonderful and unusual conifers. How, where and which ones could I get for our garden? And I wanted to know more about the Gotelli Collection – when? – who? – how? – why? My library search of book titles and subjects proved futile. A magazine article search resulted in a bit about the collection. But not nearly enough to satisfy my curiosity.

I visited my local garden center and tried to pick the brain of one of the owners, Jeff Andrey. He had graduated in horticulture and was quite knowledgeable about conifers. He brought out one of his text ‘bibles’ to show me photos of some of the cultivars I was questioning him about. It was Adrian Bloom’s book, Conifers for Your Garden. After much persuasion and multiple promises, I was able to borrow this out-of-print book for the night. Then I was really hooked!

With the help of my local librarian and the inter-library loan system, I was able to borrow a copy of A. Bloom’s book and many others (seeRecommended Reading List). I checked out every book I could find with even a remote reference to conifers. The book stores did not have anything on their shelves. After searching through the available ‘in print’ catalogues, there was nothing I could order on dwarf conifers except one book for $75.00 (beyond my budget). I specifically requested several of the books I had found in the library, but they were all out of print; most of them had been published 20+ years previously. Now I wasn’t just fascinated, I was frustrated. I am usually able to get several books on any subject I want to research. This was hard for me to accept.

Somewhere along this line, I contacted the U.S. National Arboretum to find out all I could on the Gotelli Collection. I was put in contact with Susan Martin, curator of the Gotelli Dwarf and Slow-Growing Conifer Collection. She confirmed that there was little publicly available on the Gotelli Collection, but she did provide me with copies of a few articles that had been written about it over the years. She suggested contacting the American Conifer Society.

Two things happened. First, I decided that if there wasn’t a book about the Gotelli Collection, that there ought to be. If there wasn’t anybody ready to write about it, then I would. My thinking was, and is, that the Gotelli Collection is so beautiful, special and unique, plus it’s our National collection, actually a living museum, that there must be a lot of people out there who would want to know about it….. And if no one was going to write about it — and it needed to be written about — then I would write about it.

Second, I contacted the American Conifer Society (“ACS”), and found out that they were having their Annual Central Area Conifer Meeting right here in the Cleveland area just a few weeks from then. I attended, talked very little, and learned lots. I had come to the right place! I wanted to know about dwarf conifers, and these folks definitely knew about dwarf conifers!

I joined the ACS. I purchased several of their past Bulletins and read them cover-to-cover. The ACS Bulletins were full of information (much of it over my head), with lots of what I had been looking for plus lots I hadn’t even known to look for. And there were a couple of articles authored by Susan Martin about the Gotelli Collection. Now I was starting to get somewhere!

That is how this book got started. . . Started, as in ‘beginning’, because that was just the beginning of an enormous project, and the beginning of my education!