piCEA ORIENTALIS 'TOM THUMB GOLD'
Discovered in Skylands State Park in New Jersey about 1952, Picea orientalis 'Skylands' had the name Picea orientalis 'Aurea Compacta' on its label and was sold under that name for a number of years by Verkade's Nursery.
Welch's book on dwarf conifers renamed the plant as Picea orientalis 'Skylands', a name that was subsequently more generally used throughout the nursery trade, essentially replacing the name of 'Aurea Compacta', which had possibly never been legitimized by being validly published before 1959.
I am writing about 'Skylands' here because it is the parent plant of Picea orientalis 'Tom Thumb Gold'.
Picea orientalis 'Skylands' growing in 50% shade in one of gardens. This specimen is about 12 years old.
Picea orientalis 'Tom Thumb Gold' originated as a witches' broom on a specimen of Picea orientalis 'Skylands' growing in a private landscape in New Jersey. It was spotted by someone in the early 1970's who mentioned it to John Verkade. He propagated some pieces of it and named it Picea orientalis 'Compacta Aurea Tom Thumb'. Jean Iseli heard about this same witches' broom from a salesperson and tried to obtain it from the home owner, only to discover he was a few years too late. Verkade had been given the propagation rights to it.
When Jean mentioned this too me, I called Verkade and was able to trade for two young plants. I immediately started producing it and within a few years was able to offer it through Coenosium Gardens. Meanwhile Jean obtained a few plants in the same way and added it to his collection at Iseli Nursery a few years before his sudden death.
Since this selection had an invalid name, I modernized it to 'Tom Thumb Gold', which preserves the naming done by John Verkade. The name often used by other growers, 'Tom Thumb', is a shortened form of the valid name and should be discarded.
Picea orientalis 'Tom Thumb Gold' has the same attributes as 'Skylands' except for its shape and growth rate. It does not tolerate full sun, but too much shade will turn it green. I lost some of my early plants by giving them too much shade. I soon discovered that a little sun scald when young allows the plant to grow nicely and the scald disappears as it ages. However, too much sun will kill it.
A dense branching habit and a growth rate of about 1" (.5 cm) per year under Northwest conditions produce a bright gold cushion that is a beacon in any planting of dwarf and miniature conifers. It is an exceptional selection for the rock garden, especially when placed in the afternoon shade of a large rock.
The plant pictured above is growing in a garden with high shade and filtered sunlight. It is about 6 years old.