Bob Hill is back and overcome by impulse.

Problem No. 1 was I left my reading glasses in the car. Problem No. 2 was I was out foraging box-store garden centers in frosty December for whatever was left. Problem No.3 was that in having approached eight full decades of life I have taken a solemn vow to never again go home saying to myself, “Damn, I should have bought that.”

That does run somewhat counter to Problem No. 4 – ridding the clutter in old age created by impulse-buying in an already crowded life – but that should never apply to plants.


Why start now?

A day’s haul. Dwarf Alberta spruces flank a ‘Goldy’ arborvitae and an Italian Stone pine.

So, my plant trip finds included a couple of “Goldy” arborvitaes, three amaryllis, two dwarf Alberta spruces and there, way down low on the floor, was this tiny, interesting looking conifer wrapped in Christmas Glitz with an ornament in its foliage.

The Old Christmas Glitzy Yuletide Sales Pitch.

The printing on the plant tag was too small to read – see Problem No. 1 – but who cares – see Problems No. 3 and No. 4.

So, done in by Christmas Glitz, an ornament and its possibilities, the alleged plant expert hauls home a tiny conifer in a tiny pot for Christmas.

Part of me is thinking it could be fun to have around. Part of me is wondering what the hell is this thing? Part of me really didn’t care; I wasn’t going home without it.

Home it comes. Off comes the tiny tag. On go the reading glasses. Here, way way down at the bottom of the tag in teeny tiny print comes the truth.

It’s an Italian stone pine (Pinus pinea). Native from the Mediterranean to Syria and Lebanon and a popular landscape tree in Southern California. Hates hot humid weather. Doesn’t like temperatures below 20 degrees. Can grow two feet a year to 80 feet. Huge.

Shopping without eyeglasses leads to Zone 8 envy in Zone 6 Southern Indiana.

In numerical terms a zone 8 plant being sold as a Christmas gift in zone 6 in a very small glitzed-up pot in the Ohio River Valley.


I am thinking this is just retail wrong. Some little kid taking it home with dreams and wishes of planting it outside only to see it dead by August. Maybe July.

There goes any hope of this kid becoming a nature lover or an arborist. God help us, now he may become a lawyer. An angry young man. Sue the bastards selling the wrong trees in the wrong places.

If you can’t grow an Italian stone pine, you can always buy a good Chianti Classico. San Gimignano, Tuscany.

At Christmas!

I am also thinking of some bigger kid who should have taken his reading glasses inside on a box-store plant-hunting trip in December.

And that he would probably do it again.


Former Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Bob Hill wrote more than 4,000 columns and feature stories, about ten books and several angry letters to bill collectors in his 33 years at the paper. He and his wife, Janet, are former guides and caretakers of Hidden Hill Nursery and Garden in Utica, IN., a home-made, eight-acre arboretum, art mecca and source of enormous fun, whimsy, rare plants and peace for all who showed up. Bob’s academic honors include being the tallest kid in his class 12 years in a row.