On a cold day in February, just west of the roundabout on Anderson & Scenic Drive, sits “Westy.” A nicknamed endeared to him by people long past, it’s that of Darrel Westervelt. The longtime, (mostly) retired owner of Blueville Nursery is sitting there doing what he does better than anyone else in the world: Juniper grafting!
Native to Leon, Kansas, Darrell came to K-State to get a degree in dairy husbandry in 1957, after attending junior college in El Dorado. In 1959, he had signed up for a Master’s program and started working at Blueville Nursery for Gladys & Marlin Scott. “I always wanted to be a dairy farmer, but I was offered to work at the nursery for 50 cents an hour,” he says. “I negotiated it up to 75 cents an hour, because I knew how to drive a tractor!” After a short while, Merlin then offered to pay for his school if he changed his pursuit, so he graduated with a Master’s Degree in Horticulture. Upon graduating, he served in the US military, and was stationed in Little Rock, Arkansas. He served for two years, two months, and 13 days. As that tenure was coming to a close, the neatest thing happened.
“I bought Blueville Nursery by the US Mail!” he laughs. “It was sight unseen, but I knew what I getting. It was a place I knew, and trusted, and knew it was the right opportunity. It was the best $7,500 I ever spent!” So that’s what Darrell and his beloved wife Dorothy did. They bought Blueville via the mail, and returned back to Manhattan in February of 1962. Shortly upon returning, they had their second son Keith, joining older brother Mark. They had a third son in 1964, Glen. The nursery was off and running and the rest is history!
Greenhouse 12, or, Prop House 12, is where the real magic happens at Blueville Nursery. Juniper grafting is a true art form, and is an ancient practice that serves as an important part of growing new Juniper. It’s the merging of two plants to make new one: The scion, which is the part of the stem with buds, is attached to a root stock, which is an established root. This then allows the two plants to grow together as one. It takes skill, and it takes tremendous knowledge to know how to keep the two together - and to survive! The rootstock may survive in heavy soil, but it may also die. It’s always hard to tell. At Blueville Nursery, they have a survival rate that averages 90%.
“They key to doing this is making sure you graft in January and February so they dont get too hot,” he says. “These seedlings started last July, and go dormant, then they start growing.”
The first thing he does is trims the scion to the correct length with a pair of shears. Then, using his signature, custom-made grafting knife that was handcrafted in Wichita, he shows us how to do it. “You just make a wedge on each trunk, and cut them down to the correct depth. Then you merge them together”, he says. “I prefer Hetzi rootstock, because it’s the best root to craft on. They’re also the best at not getting root rot. What we’re doing here is putting Upright Juniper onto this Hetzi root stock. It’s the best Juniper understock.” He then takes a rubber band, and ties the two together. While still holding it with pressure, he applies a layer of wood glue over the wound, and sets it off to the side. Then he’s immediately onto the next.
“If you’re working with him, don’t let him run out!” says son, and President of Blueville Nursery, Keith. “He’s pretty fast once he gets going!”
Keith, or whoever is working with him that day, then take the newly grafted Junipers into a series of grafting chambers lining the 20’ x 45’ greenhouse. The chambers look like miniature greenhouses-within-a-greenhouse. They help keep the humidity up, which is vital for the Junipers to take, and to not scar. Each grafting chamber holds 144, and each house throughout the greenhouse is full. All together, Blueville Nursery grafts about 2,500 new Junipers each year.
Blueville Nursery holds four different patents for their hand-grafted Junipers, which are sold in all 50 states and Internationally. Their best seller is Skinny Blue Jeans, which sells nearly 5,000 a year, followed by Cotton Candy. They also have Blue Thunderbolt Spruce, and the one that Darrell was grafting for us that day, the Golden Frost Juniper.
Fast forward to this July, and nearly all of the Golden Frost Junipers we saw have survived. They are currently moving into one gallon pots, where they’ll grow a season, and get a stake to help stand straight. Next July, they’ll be put into three gallon pots. Then that fall, they will be planted into the field, or sold by the dozen. They’ll eventually grow to be 15 to 40 feet tall.
Each one will be grown into very happy and tall Juniper tree that will last a long time, and be enjoyed by generations of people. They will grow to help turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. They’ll help regenerate the soil and the area around it. They will make yards look better, and the earth a much better place. All of this, thanks to Westy!
Skinny Blue Jeans, Cotton Candy, Golden Frost Junipers, and Blue Thunderbolt Spruce are available at Blueville Nursery. Visit the Garden Store at 4539 Anderson Ave.