Success! I have been quietly working away at improving my Blender tree creation system and I have had some considerable success. After trying lots of methods to shortcut the tree design process I finally accepted that in order to have a true recreation, I had to make a realistic model from the ground up and create the whole tree.
Previous tree designs proved to be too "dense" with foliage. Tree creation tools put too many leaves inside the canopy and it didn't make the tree realistic enough. I had to model my own leaves and branches and then assemble them in a format that resembled the tree(s) that I am modeling. It's a bit more work, though once you get familiar with the system it's not that bad (3-4 hours per tree). Once a model is made, it is quickly turned, reconfigured, recoloured, etc, and can be used for an entire array of different looks for the same tree.
And a close up of the detail I had to create:
More coming shortly... and coming to a SMSC near you soon.