A summer stroll

I talk quite a bit about how dwarf and miniature conifers are perfect for year-round color and interest in the garden. There simply is no better way to have a fantastically enjoyable garden, all year long, without incorporating at least some of these amazing plants into the garden design. That being said, there may be no better time to fully enjoy the amazing beauty of conifers (or any garden plant) than in the spring and summer months… well, unless you count autumn, which also has its definite advantages.

Spring brings on the fresh new growth of most all landscape plants, but climatic conditions may prevent some from fully enjoying all their garden has to offer. By the time summer arrives (at least in the Pacific Northwest) rain has become far less frequent and temperatures of become very enjoyable, drawing most folks outdoors to enjoy all kinds of activities. One of the activities I love is simply strolling through my garden; or honestly, anyone’s garden!

Today I decided to share some inspirational views of the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden located on the grounds of Iseli Nursery in Boring, Oregon. I have spent a great many years associated with these folks, and their plants and gardens are always an inspiration.

This is a view looking west into the west section of the garden which was created in 2008. The golden Taxus in the left corner is a cultivar called, Taxus baccata ‘Goldener Zwerg’ followed by Picea pungens ‘Pendula’. The tall tree on the right is the elegant Picea omorika ‘Gotelli Weeping’.

With the warm summer sun to your back, you might enjoy this view of, Thuja occidentalis Mr. bowling Ball® in the foreground and including, Abies procera ‘Glauca’ (prostrate form), Pinus mugo ‘Jakobson’, Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Red Dragon’, Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ and Picea abies ‘Tompa’.

This beautiful view is from near the main office building looking north east.

This colorful scene may be seen when driving around the main office. Of course the best view is when one is able to stroll through the garden on foot. The colors, textures and forms of this collection of dwarf conifers and companion plants is stunning.

Even during one of our cloudy summer days, the conifer garden is alive with vibrant color. The addition of flowering plants compliment the colorful dwarf and miniature conifers in the southern view of this rocky section of the garden.

Many folks will never have an opportunity to visit the beautiful private gardens at this wholesale nursery, but I am very happy to share some of the views I have enjoyed over the years. I hope you are inspired by these gardens as much as I have been.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

This Gemstone is truly a treasure

There may be more individually named cultivars of the Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) than any other conifer. I have seen thousands of seedlings, and a multitude of mutations within this species over the years. Most of which were being evaluated for unique characteristics, resistance to pests, hardiness and overall aesthetics. Of course many others horticulturists have done the same over the years, and hundreds of cultivars have been named and distributed either through collectors or the commercial marketplace.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gemstone’ is a new, very slow growing, sculptural form of dwarf Hinoki Cypress. Its unique character makes every plant unique and perfect form most gardens.

Back in the early 1980s, a group of very mature Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’ at Iseli Nursery produced a proliferation of viable seed. Thousands and thousands of seeds were planted, many of which germinated and the evaluation process began. The gene pool was vast that contributed to the pollination of the tiny cones that produced all of those seeds. Iseli Nursery had an extensive collection of mature cultivars which contributed to that pollination process. As a result, a very wide assortment of characteristics became visible rather quickly in the evaluation process. Some seedlings grew very quickly and appeared very much like the species, Chamaecyparis obtusa. Some were more vigorous, some less. The slower growing seedlings were given great consideration – as were those with unusual coloration or different foliage types. Eventually those plants that were considered to have the least chance of commercial appeal were culled and the remaining plants were planted in the ground, sorted by growth rate, foliage type and foliage color.

Many years went by with regular evaluation. Some of these seedlings began to show great promise. Extremely slow growth rates, unusually dark green foliage, bright yellow foliage, fine textured foliage, sculptural growth forms – whatever made an individual plant stand out from the crowd and appear different than other known cultivars already named, either in collections or being marketed. Some of those seedlings were then selected and the propagation process began, spanning 15 to 20 years in the process. Some of those exciting new plants have started to become available to garden consumers through independent garden centers over the past few years.

Perhaps you have seen, ‘Just Dandy’ or ‘Jane’s Jewel’. One of my very favorite plants ever just happens to have originated in that very same batch of seedlings, all those years ago. Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gemstone’ is truly a treasure.

‘Gemstone’ is a very slow growing Hinoki Cypress with a narrow, upright form. When young, it reminds me of a small, pointed wizard’s hat. As it matures, occasional side branches will develop adding aesthetic interest to the already pleasing, casual movement to its upward growing form. The largest plant I have seen is in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden and is pictured above. This specimen is one of the early propagations off of the original mother tree which is growing in an undisclosed, secret location.

I absolutely love this cute little dwarf conifer!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

There’s a whole lotta pollinatin’ goin’ on!

My cat likes to begin his day almost exactly an hour and a half before I do. Most mornings he is patient and waits until 15 or 20 minutes before my alarm goes off to jump onto the bed and begin his purring. This morning he couldn’t wait and he began to massage my chest with the kneading motion of his paws, which incidentally made me very aware that it is time for his claws to be trimmed as a few of their needle sharp tips found their way to my bare flesh.

“OUCH!”

“Purrrrpurrrrrpurrrrr”

Now that I was awake, I could hear the birds singing and smell the fresh scent of early summer drifting in through the partially open window. It was definitely lighter than nighttime, but surely it wasn’t time to get up yet, was it? I checked my clock. Nope, the alarm would not begin to chime for over an hour yet! I went ahead and crawled out of bed, ran through my morning routine and realized that even though it had rained a little overnight and the sky was full of clouds, the temperature was not too bad, so I proceeded to enjoy my granola and fresh fruit out on my patio.

I love the lower viewing perspective when I am on my hands and knees, pulling weeds or digging in the soil and adding new plants in the garden.

Some birds were continuing to sing, but not the full choir that I had heard earlier. A pair of squirrels were already busily prancing around on the thick carpet in the Douglas fir grove while a Stellar Jay dropped by the birdbath, took a quick drink and flew up into one of the tall Western Red cedars. The morning air was cool, but quite humid and I was comfortable in just a t-shirt and vest. I breathed in the sweet scent of an Azalea on my neighbor’s side of the fence, which mixed nicely with the woodsy scent of my conifers and the natural mulch created by years of old needles being shed from the small grove of giant Douglas firs nearby. The distant soft roar of morning traffic reminded me of the sound of the ocean, or perhaps a river, not too far off.

Having spent much of the past weekend catching up on weeding the front garden, I realized that a fair amount of work remained in the back and a pleasant morning like this one was the perfect time to dive in. I finished my breakfast, poured a large ice tea to carry with me in the garden, donned my gloves and in moments I was on my hands and knees digging around the soil, removing weeds and discovering new volunteer seedlings popping up here and there.

Many exciting new garden plants begin their lives as chance seedlings that are spotted by a watchful eye, nurtured and grown for years, before finding their way into commercial production. Others begin as growth mutations that are propagated and again, observed for years, before becoming marketable plants.

I love it when my garden plants drop seeds and they manage to germinate in my garden. Most often, the seedlings grow very much like the species trees. Once in a while, a seedling will exhibit dwarf or other interesting features and is worth growing and further observation. With the great selection of unique and unusual cultivars of conifers and Japanese maples in my garden, there is bound to be a lot of cross-pollination going on, opening the door to the possibility of some new and exciting plants to be found in these many naturally occurring seedlings.

Last spring one very unique looking Japanese maple seedling germinated among the 12 or 15 that came to life in my garden. I was happy to see that it had survived the winter and still looks like a unique new cultivar with its new growth this year. Time will tell if it actually becomes something worth propagating and sharing with others, but for now, it is fun to watch it grow and I will need to decide on a place to move it since it sprouted up right next to one of my blueberry plants.

Keep an eye out as you are weeding your gardens, you never know what exciting new plants you may discover!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Springtime blues

I can remember way back when I was a young lad, just beginning to learn about the amazing beauty of conifers, and specifically blue conifers. When I think of blue conifers, I immediately think of different cultivars of the Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens). Although there are other groups of conifers that do have a few blue colored members, I think the most common and most prolific producers of stunning blue plants are the Colorado Blue Spruce. There are incredible full-sized trees such as, Picea pungens ‘Hoopsii’, ‘Fat Albert’, ‘Bonny Blue’ and ‘Avatar’ to name a handful, but there are stunning dwarf forms as well. One of the most popular is ‘Montgomery’, but other great dwarf forms are, ‘Sester Dwarf’, ‘Lundeby’s Dwarf’, ‘St. Mary’s Broom’ and ‘Procumbens’ which actually has a fairly vigorous growth rate, but it sprawls along the ground creating a bright blue ground cover.

A new dwarf, globe-shaped blue spruce in the foreground is being evaluated while Picea pungens ‘Avatar’ grows nearby. Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ can be seen in the distance in another section of the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden.

Since the vast majority of plants available for our gardens have foliage which is essentially some shade of green, the inclusion of additional color creates a lot of interest and helps draw the eye (and feet) into and through a garden—which really is the point of having a garden anyway, right? Even yellow, gold and variegated plants can appear as just different shades of green and adding a stunning, bright blue conifer can break the monotony, add a wonderful contrast and increase the feelings of well-being that gardens naturally tend to induce.

Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ is a stunning blue addition to a garden filled with green and yellow conifers and other colorful plants.

A few blue conifers placed some distance apart along a visual plane can draw the eye, and the viewer’s interest, deeper into the garden. With a well thought out design, this technique also can give a deeper sense of depth to the garden while giving several focal points to a vista view. Interspersed with other conifers of dark and light greens, yellows and golds, and the red foliage of Japanese Maples, Beech, or other ornamental plants, the blue conifers are a perfect complement to the well-planned, colorful garden.

This detail shot of the lush, soft, fresh blue foliage of Picea pungens ‘The Blues’ shows off the delicious color of the springtime blues.

This time of year, as the many cultivars of Colorado Blue Spruce push their fresh, colorful new foliage, is perhaps when the blues are at their peak, before the harsh summer sun hardens the foliage and autumn and winter rains slowly erode away some of the white waxy coating that gives these amazing plants their intensely beautiful blue color. The springtime blues are a happy blues!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

A tree dipped in dark chocolate? – Yes please!

Springtime, this year, has been a very pleasant mix of cloudy, rainy days and days filled with warm sunshine. Yesterday was one of those amazing sunny days that remind me of my childhood. Everything in the garden is coming alive with springtime freshness. The air smells clean and sweet with the scent of early flowers and newly mowed lawns and… Teriyaki! Someone in the neighborhood was enjoying the weather with their outdoor grill.

Spring foliage is a deep brick-red color.

With rain in the forecast for next several days, I knew that I had better mow what little lawn still remains in my garden, or it would become a more difficult task in a week or so when the weather will allow me another opportunity. Every time I do mow my lawn, I dream about a new conifer planting bed to build here or expand there, further reducing my workload by reducing the surface area of my garden that is filled with lawn. That being said, I do still love to lay on the cool grass as much now as I did when I was much younger.

Laying there on the grass, breathing in the assortment of scents as they seem to randomly drift by in unseen clouds of enchanting delight, I took in the sight of my garden from this lower than usual perspective. I drifted back to the days of childhood when I would play with army men in the grass and garden beds where I grew  up. As I lay there, enjoying the moment, and the memories of those boy-hood adventures so many years ago, I began to rotate myself to take in more of my garden from this unique perspective. Eventually, as I slowly spun myself around, my eyes fell upon one of my favorite small Japanese Maples, Acer palmatum ‘Tsukushi gata’.

Brick-red spring foliage begins to harden as light green veins become more pronounced, matching the color of the stems and branches.

Complementing the light green branches and stems of this small tree, the new foliage begins to emerge with deep, brick red color. As the leave grow and begin to harden, their distinctive light green veins seem to pick up the color of the stems and provide another point of interest. As the foliage matures through the spring and begins to darken as summer begins, noticeable bright green, ornamental seed clusters dangle from branches and continue the color coordination. As summer heats up, the leaves darken to almost black and depending on variables of heat, humidity, intensity of the sun, perhaps even hours of daylight, the dark leaves may show different shades of chocolate with green undertones. With the onset of the shorter days and cooler nights of autumn, the leaves begin to brighten with orange tones until leaf-drop and the bright green branches and stems are exposed for the winter.

Dark, chocolate colored leaves cover the small tree through the summer.

I have had my little tree for 15 years or so, and it must have been over five years old when I planted it. It is no more than five or six feet tall and probably eight to ten feet across its breadth. ‘Tsukushi gata’ would be a very nice small tree to grow in a container on the patio or deck, and certainly will be a well-loved addition to any smaller garden where larger trees will just be too big. The smaller scale of this tree fits well with some of my miniature and dwarf conifers to make a very nice rockery island where the ‘Tsukushi gata’ sits atop a rocky mound with a collection of conifers and other dwarf and miniature plants all working together to make a very delightful space.

Looking out the window, I see that the predicted rain has arrived, and my barometer confirms that we are likely to see little good, warm sunshine for at least a few days. Perhaps the sun will chase away the clouds in time for me to take another trip around my garden with the mowing machine and allow me another warm evening to enjoy my garden from a prostrate perspective.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Hooray! Hooray! It’s a coney day!

Hooray, they’re here! The first of the colorful little spring-time treasures have begun to show themselves. I caught my first glimpse of new developing cones just about two weeks ago. If you have been reading my blog for a few years, you will know that I always look forward to spring when the conifers begin to “flower” and their colorful little cones emerge on last year’s stems. Both male and female cones will show up along stems and upper branches on many conifers – some at a very young age, others after they have aged some years. And this treasure hunt is not limited to early spring, some conifers develop their new cones on the current seasons new flush of growth, so cone hunting season can last into summer.

Clusters of cones add interest to the garden every spring.

The first cones I spotted this season were on a few different cultivars of Abies (fir) that I have in my garden. Abies balsamea ‘Tyler Blue’ is a blue foliage form of the Balsam fir and is a very attractive tree. I was doubly pleased when I first noticed that my young specimen began to develop cones last year. These cones are not as showy as some others with their brighter colors, but the light green new cones do stand out against the bluish foliage of this great tree. Over a period of weeks, as the cones mature, the main core of the cone begins to turn light lavender-purple while the light green “wings” remain. In a month or so, the cones will have swollen and become a more solid light purple color, eventually drying to brown over the summer and into autumn.

Colorful cones create quite a spring-time show on Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’.

Another spring-time show stopper is Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’. This beautiful cultivar has very showy curved needles which are rich green on one side, and have a silvery white coating on the other. Due to the curve of the needle, its white side is exposed making the tree shimmer in any light at all – even in our gray Pacific Northwest weather. A big part of the show for me is the massive amount of purple cones that develop, in well-numbered clusters all over the upper side of the branches. My small tree had cones on it when I planted it several years ago, and it was just a young plant at the time. The skinny purple cones will fatten up and become a much deeper purple than the ‘Tyler Blue’ mentioned above.

‘Mac’s Gold’ has pretty new foliage and colorful cones to add an exciting zing to your spring garden!

One of the first spruce to show off its cones in my garden is Picea glauca ‘Mac’s Gold’. Not only do its bright pink cones emerge and begin to develop, but at the same time it begins to push its bright butter-yellow new foliage. This color combination is the cause of many a second look whenever my spring-time guests make their way to the back garden. As summer arrives, the golden foliage darkens to a light green and the cones become darker and dry to a tan and brown with warmer temperatures and longer days.

There is so much happening in the garden right now and everyday I try to make time to take a stroll, seeking out whatever tiny treasures may be emerging in the splendor of spring!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

A dazzling beauty

A few years back I mentioned my Christmas list for that year, on it were three exciting conifers. All three were forms of the Serbian Spruce, a tree once quite widespread throughout Europe. Now native stands of Picea omorika are limited to a mountainous region in western Serbia and eastern Bosnia. One of the cultivars I was hoping for, I found in my local independent garden center, one I was able to obtain some scion wood to graft my own new trees, and one remains on my wish list. 

The silvery white side of the needles catch every bit a daylight and shine brightly against the contrasting green side for a dazzling effect.

I grafted four specimens of Picea omorika ‘Kamenz’ back in 2011. I am growing one of those grafted plants in a container,  two I planted in my garden and one I gave to a good friend. When young, ‘Kamenz’ is a low growing bun-shaped plant that begins to spread wider than tall, but in time, it looks like it may want to send a shoot or two in a more upward growing fashion. I suppose one might choose to allow their specimen to grow taller, but it is easy enough to prune out any upward growing shoots to encourage the low, spreading form.

Along with its great form, I love the silvery effect of the waxy coating which covers the undersides of the needles. Common to the species, ‘Kamenz’ has bi-colored needles with a glossy green top and the silvery-white underside. The natural angle of branching and the way the needles are held on each branch allow for a great view of the silvery color which make this stunning specimen literally shine in the garden.

Great low-growing, compact and spreading form is just part of the appeal with ‘Kamenz’.

As I mentioned, I am growing one of my own grafted plants in a container on my patio. For some reason, this particular graft is showing a tendency to grow with a single leader. I may give it a little encouragement with a plant stake and some pruning to see if I might be able to influence its form into more of a compact Christmas tree shape. If successful, think it will make a delightful little holiday decoration for the front walkway someday.

Keep an eye out at your favorite independent garden center, I have a feeling this one is becoming more popular and it should become easier to find. Of course you could always ask your favorite IGC to make a special order for you!

Ed-
Conifer Lover