Primary colors in the garden

Over the weekend, I had an opportunity to spend the greater part of a day with my daughter at the Silverton Fine Arts Festival. This was an absolutely delightful way to spend a day – what man wouldn’t be proud walking around a public event with his beautiful daughter attached to his arm? We enjoyed the multi-cultural cuisine, the live music and, of course, the art.

There was one artist whose work we particularly enjoyed. Her paintings were of simple shapes crafted into whimsical animal characters painted in bright, rich, primary colors. I loved the geometry of her designs and the intense colors reminded me of my garden.

The primary colors, Red, Blue and Yellow are found throughout the plant world. I do believe that when most folks begin to think of color in their gardens, they immediately think flowers – which are certainly filled with bright and exciting color. But, as I may have mentioned a time or two in previous posts, that color is really quite short lived in the garden, and entirely absent after the first killing frost of autumn, and does not return again until spring, leaving behind a dreary landscape through the winter months, when our emotional health might benefit most from the uplifting effects of color.

Last time I shared just two plants which add volumes of red color to the garden from spring through fall. Unfortunately, red is difficult to come by naturally in the dead of winter, though some deciduous trees and shrubs do offer bright red stems and twigs of deep purple to bright orange and red.

Primary color plants

Dwarf conifers and other colorful garden plants add emotionally uplifting color to the the garden.

This time, I want to share a beautiful combination of plants which represent the three primary colors. First, for my red selection, and frankly, this is probably more of a deep dark purple than red, but it serves my purposes here beautifully. Berberis thunbergii ‘Concord’ is a dwarf Japanese barberry with deeply rich, dark purple foliage and stems. The amazing color begins in spring as the tiny leaves appear and continues, without fading, through the hot summer months. Finally, in autumn, the red color becomes brighter until leaf drop when tiny red berries are revealed which may persist into winter.

I’ve mentioned many yellow conifers over the nearly five years that I have been sharing my gardening stories on this blog. Within the conifer world, there are a great number of yellow plants available, from low spreading ground covers, to tall narrow pillars of gold, to subtle butter-yellow highlights and even plants that push their new spring growth in bright yellow and then fade to dark green each year. Some of the brightest I mentioned in a recent post, and today I’ll feature Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’ because it is simply one of the purest and brightest yellow conifers readily available today and is suitable for growing in most regions of the USA.

Finally, when I need a go-to blue for garden design, I immediately think Blue Spruce. The first one that tends to come to my mind is Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ because it is a premium dwarf tree with reliable bright blue color, is much slower growing than its parent species and yet it will grow and fill in space with great blue color and traditional Colorado spruce form, while remaining perfectly scaled for smaller gardens. A maturing 25 to 30 year old tree may reach 10 to 15 feet tall rather than the 25 to 30 feet of its species parent.

When you plant groups of conifers, in combinations of these colors, with assorted shades of green, in a vast assortment of shapes, forms, textures and sizes, you can expect year-round garden interest and pleasure.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Kick it up… with color!

We had quite a little stretch of sunny and warm weather here in the Pacific Northwest, but for now we have returned to our normal May showers – thankfully, the temperatures have remained mild, so I believe the spring push of new growth will carry on without further delay. We did have almost two full weeks of very pleasant weather which encouraged my conifers (and the large Rhododendrons that border on edge of my property) to push their respective colorful new growth (and flowers in the case of the Rhodo’s).

The greens, blues and yellows are all fresher and brighter and cleaner looking as they become covered with a new coat of foliage. I’m not sure how it is, but this time of year, when the clouds fill the sky and the rain flows from a constant drizzle to a scattered light shower to a drenching downpour, all the colors in the conifer garden seem more alive. the blues of my assorted Picea pungens cultivars look vibrant alongside the deep reds of my Japanese maples and complement the intense color of my golden Juniperus and Chamaecyparis cultivars which are all dressed up in their bright yellow new foliage. Even the more common green conifers are brighter and happier looking while clothed in their new spring foliage.

Juniperus horizontalis 'Mother Lode'

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’ is a very low growing, spreading and flowing ground cover which will trail along the ground, over rocks and around hardscape features like a flowing river of gold.

One great feature of many conifers is that they push new growth a few times through the growing season giving waves of fresh new growth all season long. Others put their energy into one big push of new foliage and then slowly harden off through the summer months. Some become brighter or darker as the season progresses, others change color completely, beginning the new season with bright yellow growth that changes to dark green over a period of weeks or months. Right now, on this dark gray, rainy day, the most vibrant color in my garden is coming from three different spreading junipers.

Juniperus horizontalis 'Gold Strike'

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Gold Strike’ has brightly colored, soft textured foliage that mounds and spreads in the garden – a real color spot!

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’ is one of the brightest yellow, fine textured, flat to the ground growing conifers you may find. It has become a favorite in many gardens due to its cold hardiness and amazing, bright yellow foliage through spring and summer. As colder weather arrives during the autumn months, ‘Mother Lode’ will begin to exhibit tones of pink and orange as it remains a colorful feature all winter long.

Juniperus conferta 'All Gold'

Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’ has an amazing bright color that I suggest you be wearing sunglasses when you first encounter it in a garden!

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Gold Strike’ is a seedling selection from ‘Mother Lode’ and to my eye has a slightly deeper golden-yellow tone compared with the brighter lemon-yellow of ‘Mother Lode’. Although ‘Gold Strike’ is a low spreading form, it does tend to mound a little higher than its mother.

Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’ is a coarse textured ground cover with what may be the brightest and most intense yellow color I have ever seen in a plant growing in the full, hot summer sun. Of course, I cannot speak to how it may perform in your micro-climate, here in my garden, it is simply stunning!

By placing a few strategically placed bright color spots like the above mentioned plants, along with other assorted blue and green (and other yellow) conifers of various shapes and sizes, you could have the brightest and most colorful, low maintenance and easy-care garden in the neighborhood.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Lace and the bright light

I suggest that you find your sunglasses before you continue reading this post.

Ready?

I have a conifer on my wish list that is very possibly the brightest, the most intense yellow I have ever seen in a plant. So far, I have only seen small specimens – the largest is close to three feet tall – but I can imagine how this might look as a large tree. I have a feeling, when I do find one of these beauties, and it has grown in my garden for five to ten years, it may very well become my only outdoor light source – I really think it must generate its own light!

This new conifer was discovered in 1987 as a yellow sport growing on one of the Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Graciosa’ in the production fields at Iseli Nursery and has been given the name, ‘Sunlight Lace’. If you are familiar with the cultivar, ‘Graciosa’ and its characteristically lacy foliage, then you should be able to imagine the foliage of ‘Sunlight Lace’ with its wide, flat sprays of foliage that may remind you of intricate lace work found on a fine gown that your great-grandmother may have worn many years ago.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Sunlight Lace'

'Sunlight Lace' is a newcomer with great potential to be one of the finest yellow conifers in your garden. This specimen shows a hint of winter bronzing in the foliage. As temperatures warm, the bronze tint will disappear, leaving only the brightest yellow foliage you may have ever seen.

This small tree appears to grow at a rate of six to eight inches per year with an open, airy habit. It should grow into a medium-sized tree with a broadly pyramidal form, but with some annual pruning, it could be shaped and encouraged to grow with a more compact form for many years in the smaller garden. If acquired as a small plant, it would very likely be ideal for growing in a nice container on the deck or patio for many years before it would need to be transplanted into the garden.

The brightest, most intense color will be produced when grown in full sun, but the bright yellow and white foliage can be susceptible to sunburn, so growing where it will receive some afternoon shade would be a good idea. The specimen pictured here receives some direct sun, off and on throughout the day during the growing season, which seems to be growing in an ideal mix of sun and shade because it is a beautiful color with little to no sunburn whatsoever.

I can imagine this bright light glowing in my garden with a groundcover of the bright blue Picea pungens ‘Procumbens’ and other blue and green conifers planted nearby creating a garden space filled with dazzling year-round color. Plant this beauty near the deck or patio and I imagine that with just a little moonlight, it will be bright enough to read a book by at midnight.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Friendly fishing

“Conifers? Yeah, I learned about them in my science class years ago, they’re those sticky, prickly bushes that grow into huge trees. Why would I want to plant any of those things in my yard?” was the question coming from my new friend in line at the DMV.

“Oh… conifers are far more diverse and exciting than that.” I replied. “There are conifers that are as small as that paperweight on the counter over there, that can be grown for years in a container on your patio. Besides being very slow growing, they can be found in an assortment of colors, from the lemon yellow of Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Golden Sprite’, to the rich blue of Picea pungens ‘Lundeby’s Dwarf’, in shapes and sizes from a pincushion, to a wide spreading low carpet, to mid-sized sculptural forms, to giant trees.

I sensed that I was beginning to lose the subject of my coniferous proselytism, so I changed tactics.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Sprite'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Sprite' is an excellent choice for the rock garden, containers on the deck or patio, or in miniature theme gardens.

“I’ll bet your wife loves growing flowers in her garden, right?” He offered a slight nod and I continued, “She loves all that color during the spring and summer, and then I’ll bet you both look forward to dealing with all the dead brown debris in the late fall and winter as all those pretty flowers wither and die leaving you an unsightly yard with quite a lot of work to do to clean up that mess!”

“Huh – yeah, right!”

Picea pungens 'Lundeby's Dwarf'

Picea pungens 'Lundeby's Dwarf' is a tremendous dwarf blue conifer that will provide year-round color and never require pruning to maintain its small form.

“With dwarf and miniature conifers, you can enjoy all kinds of color and texture in your garden with almost no maintenance whatsoever. No pruning, no deadheading to encourage more flowers, no constant fertilizing to encourage more growth and blooms, and once established in your garden, very little additional irrigation. In fact, if you reduce your lawn to a few paths meandering through beds of conifers, your workload will drop and your water usage will plummet.”

“So, a conifer garden could actually save me money?”

The hook was set, now all I had to do is reel him in. In mere moments he was called to the counter and that was the last I saw of my new convert.

A conifer lover’s work is never done.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Golden autumn glow

If I were to wager a guess as to what color is the most striking  – the most eye-catching color of autumn, I would have to say it would be the bright scarlet, oranges and reds of the majority of trees in my local area. Having said that, today I want to point out some extraordinary fall-foliage plants whose primary color is yellow.

Cerciciphyllum japonicum 'Morioka Weeping'

This Cerciciphyllum japonicum 'Morioka Weeping' begins to glow in the early morning sun.

One of the first plants to catch my eye this morning, just as the sun was beginning to peak up over the distant hills was Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Morioka Weeping’. This deciduous, broad-leaved tree is covered with roundish, almost heart-shaped leaves. Right now, these normally green leaves are turning a deliciously warm shade of yellow with a hint of orange. I noticed yesterday how nicely the tree was coloring up, but this morning, as it was hit with that low sunrise, the tree began to glow in a spectacular way. Most of the garden remained in the darkness of early morning, hint of frost on the edges of my conifers, but this wonderful pendulous tree was lit up and beckoning to the other plants, “Wake up, it’s a beautiful day!”

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Gold Rush'

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Gold Rush' provides a stunning golden-yellow color from spring through fall

I finished my breakfast and continued to watch the show outside my picture window as the bright autumn sunrise steadily climbed and shot its spotlight on another golden deciduous tree – this time, a conifer. Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘Gold Rush’ is a dazzling golden conifer all year-round. It’s new growth emerges a soft yet very bright yellow and seems to become more intensely bright as the season progresses. Finally, with the cooler temperatures that autumn bring, the bright yellow foliage begins to exhibit a hint of red which gives the long branchlets and overall golden hue. Again, this color continues to intensify until all of the foliage drops to the ground, creating quite a colorful carpet of gold beneath the then, bare framework of the Golden Dawn Redwood.

Soon, my Larix, Taxodium and  Pseudolarix will also turn their assorted shades of golden-yellow and drop their needles in anticipation of our coming winter months. I look forward to the intense shots of color those deciduous conifers will provide while making way for more late season sunlight to fall into my garden with the absence of their foliar screens.

Ed-
Conifer Lover