Back to the garden!

My goodness, we have been in the midst of quite a few frozen weeks of winter! I know my friends from the Midwest and further east will roll their eyes at me, but we have had several weeks of freezing temperatures – in a row! This rarely happens in my little corner of the Pacific Northwest, and although I love a nice, fluffy snowstorm, I am very glad that we are past the weeks of below freezing temperatures and all the freezing rain (and snow). Today we are supposed to jump up to a high temp. in the mid-40s!

“I prefer to give this beauty an annual shearing, like my neighbor does her sheep—but without all the kicking, baying and ticks.”

You would think being nearly ice-bound for a couple of weeks would have given me plenty of time to make a blog post, but, somehow, I am just now in the right mindset to think about gardening again – and I am soooo ready for spring!

This young Tsuga canadensis 'Gentsch White' has had very little shearing and is showing more of its natural, open habit.
This young Tsuga canadensis ‘Gentsch White’ has had very little shearing and is showing more of its natural, open habit. This plant is showing its beautiful white foliage near the end of the growing season.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a very lovely dwarf Canadian hemlock lately. I have added this plant to several gardens that I have grown, designed or consulted on over the years and it is one I will definitely find a place for in my new garden.

Tsuga canadensis ‘Gentsch White’ is a very bushy dwarf hemlock with long thin branches that are lined with small, flat, blunt needles. The new foliage, as it emerges, is a very bright, creamy white – sometimes with a light pinkish highlight until it hardens off. As the season progresses, older foliage fades to green, which adds to the beautiful effect of this colorful conifer. In time, and when left to grow naturally, ‘Gentsch White’ will develop into quite a large, rounded, shrubby bush. Very easy to shear, I prefer to give this beauty an annual shearing, like my neighbor does her sheep—but without all the kicking, baying and ticks. With an annual shearing, ‘Gentsch White’ is easily maintained in a manageable size for the garden and its colorful effect is enhanced as the shearing encourages a fuller form for all of that white variegated foliage.

This specimen several years older than the above and has received an annual shearing for many years. This photo shows a plant several weeks after its annual spring shearing,
This specimen is several years older than the previous photo and has received an annual shearing for many years. This photo shows the plant several weeks after its annual spring shearing.

I have seen smaller plants, maintained for many years by shearing, and I have seen very large plants that may have been sheared when young, but had not been for many years before I witnessed them. If one has the garden space, in an informal, natural-type garden, one may enjoy allowing ‘Gentsch White’ to simply do its own thing. Those larger specimens were still very impressive and looked great and added beauty to the gardens in which they were growing. For me (and I think most folks with smaller gardens) the few minutes it takes to shear and clean-up is well worth the effort to grow and maintain this wonderful conifer in the smaller, urban garden.

Tsuga canadensis ‘Gentsch White’ has been in the marketplace for decades, and remains a popular garden plant, so you should not have any trouble finding one at your favorite independent garden center.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Colorful conifers for good health and well-being

We have just recently returned to Pacific Standard Time with our clocks falling back an hour, and even though I have allegedly gained an hour of sleep, I am already feeling the effect of shorter daylight hours. I love the summer when the sun usually wakes me up around 5:30am and finally puts me to rest after 9:30pm. Those long, bright days are truly energizing. Our recent Fall Back, hit me like a ton of topsoil and I’ve been dragging through the past couple of days.

Then, today it hit me—it’s time to start making plans for holiday decorating!

I love to make wreaths, and my wife loves hanging them both indoors and out! We recently made some major progress in organizing our garage which resulted in my having a place for my, “You’re not going to make a mess in my house” projects like holiday wreath making, candle making, whittling and carving. That is perfectly okay with me, now that I have a nice warm space to work on my projects.

wreath
Here is one wreath I crafted in 2015. I am so looking forward to getting started this season!

One of my first projects will certainly be making wreaths for the holiday season. Conifers are perfect for this craft because of their very wide-ranging assortment of foliage colors, textures, and even their scents. One of the comments I hear when folks visit during the holidays is how fresh and “Christmasy” the house smells. I’m certain that conifers play a big role in those comments (as well as my wife’s “Swill” she has warming on the stove through the holidays).

I love to create my wreaths with an assortment of conifer foliage. I will often begin with something simple like our native, dark green, Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas Fir) or the glossy green sprays of Thuja plicata (Western Red Cedar) or Calocedrus decurrens (Incense Cedar). As I work my way around the wreath, the real fun begins as I begin to include other complimentary and/or contrasting color elements.

wreathfoliage
Just a small sample of some of the foliage I prepared for my wreath-making in 2015. Now that I’ll have a larger workspace, I hope to make several new wreaths this holiday season!

For bright powder blue color, I love to use Cupressus glabra ‘Blue Pyramid’ or a splash of Picea pungens ‘Hoopsi’ . When I want to add a flash of bright yellow, I love to use Cupressus glabra ‘Aurea’, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’ or C. pisifera ‘Golden Mop’. Of course each of these selections add their own unique texture and aromatic presence to the piece. Variegated conifers such as Juniperus chinensis ‘Torulosa Variegata’ or C. ob.‘Snowkist’ add a delightful zing as well. For a softer texture, Pinus strobus ‘Macopin’, P. s. ‘Louie’ and the variegated Pinus parviflora ‘Ogon Janome’ are delightful choices.

If you have never made your own wreath before, I want to encourage you to take the time. It is a very fun and relaxing (even meditative) project that yields tons of smiles and happiness in those who visit. I always make several and give a few away to neighbors and loved ones. It’s always fun to spread the cheer!

Yes, now that I have fresh new wreath-making ideas flowing, my back seems to hurt a little less and I seem to have a spring to my step that has been missing for several days. Thanks to the therapeutic power of conifers!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Happy November!

happynovemeber-2016My goodness, how time has flown by this year! So much to do, so little time to complete it all. Sometimes I need to remember to sit back, relax and enjoy the beautiful life I have all around me.

We are already in the fall of the year. Time has brought us round to where things seem to slow down (at least for a little while) if for no other reason than the old bones just move more slowly as cold temperatures and gray rains replace the warmth and life-giving spring and summer months.

I hope you are all enjoying what you can of the amazing transformation going on, as trees become a blaze of color, and leaves fall to cover the ground in colorful carpets. Soon, around my area, we’ll have many more hours of darkness than light and the light we do get will mostly be dimmed by the thick cover of clouds and rain. I look forward to the surprise, energizing days when the sun does manage to shine in the coming winter months and I can putter around out in the new, developing garden.

In the mean time, I’ll be considering all kinds of new conifers to include in my garden. When I come across something exciting, I’ll be sure to share it with you on these pages.

Stay warm!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

 

Slow and steady as she goes

This summer has been one of the most consistently wonderful weather-wise in my memory. I do have faint memories of when I was a young fella, swimming almost daily in our neighbor’s pool from at least early July through the Labor Day weekend – and that was way back in the early 1960s. I didn’t care much for the cold water of an unheated pool, so at least one summer, way back when, must have been similar to this year with day after day of sunny and warm weather.

Summer-Garden-82016_5008
Even a small garden space has room for a path through beds filled with dwarf conifers and other exciting plants.

Our spring began on time this year and we have enjoyed bumper crops in our raised bed vegetable garden. I’ll even be harvesting a water melon soon (which is very rare in this area – at least for me)! With great crops of peas, beans, cucumbers, lettuce, basil and tomatoes, we have enjoyed heart-healthy eating all summer.

Our deck is alive with over 30 dwarf conifer and flower-filled containers. These warm summer evenings have been enjoyed snuggled with my beloved wife as we have listened to frogs, crickets and the occasional coyote serenade the otherwise quiet evenings, gazing at the stars or reading our books.

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A beautiful way to fill a corner with tons of color and excitement!

New construction of the larger garden has been very slow this season and I have achieved far less than I had hoped early on. But, life happens and I have found it to be much less stressful to go with the flow of what life presents to you rather than insist on being the one in control. Steadily working through the challenges as they arise, we have made some strides in achieving our garden transforming goals. Not rushing into some of my landscape projects has allowed me to get to know the property a little more and I have made adjustments to my original plans.

Summer-Garden-82016_5588
Wouldn’t this be a great view right off your back patio or deck? Who needs lawn grass? It’s just something you have to mow and water all summer long!

In the meantime, we have enjoyed visiting other gardens and absorbed all kinds of ideas and inspiration to apply to our new garden space. Please enjoy these inspirational photos from the display gardens at Iseli Nursery!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Not your mama’s hedgerow

Over my years of gardening, I have been inspired by all different kinds of tremendous garden designs. Many have had a lasting impact on me, while others have faded away like so many memories do over time. I love large garden spaces that present the opportunity to create smaller, more intimate garden rooms to enjoy while strolling through the garden or when available, being able to stop and dwell in a “private” space which is enclosed by all kinds of plants. I try to keep mental notes of those inspirational settings so that I can draw from them to implement similar concepts in the gardens I design.

Picea-abies-Pendula-screen
Picea abies ‘Pendula’ may be easily trained to provide an excellent, low-maintenance screen.

When we arrived at our little lot, the 30 year-old fence showed signs of haphazard repair, barely helping the fence to stand and with the first big windstorm, down came sections that had not yet been patched together. Fortunately, we were prepared and had already scheduled the old, rotting fence to be removed and an nice chain-link fence to be put in its place. Of course we lost any privacy the old fence provided, but my strategy is to utilize a number of great conifers (and other exciting plants) to create natural screening that will grow and eventually offer complete privacy to our back-yard space.

Picea-pungens-The-Blues
Picea pungens ‘The Blues’ is pliable when young and can be trained for height, breadth or however you might desire.

To achieve this goal, I have an overall strategy that will utilize a number of different selections, planted in layers, beginning near the fence and then working inward toward areas that will feature smaller, more ornamental plants, vegetables and herbs. I have already planned the placement of “rooms” that will be considered more private than others and will require planting combinations that will fill in quickly to provide the desired screening effect as soon as possible.

My first strategy is to plant an initial layer that will block eye-level views into our garden from the adjacent city park. My desire is that this outer layer will be as low-maintenance as possible. I have no desire to spend the final years of my life shearing large hedges to contain them and keep them looking tidy. I’ll be using a combination of groups of weeping conifers for this Fence Layer of the screen.

Thuja-occidentalis-Jantar
The super bright color of Thuja occidentalis ‘Jantar’ can brighten most any space.

Picea abies ‘Pendula’ can be commonly found in many garden centers around the USA. What I love about using this selection as a screen is that it has a perfect curtain-like effect. Similar to the example photo above from the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden, I’ll be staking my plants to a height of about seven feet, along my five foot chain-link fence. As the trees grow, I’ll spread side branches along the top of the fence and their lateral branches will fall and eventually cover the fence from tree to tree. I will also take side branches at about the six foot mark and train them loosely from tree to tree for a softly sweeping effect. At the top, once I no longer train the central leader up the stake, it will simply flop over creating a rounded top. Planting several of these in a line along the fence will create a very attractive, first level of screening.

Tsuga-heterophylla-Thorsens-Weeping
A finer textured option for garden screening, Tsuga heterophylla ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’ may be trained along fence or even to cover a gazebo to provide privacy and shade.

I don’t intend to simply plant a row of Weeping Norway spruce along the entire length of my fence – that would be terribly monotonous. My plan is to use the same technique with conifers of different colors or textures depending on what “room” of the garden they are screening. In a more shaded area, I’ll use the shade tolerant, Tsuga heterophylla ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’ with very much the same technique of training. To brighten a smaller space, I may use Picea pungens ‘The Blues’, which has a very similar growth habit but its bright silvery, powder blue color will reflect light. To really brighten a space, a hedge of Thuja occidentalis ‘Jantar’PP#22296 could be used. I may plant a row along the north side of my vegetable garden to reflect more light into the space for those sun-loving plants.

Remember, the weeping plants I’ve mentioned today are just the first layer of screening that I will be using in my new garden. I’ll also consider mixing a row of a combination of these plants (or others) for a beautiful non-conventional screen. Imagine the color of ‘Jantar’ placed between a pair of ‘The Blues’ and continuing that effect for 30 feet or more. Stay tuned to learn more of my strategy to screen my garden for privacy – and for fun!

Ed-
Conifer Lover