You show me a sow’s ear, I’ll show you a silk purse

I have an itchy green thumb. It’s only February and yet, I can hardly wait to get out into my garden this year!

Jean Iseli Memorial Garden (Summer)

We have been in our place for about seven years and I still haven’t accomplished anywhere near the garden transformation that I had hoped for. So many other priorities have found their way into my life that they have been serious distractions to my garden accomplishments. Admittedly, I am certainly no longer in the “Spring Chicken” category in this journey through life and the effects of maturity on my flesh and bones do play a role in my success (or lack thereof) in the garden.

But THIS year is THE year – and I have some exciting new plants to find at my favorite local garden center.

One of those plants is one that I introduced here in this blog about five years ago:
Thuja occidentalis Primo® ’IslPrim’

Primo® Arborvitae (Summer)

There are many forms, colors, textures and growth rates to choose from within the family of plants commonly referred to as arborvitae, and Primo® is a very unique, slow-growing cultivar in that plant group. Growing just 1 to 2 inches per year, this little Thuja is not the common hedge plant that we see throughout our neighborhoods. Although, it could be very useful in that way in miniature gardens, such as railway gardens where dwarf and miniature plants are used to mimic larger trees in the scaled-down landscapes associated with the garden railway hobby.

Primo® is also a winner in the container garden on your deck or patio. It’s very slow growing, hardy and has an easy-going nature that makes it a winner for growing in containers. Like its larger cousins, Primo® responds well to pruning, and on such a small, slow-growing plant, it takes very little to encourage this beauty to remain a refined, small specimen.

Speaking of pruning, Primo® looks equally lovely when growing in a more natural-looking form with some irregular branching or, just as easily, one could choose to prune a bit more judiciously and encourage a very narrow, upright form to maintain a small garden footprint.

Primo® Arborvitae (Pruned)

Another amazing feature of Primo® is its seasonal color change. Even though I warn folks of its propensity to drastically change color from a very rich, fresh green to a plum-orange color as temperature drops in winter. More than once, when I have recommended this great little plant to folks, I would receive a phone call (or a knock at the door) from a terrified gardener who is convinced that their Primo® has suddenly died.

“No” I explain, “that is a feature—remember, I told you about this when we planted your containers.”

“Well, yes Ed, I do remember something about that, but I didn’t picture anything like this!”

Thuja occidentalis Primo® (Summer Color, Winter Color)

I think the key with some conifers that make extreme color changes in the winter is that they should be placed near companions that will accentuate and complement the winter “mahogany” color.

Believe me, I understand the shock. It is a little like listening to a nice cello concerto by Bach and then suddenly someone stops the music and plays just about anything by Art Bears! It can be quite a shock if you are not ready for it, even though, on its own, you see the merits of its peculiarity.

So, what plants might complement the winter plum-orange color of Primo®? I recommend going back to art basics and studying the color wheel (this is actually a very handy tool when planning any garden). A helpful color wheel may be found here.

Find the color of your plant on the wheel and then look around the wheel for what colors complement or contrast with that source color. Knowing that blue spruce hold their color very well through winter, and that blues and greens and even yellow-golds are contrasting to these complementary colors, the wheel can help you find plants with winter color in these hues to match up in the garden with the Primo® winter color.

I can only speak for myself, but I am getting excited about the coming gardening season!

Conifer Lover

The Return of the Living Ed

It’s true, I am alive and well. Rumors of my absence have been highly exaggerated.

As we all know, the past couple of years have been decidedly irregular, and this irregularity has certainly played a role in my absence. But, for now, I am back and excited to begin sharing about my favorite plants again!

I had an opportunity to visit my friends at Iseli Nursery a few days ago. It was one of those rare January days when the sun was shining and the howling east wind was but a whisper. Strolling through the amazing Jean Iseli Memorial Garden, after such a long absence, was invigorating and inspirational. My old contact at Iseli has since retired and I made a connection with the talented young man who has jumped in to fill his shoes.

He has been with Iseli for a number of years now and is bringing his creativity and photographic skills into good use. We met at the front door as I arrived and greeted each other with a “Covid friendly” fist bump, for safety. Strolling through the garden, he was excited to show me several new plants that have been under evaluation for some years and are nearly ready to release into the retail market. I am excited to begin to share with you some of those new introductions.

Jean Iseli Memorial Garden
Jean Iseli Memorial Garden – January 2022

In the meantime, there are a great many plants that will be reaching their destinations in retail garden centers across the USA and Canada this spring and summer. In the coming weeks and months, I will be sharing with you some of my favorites of these newer introductions as well as looking at some of the older selections that have been around for a number of years and are proving, through the test of time, to be truly exceptional plant selections.

With that out of the way, I will just say, “I’ll be back!”

Stay tuned!

Conifer Lover

Marching into the Holidays

We have survived the “creepy creepers” and were thankful for all of our many blessings and now winter is nigh upon us as we march into the holidays and prepare to begin a new year. This time of year is always fun (and at times, stressful). I am excited to collect some colorful foliage for my annual wreath and swag construction. Some of my favorite conifers are very well suited to provide colorful and delightfully scented foliage for these projects. If you are interested in growing lovely foliage for your own holiday decorating, then do read on.

Cupressus arizonica 'Aurea'
Cupressus arizonica ‘Aurea’

Nothing beats the rich dark green color and pleasant Christmassy scent of Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) for not only a Christmas tree, but also greens for decorating. I usually utilize our native Douglas Fir foliage as the base for my wreaths and swags. When I want something with similar foliar texture but with a little added zing, I’ll look to Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Blue’ and P. m. ‘Waggin Tails’.

Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Waggin Tails'
Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Waggin Tails’

P.m. ‘Waggin Tails’ has the same lovely scent as its parent, but its branchlets have a bit of a curve or twist which will add an interesting texture to holiday constructions. As its name implies, ‘Blue’ has bright blue foliage which complements the other colors in my wreaths. Both are tremendous additions to the garden when space allows.

Both Cupressus arizonica ‘Aurea’ and Cupressus arizonica ‘Blue Pyramid’ are amazing garden trees with brightly contrasting colors. The soft, and yet, intense yellow of ‘Aurea’ will add a brilliant focal point in your garden and a delightful color contrast to the greens and blues of other great conifers. ‘Blue Pyramid’ is a bright, light blue color, that again can make a remarkable garden focal point and a colorful contrast to darker greens in the typical holiday wreath. If your garden is large enough, I recommend both of these plants for year-round color in both your garden and your winter decorating.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Lutea'
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’

Several cultivars of Chamaecyparis obtusa are regulars on my wreath-making list. Two bright choices to add eye-catching color are Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’ and C.o. ‘Sunny Swirl’. ‘Nana Lutea’ is always a winner in my wreaths with its bright yellow, soft-textured foliage. It delights the eyes as it contrasts with the blues and green of other foliage choices. For a more subtle yellow color, but with the addition of a unique textural twist, I love to include C.o. ‘Sunny Swirl’ for its coarse, twisted and fasciated foliage.

Sometimes I will include Threadbranch Cypress as a filler for its wonderful contrast in foliar texture. Its coarse, wispy threads of foliage add a pleasing effect and, depending on cultivar choice, may also add contrasting color, as with the bright yellow of Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mop’ or C.p. ‘Boulevard’ for soft-textured, bluish foliage.

Pinus strobus 'Mini Twists'
Pinus strobus ‘Mini Twists’

I usually try to have the added, wintry scent of Pine in my holiday decorations, so I will include the bluish-green foliage of Pinus strobus (Eastern White Pine) or Pinus parviflora (Japanese White Pine) cultivars, both of which have 5-needle bundles so they add a definite softness to the design. From the longer needles of Pinus strobus ‘Macopin’ or ‘Pendula’ to the shorter needles of ‘Sea Urchin’ or ‘Mini Twists’, there is definitely an Eastern White Pine for the holidays. The Japanese White Pine offers generally shorter needle length, but a similar color and overall effect. P. parviflora ‘Bergman’ is an excellent choice for foliage density and a variegated form, such as, ‘Goldilocks’ or ‘Ogon Janome’ add softness and a splash of color.

Alright, it seems I have put together my list, now I need to get to work! I hope you will have some time to enjoy the relaxing art of holiday wreath-making or decorating in whatever style you desire.

Conifer Lover

Creeping Creepers

I love autumn. After the very long, dry and warm spring and summer of 2018, I am very thankful and encouraged by the recent transition to our cooler, misty, gray days and intermittent rain showers. We may only receive a week or two of relief from the dry weather. While the local weather soothsayer ensures that our autumn will return to dry and sunny conditions, this native born Oregonian is enjoying the cool, gray mist and the ground-soaking rain showers that we have received the past several days.

Pinus banksiana 'Schoodic'
Pinus banksiana ‘Schoodic’

Certainly one of my favorite aspects of the autumn season is all the delightful colors that our gardens and native trees begin to exhibit. Not far from my home, the local community college planted a long row of deciduous trees that explode into a widely varying array of bright red, yellow, burgundy, purple and orange. I believe the trees must have been a horticultural school experiment and we are now enjoying this delightful array of color from a batch of American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) seedlings propagated 30 to 40 years ago. The resulting seedlings were planted along one of the main – once rural – hi-ways, moving traffic North and South through this, now, growing urban setting.

Pinus sylvestris 'Albyn Prostrata'
Pinus sylvestris ‘Albyn Prostrata’

Along with the inevitable change of season and its invigorating color-show, comes the season of spooks and creepy stories of ghosts and ghouls and the downright fun of Halloween with children dressed in their favorite spooky costumes. It won’t be long and we will see scores of creeping creepers in the neighborhood, laughing their way from door to door as participating folks greet the kids with handfuls of delectable Treats to ward off the chance of some unfortunate Trick being played on them.

Pinus sylvestris 'Hillside Creeper'
Pinus sylvestris ‘Hillside Creeper’

Some of my favorite conifers just happen to be creeping creepers themselves.

A few very rugged and hardy creepers for the garden include the pines: Pinus banksiana ‘Schoodic’, Pinus sylvestris ‘Albyn Prostrata’ and Pinus sylvestris ‘Hillside Creeper’. These pines are hardy to Zones 2, 3 and 4 respectively and vary in color from rich green to shades of bluish-green. All three of these creeping selections are vigorous growers while being easy to maintain in a small garden space if needed. Growing low to the ground, they will each, very slowly, begin to mound in layers upon themselves, slowly gaining in height. Each will spread in the garden, flowing around rocks, garden ornaments or other plants with only the occasional pruning needed to help guide them on their way. If the gardener desires increased height, each of these selections respond well to being raised a foot or two (or three) upon a bamboo stake and then allowed to continue on their way. The creative gardener may choose to create waves with their creeping conifers for increased interest.

Other choice selections for adding hardy and colorful, ground-covering waves of creeping fun in the garden are:

Of course, I could add a bounty of creeping Junipers to this list, but I think those might be best reserved to a future post. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the creepy creepers creeping their way through your neighborhood in the near future and for those special colorful creepers at your local independent garden centers!

Conifer Lover

Some things are worth waiting for

First off, my apologies for my long absence. After a number of life-changing events,  I believe I have returned to the place where I may resume my humble addition to the gardening world.

In my absense, I find the world of gardening has not slowed down at all and there are a great number of exciting new plants that I will want to share with you here in my blog. Of course, there are new conifers to admire and covet, as well as further additions to the hardy Jack Frost® and Pacific Rim® maples to share.

This post, I find that I am driven to present a new dwarf Hinoki Cypress that was first introduced by my friends at Iseli Nursery a few years ago. I call it “new” since it is still relatively unknown and is certainly worthy of greater attention.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Thoweil'
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Thoweil’

Many gardeners are familiar with the standard Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) for its rich green color and somewhat feathery or lacy foliage. It can be grown as a stately single specimen or utilized in pairs or groups for a formal garden appeal. This Japanese forest tree became popular in western gardens well over one hundred years ago and has been the parent to thousands of dwarf, colorful and very unique new cultivars. Some of my very favorite dwarf conifers have their parentage in Chamaecyparis obtusa and were selected as unusual seedling offspring or witch’s broom mutations and then propagated, creating generations of identical clones with the special characteristics of their unique parents.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Thoweil’ was named by the late Ed Rezek, an east coast conifer aficionado, in honor of two Dutch plants-men, Thom Delange and Weil Linnsen, hence, “ThoWeil.”

With so many dwarf and unusual cultivars of Hinoki Cypress already in cultivation and in the trade, one may wonder why we would need another variation. This, of course, is a very valid point and something the creative minds at Iseli are always considering when they choose to produce a new plant. “What makes this one different or better than the many other selections already on the market?”

In the case of ‘Thoweil’, it fulfills a need in today’s gardens where other conifers simply do not. Many people love the look—the stately upright habit—of the standard Hinoki Cypress. It is a beautiful tree. These days, most of us simply do not have the room in our gardens to enjoy it in its peak of beauty, nor do we tend to have ancestors living in our same estate for generations to enjoy the trees that we plant (and certainly few have any idea what trees their great-grand parents may have planted – or even where they may have lived).

With ‘Thoweil’ and its slow, yet vigorous growth rate, not only may we enjoy a beautiful garden tree in our own lifetime, but we may enjoy the fact that it is scaled perfectly in our smaller, 21st century gardens. But that’s not all! ‘Thoweil’ has a growth habit that can be encouraged to grow as either a unique sculptural form, or as a formal form, with just a little directional pruning of branches when the tree is young.

Its rich, dark green, small, densely formed foliage fills out its branches covering the plant and filling in its space. Some branches may be allowed to grow outward in naturally erratic directions to bring the overall tree into a natural sculptural form. If desired, the erratic branches may be trimmed to encourage the tree into a narrow form. Either way, the tree is also a slow enough grower, that it could even be enjoyed on the deck or patio for many years in a decorative container.

At first look, the prospective gardener may think this is just another Hinoki, but when one looks beyond a first glance, one may see the beauty and real treasure that ‘Thoweil’ could be in today’s gardens.

Conifer Lover