Filling with foliage

Last time I briefly discussed the Thriller, Filler and Spiller concept of garden design and how I plan to use this basic technique to pre-design some spaces for whatever new garden I may have in the future. I am expecting to have a garden space very typical of today’s smaller gardens. By pre-designing some garden spaces, I will be able to mix and match as needed when I do find my new place. Being a gardening addict, and I need to stay hooked up any way I can!

I chose Picea omorika ‘Gotelli’s Weeping’ as my Thriller plant for this first space. I love its tall, majestic form, its sweeping, weeping branches and its shimmering bluish green foliage.  This time I will discuss a few candidates to use as fillers in the imaginary garden space. One thing is for sure, I will be using a Red Japanese Maple as a filler with this tree. Whether I choose a weeping type with finely dissected leaves or a more tree-like form with broader leaves, I will love space being filled with red foliage as a very nice complement to the color of ‘Gotelli’s Weeping’ plus, being deciduous, it will open up the space during the winter for a different view altogether. Choosing just the right cultivar may be the greatest challenge so far.

Richly colored foliage persists all season long on this popular Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’.

There are several factors that I will consider about the space when I do make my final decision and plant the trees. The size of the space will play a big role in determining which cultivar will be the best fit. I will also need to consider the existing light and how it might change over time with nearby trees already in place or on neighboring property.

One of the most popular red Japanese maples, ‘Bloodgood’ provides great color and fills in space very nicely.

If I have the space for a larger tree then Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ is at the top of my list. It is an old standard these days and is hard to beat for fantastic, rich, dark purple/red color that lasts all season long. During the winter, when the leaves have been shed, its dark purple branches add interest to the colder landscape.

This deep red filler keeps itself in nice form with its compact, oval shape.

Another favorite red foliage specimen is Acer palmatum ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’. This very well-mannered, small tree has a unique, compact habit that grows into a very nice oval shaped form. Like ‘Bloodgood’ its rich red foliage lasts all season. In autumn the red brightens to an intense scarlet. I may choose this one if space is somewhat limited.

Beautiful, softly colored leaves of Acer palmatum ‘Ukigumo’ can fill your space with floating clouds of foliage.

If the space is a little shady, I may choose the uniquely colored Acer palmatum ‘Ukigumo’.  With near white, pink and green variegated leaves it could be a Thriller itself. The softer color will complement the foliage of the Thriller nicely and will add a lot of interest because of its unusual variegation. Any shade it receives will help protect its more delicate foliage from sunburn during the summer.

The North Wind® Maple is a very hardy choice and a great looking tree!

One more Filler possibility should be a thrill for my friends in the colder regions. Acer x pseudosieboldianum North Wind® is an extremely hardy hybrid of Japanese and Korean maples that has been proven to thrive in some pretty nasty Zone 4 conditions! Fortunately for me, we do not get anywhere near that cold where I live, but this selection is more than just a tough guy, it’s gorgeous too! Soft reddish orange spring foliage turns green through the summer. Colorful red seed clusters and intense red and orange autumn foliage make for a long and exciting season of color and interest.

The autumn foliage of North Wind® is worth waiting for each year!

As I have been writing my thoughts, I have come to realize that there is no reason why I couldn’t choose both an upright tree form and a weeping lace-leaf form to use in this space. In fact, I suspect by the time I begin to consider plants for the Spillers, a nice lace-leaf Japanese maple will make it on the list. For now, I will need to contemplate other filler plants to use with the above maples in each of their unique, possible situations.

Stay tuned!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Weeping welcomed here

A few posts back I mentioned that I would be sharing some of my ideas for conifer groupings in my future garden. One of the primary features of any plant grouping is the “focal point.” This concept applies to large garden vistas, smaller viewing spaces and all the way down to container gardens. You have probably heard someone use the phrase, “thriller, filler and spiller” when talking about container garden design, and the same basic concept applies to the full-sized garden. Each of the plant groupings that I will share will incorporate this basic design concept in one way or another.

Picea omorika ‘Gotelli Weeping’ – This specimen “thriller” is a brilliant focal point in the garden.

One of my favorite larger “thriller” plants is a beautiful form of the Serbian Spruce. This cultivar was admired many years ago growing in the National Arboretum with the name, Picea omorika ‘Pendula’ and was propagated and sold for many years with that name. In 1979 a respected conifer enthusiast and grower gave it a distinct cultivar name because it appeared to have unique characteristics and it was believed to be important to keep clones of this distinct tree separate from the assorted other pendulous forms that had been marketed under the name ‘Pendula’. Unfortunately, it has taken many years for that name change to take place throughout the world of conifers (including conifer growers) so this magnificent cultivar may still be found in US garden centers under the name P.o. ‘Pendula’.

‘Gotelli Weeping’ is a large tree pushing out a foot or two of new leader growth per year, depending on its cultural conditions. The young graft I had in my past garden pushed 15 to 18 inches of terminal growth the last two years in my care. At the time of this writing, the specimen pictured here is over 22 feet tall. It was 12 feet tall when it was planted in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden in 2008.

I will plant ‘Gotelli Weeping’ as a specimen focal point and then add dwarf conifers, Japanese Maples and other ornamental plants to fill in space and add color and texture. “Spillers” in this case may be a combination of ground covering conifers, perennial plants and annual flowers. I my case, I expect that my future garden will be confined to a smaller suburban space, so I will want to plan carefully where I place any larger trees. When planting my ‘Gotelli Weeping’ I will want to provide ample space for it to grow large and to be viewed from all angles.

Next time I will discuss some of the “filler” plants that are high on my list to plant near this fine specimen.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

The thrill of spring!

After our unusually dry and mild winter, we have entered into the spring season with cooler temperatures, more clouds, more cold rain and even brief, scattered hail showers. We seem to be back to our “normal” now and many plants are beginning  to push a bit of their new growth. Most of the early Japanese Maples have flushed their first push of fresh colorful new growth. Along with this first push of foliage, we also see tiny, delicate looking flowers, many with bright red or burgundy bracts that are very showy in the green foliage types and almost invisible in the cultivars pushing red new growth.

Bright, fresh, new foliage may be observed to be accompanied by tiny, delicate looking flowers, by those who look closely.

The Ginkgos have pushed some new foliar growth as well, although not near as much as many of the maples. Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’ is a very nice dwarf selection and its very tiny, new, bright yellow-green leaves are just beginning to emerge from buds along golden-tan branches.

Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’ holds stray water droplets captive in its tiny, emerging spring foliage.

Picea bicolor (alcoquiana) ‘Howell’s Dwarf’ is in beautiful color right now as both the male and female cones are rich purple-pink in color and look gorgeous against the bi-colored foliage of this very attractive small tree. Growing as a wide spreading shrub when young, the small garden tree will eventually set a leader and grow into an upright form. Light green needles with their waxy striations give the plant its distinctive bi-colored look.

The amazing spring color display of Picea bicolor (alcoquiana) ‘Howell’s Dwarf’.

Another exciting selection with bi-colored foliage just beginning to emerge is the low, wide spreading Abies veitchii ‘Heddergott’. Like ‘Howell’s Dwarf’ this slow growing dwarf conifer will eventually begin to grow into a broad upright shape. Its light yellow-green foliage is coated on one side with a thick white wax which is very effective at reflecting light and makes this dwarf fir shine bright in the garden.

Swelling buds are just beginning to break with the emerging new foliage of Abies veitchii ‘Heddergott’.

Intense color that cannot be missed this time of year is when the Abies pinsapo ‘Aurea’ is clustered full of bright purple-pink male pollen cones against the yellow, short, thick, succulent needles on this large garden tree.

Clusters of richly colored pollen cones adorn the short, succulent, yellow-green needles of Abies pinsapo ‘Area’.

I also particularly enjoy the mature, dry cones of Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Waggin Tails’. This tree seems to set cone at a fairly young age and displays many cone clusters creating a delightful ornamentation to this already unique and appealing, slow growing form of Douglas fir.

Making me nostalgic for Christmas-time, the mature cones and foliage of Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Waggin Tails’ ornament the gardens beautifully.

What description of spring in the conifer garden would be complete without the reddish-pink new candle growth of Pinus parviflora ‘Tanima no yuki? The newly extending candles of future foliage are always a pleasing sight against the mature, creamy white and green variegated, fine textured foliage of this stunning dwarf Japanese White pine.

Always a favorite sight in the spring are the pink extending candles of Pinus parviflora ‘Tanima no yuki’.

Last on my list of early spring garden stunners are the nearly pure white, bottle-brush flowers of Fothergilla gardenii. This pleasing, small, broad-leaved plant begins its spring season covered with sweet smelling, delicate looking flower spikes. During the summer, its green foliage reminds me of Clark Kent, unassumingly doing their job before the Superman of autumn color explodes onto the scene with mighty shades of red, orange and purple.

The thrilling, white, bottle-brush flowers of Fothergilla gardenii are the first exciting feature of this multi-season plant.

Springtime is a refreshing time of renewal. I hope you have time to stroll through your gardens and be enthralled and energized by all of the activity going on there, wherever you are.

Ed-
Conifer lover

The garden of my dreams – in my dreams

I have been thinking about plant combinations. Now that I have the clean slate of my imagination without the constraints of an actual garden space, I have been enjoying creating the garden of my dreams – in my dreams. With all my years growing conifers of all types, sizes, shapes, colors and textures, I am drawing upon that experience in an attempt to design small garden vignettes which I will be able to utilize in my new garden – wherever it may be.

Pulling from my mind’s database of somewhat commonly available garden conifers (and other exciting garden plants) and utilizing the vast amount of information available through the internet, my goal is to create versatile combinations of plants that will work together well in an assortment of planting space sizes and shapes. The emphasis of my designs will be pleasing combinations of characteristics and growth rates, so that the plants will complement and flow together whether in a longer, linear bed or a wider, rounder space. Of course once I decide on the most important plants that I want to ensure I include in these garden vignettes, I can explore the many possibilities for filler plants, ground covers and even <gasp> flowering perennials, trees and shrubs.

 

‘Confucius’ is a beacon of bright, beautiful, year-round color in the garden.

I like to design with bold colors so that my gardens are filled with interest and excitement all year long. Dwarf and miniature conifers are available in a vast assortment of vibrant yellows, golds and blues with shades of green from very dark to very bright and some even exhibit a variegated combination of color. Along with the wide range of color choices are also variations in texture that affect the garden nearly as much as strong color statements. Compact, small-needled plants with many small branches held tightly can provide a dense, fine texture. Plants with longer, wispy needles covering long branches obviously give on open, airy feel to the garden.

There are literally thousands of conifer cultivars which supply my garden design dreams and imagination with all kinds of excitement. My goal is to begin by limiting myself to readily available cultivars. Once I actually have a new place to grow a garden, I can become more serious about tracking down some of the more rare conifers that have limited availability, and those that may only be available through other conifer enthusiasts and collectors.

One tree I believe will be a very wise choice to include in my future garden is Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Confucius’. I may have described this premium, golden yellow Hinoki Cypress in the past, but it is well worth mentioning again today. As an intermediate grower ‘Confucius’ puts out an average of 6 to 10 inches of new terminal growth per year. Lush, bright yellow foliage covers irregular branches and darkens to golden hues as it matures. Interior foliage, with less sun exposure, is lighter yellow green graduating to darker green the farther into the interior of the tree one looks. The gardener may choose to allow its irregular branching to dominate or, with a little pruning, a more symmetrical habit can be encouraged. In time, ‘Confucius’ will become a very prominent specimen and should be placed where its bright color will draw attention to, and complement other garden plants.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Enter the Cobra

Sometimes I crack myself up. Seriously. Sometimes my first impression of a new plant is so poor that I roll my eyes and wonder why anyone would propagate the darned thing, let alone in large enough numbers to market it across the continent. What makes me laugh at myself, is that more often than not, those plants that I initially had such a strong negative reaction to, later become among my favorite of all plants. Several years ago I mentioned Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ as being a plant just like this. My initial response was not one of jubilation, but as I wrote in that blog post, ‘Acrocona’ has become one of my all-time favorite conifers!

Enter the Cobra.

This Picea abies ‘Cobra’ began its life as an odd looking, long single stick covered in green needles. Today it is full of lush foliage, and because of its culture, makes a unique focal point and an excellent ground cover.

The first time I cast my eyes upon this plant, Picea abies ‘Cobra’, it was a fairly young graft. It appeared to be essentially a fat stick covered with dark green needles and a few brownish-tan buds—absent of any side branches at all. It had been trained to grow up a bamboo stake to a height of almost five feet (in just 3 or 4 years). I simply could not imagine the appeal of such an oddity. I am definitely a fan of many unusual looking conifers, but this one, trained straight up the stake, without any side branches, just seemed to be past my point of appreciation.

A few years later I happened upon this very same conifer, in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden and it had been transformed. Once its terminal growth reached the top of its supporting stake, it curved and then headed right down to the ground. I also noticed that those few lateral buds I had seen on my initial observation had sprouted new, vigorous lateral branches, which followed the example of the terminal, and swept outward and down, weeping to the ground. Many other new buds had formed and the plant had begun to fill out in a most spectacular way.

Today, some 15 years later, the plant has filled out with loads of sweeping, weeping branches, flopping and flowing to the ground where they lay prostrate and layer themselves into a most excellent ground cover. Overall the effect is quite stunning and this particular conifer has become one of my very favorite of the Weeping Norway spruce cultivars available today from independent garden centers around the world.

If your initial encounter with ‘Cobra’ reminds you of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, go ahead and take it home to your garden, in just a few years I think it will become one of your all-time favorites too!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Dreaming of spring

In my corner of the Pacific Northwest, we have enjoyed some of the most pleasing spring-like weather for several days in a row – which seems terribly unfair since I know many of my friends are in a wintry deep-freeze right now. Today I thought I would share some beautiful spring-time garden photos hopefully easing the winter blues some of you may be struggling with and to inspire all of us to get out into our gardens as soon as weather permits. In my case, the weather forecasters see an end to our pleasant, sunny days and a return to our cold, gray rain – which suits me just fine, it is only February after all. Who knows, we may even see snow showers mixed with our rain in the local area throughout the month of March keeping us in winter dormancy a little longer!

This Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’ is an early one to leaf out and is among the first to announce that spring is here! I expect to see this a site like this by early April.

Even before their new growth in the spring, the dwarf conifers in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden are vibrant and full of life. You can see leaves just beginning to emerge on the tall Laceleaf Japanese Maples in the background.

By late April or early May, the garden is really coming to life! Conifers are showing new growth, maples have leafed out, flowers are full of color – the spring air smells so goooood!

Lush new growth on the spring-time conifers is so fresh and colorful – The Jean Iseli Memorial Garden is inspirational!

By early June, all the plants in the garden are lush, and just being in their presence evokes feelings of peace and happiness.

Ahhhh… spring-time, with all its warmth and new life – it really is something to look forward to this time of year!

Hang on folks – especially my friends in the current deep freeze which is covering so much of the North American continent – spring really is coming!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Leaving the past, pondering the future

An amazing single specimen, I’d like to plant several Picea glauca ‘Pendula’ in a mixed plant hedgerow.

Ordinarily this time of year, when the cold east wind blows or the cold gray rains fall in a steady flow from the sky, I find myself in my favorite chair near the woodstove, enjoying my garden from the view of the large picture window. This year, I have been busily moving to a new temporary home which has also forced me to spend some time with my containers, carefully transporting them to a new location. As I am moving and loading and unloading these many coniferous friends, I find myself thinking about what has been, and more importantly, what is to come. I have been making a mental list of what dwarf conifers I currently have to begin my new garden, and I am making a list of those conifers I will definitely want to replace one day when I have a place to begin to dig in the soil again.

Over the years I have had an opportunity to select a number of very unique dwarf and miniature conifer seedlings which are coming with me. These are real treasures to me since I selected them many years ago and have nurtured them along the way, carefully monitoring their needs and evaluating their unique traits. Other plants in my collection of containers are less rare but still of great value to me. The past several years I was able to increase my conifer collection through the propagation process of winter grafting. My small hobby greenhouse was perfectly suited for the task and I had great success adding to my collection and making new plants to give away to friends.

Taking mental inventory of my containerized conifer collection, I realize that I will have a good beginning when I find a place to create a garden once again. Some of my favorites are conifers that I think everyone should have in their garden. For example, most any garden has space for Picea glauca ‘Pendula’. This very tall growing conifer remains very narrow and even after thirty years or more in the garden, it may attain 30 feet in height, but will have a diameter of only about six feet where it meets the ground. I absolutely love the way it looks like a giant tapered candle with wax dribbling down its sides. I would love to plant three to five of these spaced with about 15 to 20 feet between them in a hedge row. I would then fill in the spaces with other conifers to create a multi-level, multi-colored and textured garden wall.

Very slow growing, Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’ is a colorful miniature conifer for small spaces.

On the other end of the scale, Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’ is a very slow growing conifer of equal favor. This small, mounding spruce has tiny golden-yellow needles covering its short, stiff, twiggy branches. This one I will want to protect from the intense afternoon summer sun, but for its best color I will want to place it where it will receive many hours of sunlight. I will plan to place this with other miniature conifers in a special location where I can prominently display the appealing features of these small-scale plants.

The spring flush of new grow on Picea pungens ‘Niemetz’ is a real attention grabber!

One last spruce to mention this time is Picea pungens ‘Niemetz’. This one begins somewhat slowly, but once established, it can grow into a full-sized Colorado spruce tree. Its amazing feature is its stunning color. When it begins to push its new growth in spring, the color is bright butter-cream which shines brightly against its older gray-blue foliage. Over the months, as spring transitions into summer, the creamy color fades to a very soft blue and eventually hardens to the light gray-blue of autumn and winter. I will want to place this tree where it can be a showpiece in the spring and summer while keeping in mind that it will probably need to be a background tree due to its ultimate size.

As the perspiration runs down the side of my face, and with memories of a garden gone by, I have exciting times to ponder with the possibility of new gardens yet to grow.

Ed-
Conifer Lover