Slow enough to win the race

Recently, I had a conversation with one of my old conifer-loving buddies from the Midwest. It didn’t take us very long, after solving most of the world’s problems, to begin discussing our favorite plants. Because he resides in a region known for its bitterly cold winters, our conversation naturally became focused on the garden conifers that are very hardy and reliable.

In my last post, I reintroduced the TRUdwarf® line of dwarf mugo pines, which are grown by my old pals at Iseli Nursery. During this conversation with my friend, we focused on ‘Slowmound’, the cultivar that introduced this collection.   

Pinus Mugo ‘Slowmound’ grows 4’H x 6’W at a rate of 3-6″/year, and is hardy to zone 2.

Pinus mugo ‘Slowmound’ has attributes that not only make it a winner in the frigid, arctic winters often experienced throughout the Midwest, but also in more temperate regions, like the Pacific Northwest, where I garden.

As I was talking with my friend, I thought it was very interesting that the first word he used to describe ‘Slowmound’ was “tough.” As we talked, he emphasized that it is “nearly indestructible,” and that it was almost a “plant it and forget it” kind of pine for the lazy or very busy gardener. ‘Slowmound’ has proven to be very drought resistant as well once established in the garden. All the TRUdwarf® mugo pines are drought resistant, and they may only need a deep soaking of water every two weeks during a summer hot spell or even if there is an occasional rain shower.

The deep green color of ‘Slowmound’ lasts throughout the year and persists despite heat, cold, and drought.

Another observation he has made over the past twenty years or so is that the TRUdwarf® pines are very deer resistant. He’s never experienced any deer damage with ‘Slowmound’. Of course, one must consider that during the harsh winter conditions in which deer may enter the garden to search for food, the low-growing forms are likely covered in snow, making them less of a food-source target.

Overall, the dwarf mugo pine cultivars within the TRUdwarf® collection by Iseli Nursery, have proven over time to be extremely reliable in their growth rate and habit, as well as being “tough as nails.”

Stay tuned. Next time I will take us on a journey to the valley….

Conifer Lover

Baby, it’s cold outside!

Here we are, the end of May, and I have a fun holiday song playing through my head. It got me thinking. I live in the fairly mild Pacific Northwest, where the skies tend to be mild, drippy, and cloudy all day. One of my old friends lives in the Midwest—and he knows COLD!

I have tried to imagine myself living in other regions of the USA. Some places are typically too hot, while others are too cold—and some places are both—on the same day! My midwestern friend assures me that he is able to grow some pretty amazing conifers in his more “challenging” climate.

One of the greatest challenges of growing conifers is understanding plant hardiness. We are fairly mild here in our Zone 7/8 area, so we can grow most anything. My midwestern friend has had winter temperatures dropping into Zone 2 territory (which is super cold) and he has had great gardening success because he has chosen to use very hardy conifers in his garden.

Some of the hardiest and easiest to manage conifers are cultivars in the group Pinus mugo. My friends over at Iseli Nursery have spent a few decades growing, observing, and hardiness testing selected new cultivars of this plant group. They call this very special collection of premium, slow-growing, super-hardy plants TRUdwarf®. An extra bonus with these plants is that you aren’t required to live in some Arctic tundra to grow and enjoy them in your own garden. Adaptable dwarf and miniature Mugo Pines are suitable for many regions around the world, hot or cold.

The neat and tidy pines in the TRUdwarf® collection consistently look great and perform well. Many “Mugho Pine” plants that you may find at the big box stores are seed grown plants that can be very inconsistent in their growth rate and habit. If you were to buy ten of these plants and observe them for a few years, you would find some distinct variation between them. Some will grow fast and open, while others might be more compact. Some could have a good green color year-round, but others might turn yellowish during the winter months.

One of the beauties of TRUdwarf® Mugo Pines is consistency. Named cultivars within the TRUdwarf® collection are all propagated asexually from rooted cuttings or grafts to ensure accuracy and consistency, so you will always know what to expect when buying TRUdwarf® plants from your quality, independent garden centers.

Over the next few posts, I will talk about some of my favorite dwarf and miniature Mugo Pines, and my experience with them in my garden and patio container plantings.

Stay tuned.

Conifer Lover

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