Autumn—So much life to live!

I love autumn.

More than any other time of year, I believe that autumn fills me with a consistent flow of peace, joy, happiness and anticipation. Even after having given this phenomenon a great deal of thought over many years, I still cannot explain it. Best just to accept and enjoy it, I think.

The other morning, just before sunrise, I stepped out onto my second story deck to breathe in the air of the new day and allow my mind to become stimulated by the sights, sounds and smells of that autumn morning. The deck was damp from the overnight rain, but I could see enough hint of light from the dissipating clouds in the sky above me that it appeared we would, at least for a little while, enjoy a break from the recent refreshing showers. The garden space, but a place of dreams at this time, was ensconced in a misty fog where I imagined maturing conifers filling beds, yet to be dug.

‘Chief Joseph’ begins his colorful show as daylight hours become shorter – usually, by mid to late October here in my corner of the PNW. As temperatures drop, his color becomes more and more intense through the winter months.

I breathed in very deeply, the misty air, and enjoyed the faint smoky-sweet scent of a neighbor’s wood-stove, while the hum of another neighbor’s heat pump reminded me that summer was truly, finally over. Sounds of far off traffic purred as commuters were busy about their morning routines and children talking and laughing at the nearby bus-stop reminded me of the special appointment I had that morning.

By the time I arrived at the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden, the sun had made its way above the neighboring stand of tall Douglas fir trees and gave the garden a very special morning glow. Light glistened off of the remaining rain drops which still clung to branches creating a spectacular sparkle to the garden as I made my approach up the long driveway which leads to this very special place.

Thankful for my long association with the folks at Iseli, allowing me my treasured visits to the display gardens; I climbed out of my truck and made my way in to the office to check in. Once I was welcomed, and set on my way to stroll the garden paths, I quickly began the inspiration absorption process.

Thankful for my long association with the folks at Iseli, which allows me my treasured visits to the display gardens…

So much to see there—I do believe I see something new with each visit. Being that I have had some input on the garden design over the years, it is particularly encouraging to see how specific trees and viewing vistas have matured over the 30 years since the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden was first planted. Seeing changes through the years and making note of what design and plant combinations worked and which ones didn’t has always been very helpful to me in making planting choices in my own gardens over those same 30 years. Now that I am in the early planning stage of creating a new garden, I am excited to draw on all those lessons.

One tree that consistently gives me a charge this time of year is Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’. I have mentioned this delightful, slow-growing tree over the years and it never fails to inspire admiration from most all who see it. Although photos of the tree are very nice, there is something very special about seeing this exciting tree, in person, in a beautiful garden setting.

As I stood, admiring the beauty of the large specimen planted at Iseli, my mind took me immediately back to that morning as I stood upon my deck, overlooking the small, foggy garden space. I imagined where I might place the good Chief in my new garden so that it would stand out through the autumn and winter months and yet be able to fade into the background during the spring and summer when it takes its rest and re-energizes itself during its light green color-stage.

Autumn, a season with so much to experience, so much life to live, I love it!

Conifer Lover

A new garden and a new perspective

For those of you who have been following my gardening adventures for some time, you will be pleased to learn that I officially have a new bit of soil in which to dig my spade, enrich with compost and transform from rather dull to a garden full of life. This new place, although a fairly blank canvas to work with, is not without its challenges and its blessings!

Looking to the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden for inspiration in creating my own new garden space.

First of all, it is a much smaller plot to work with – the smallest I believe I have ever had the pleasure to be a caretaker. Being a small space is actually very good since as I age I am finding it is becoming more difficult to care for larger spaces, and even though my last place was only about an acre, it was becoming a challenge for me to maintain. Having a more contemporary sized city lot will be far easier to construct and maintain a new garden. Being adjacent to a city park and public green-space makes my small garden feel larger and I can utilize the neighboring open view as I plan my new garden space to make my small lot feel larger.

My back yard slopes away from the house toward the green-space and a large stand of native Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir) and Thuja plicata (western red cedar) and Acer circinatum (vine maple) so I have a wonderful background for my new space. Since I do love our native large trees, I will be planting a back corner with a few Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedar seedlings found growing in my dear auntie’s acreage. My uncle was so pleased that I wanted a few of the plants he had transplanted from their veggie garden space into pots a year ago. I am excited for these young trees to become established in a particularly challenging back corner which will help the transition from my garden to the surrounding, neighboring background native trees.

My overall goal is to reduce grassy lawn space and increase border beds with space for lots of dwarf conifers, Japanese maples and other exciting small trees and shrubs, perennials and herbs. I also need to install some raised beds for vegetables.

Possibly the biggest challenge will be the rock filled soil since this area is part of what was an ancient river bed. I have already dug a few bowling ball sized stones out of the way. I tend to see these rocks less as an annoyance and more as free landscape materials – to think, some people actually spend money to place these same kinds of stones into their gardens. I will be harvesting my own landscape ornaments while I make room for plants to stretch out their root systems.

As I begin clearing out brambles and other unwanted vines and weeds, I am beginning to imagine planting some of the very plants that I have been describing right here in the blog over the past several months. There is a lot of work ahead, and a lot of great exercise which will please my wife and health-care practitioners. Of course with the tremendous increase in calorie burning all this hard work will induce, I may also need to make a visit to my personal baker to ensure I have plenty of energy to burn.

Stay tuned, my gardening friends, more new gardening stories to come!

Conifer Lover

Spiller fillers

Part of my excitement, as I reach the final segment in my series on the Thriller, Filler and Spiller technique of garden design, is that I will be able to put these ideas into actual practice very soon! If you have been following my blog for some time, you’ll remember that I came to a place in my life when I needed to leave my garden of many years. The good news is that I have found a new place to make a garden, and if all goes well, I should hope to remain here, developing this new garden for many, many years. I will begin with a nearly clean slate of just a few existing plants and small trees, so I am very excited to start the planning and planting of this new space.

Picea abies ‘Formanek’ is a somewhat slow growing Spiller that will cover ground and spill over rocks or walls.

Today, I will remain focused on concluding my current series of garden design posts with some of my favorite coniferous Spillers (which actually make wonderful fillers, just in a lower profile than the filler plants discussed earlier). Spiller conifers are available in as many colors and textures as all of the plants I have discussed over the years but they have the genetic propensity to sprawl along the ground, without the strength to grow on their own with upward growth. If one were so inclined, one might choose to train any of these Spiller plants on a stake or other framework to gain height and then allow the plant to fall and spill in its natural state.

Coarse textured, wispy foliage adds a unique silvery, blue-green mist to the garden floor.

The first of today’s Spillers, as seen in the top photo above, if it were not for initially being trained on a bamboo stake, would be nearly prostrate upon the ground. That small stake allowed the plant to attain some height and after a few years the wood became hard and strong enough to support itself. Once its height was attained and the plant was left to its own nature, its branches all turned and fell to the ground where they slowly spread, covering open space and falling among and over rocks. There are several different cultivars of Norway Spruce with this characteristic, but Picea abies ‘Formanek‘ is unique in being somewhat slower in its growth rate than many others, filling in its space without being overbearing.

Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’ provides a blast of bright yellow-gold all year-round.

Juniperus conferta ‘Silver Mist’ will spill and sprawl along the ground and over slopes to cover space and help prevent erosion while adding dazzling silvery blue-green color to the garden. Its coarse textured foliage spreads slowly while adding color and movement to the garden.

When I am looking for a stunning blast of year-round color to flow around larger plants with dark green, blue or red foliage, nothing makes a statement like Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’.

This Colorado Blue Spruce crawls and covers open space with very pleasing powder blue foliage.

I love being able to add the same blue color, that some of my larger trees provide, on a lower plane in the garden. Picea pungens ‘Procumbens’ is a low, spreading form of the Colorado Blue Spruce and it looks fantastic as it provides a bright blue boarder between other colorful conifers and awesome garden plants. Once in a while ‘Procumbens’ may try to throw an upward growing branch, but it is easily pruned away to encourage the spreading form I desire.

These past few months I have imagined plenty of ideas and inspiration to begin to create a new garden which will primarily feature dwarf, colorful, unique conifers, Japanese Maples and other exciting plants. I am looking forward to getting started in my new space – I do hope that you have been inspired too!

Conifer Lover

The finer details

This past Labor Day holiday weekend, my wife and I enjoyed visiting one of our favorite independent garden centers across town. Although our goal for the day was to find a few new house plants, we had a tremendous time strolling through the entire nursery, and I found some fantastic miniature and dwarf conifers to include in this segment of my ongoing series of Thriller, Filler and Spiller garden design.

As you know, over the past several posts I have been discussing my plans to create a great new garden space with a colorful assortment of conifers and other exciting garden plants. I began with a specific Thriller in mind and have been imagining what other plants I will use  to fill space around it.

Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’ is a fantastic little “mini-thriller” that can be used with other minis to fill smaller garden spaces.

Be sure to check out those past posts if you have not been following along. Today, I’ll be talking about some of my favorite slower growing dwarf and miniature conifers for filling in more detailed smaller spaces.

Once I have the larger plants in place, I like to get down and dirty as I create small, intimate spaces, filling in with very slow growing plants and other details like interesting rocks or other garden ornaments such as bird baths, etc. I am talking about plants today whose annual growth will be limited to less than an inch or two per year in my Pacific Northwest climate. I love these plants because they have so many great features. My favorites offer slow growth, interesting texture, unique form, great color and sturdy performance.

An all-time favorite, and perhaps one of the larger selections on today’s list is Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom’, which I chose because of its reliable, light blue color and slow growth. Rated at USDA Zone 2, it is far more winter hardy than I require in my climate, but with well-drained soil and a sunny location, it will perform very well and provide a solid blue color statement on a small scale in the garden.

Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom’ is a great choice for bringing year-round bright blue color to smaller garden spaces.

For a good dark green and unique texture, I’ll include Picea abies ‘Mikulasovice’. This dark green, mounding plant displays needles of a longer length than one might imagine on such a small, slow growing plant empowering it to add a unique texture to the garden. Another good, dark green plant is so slow growing, it might be confused with being a moss covered rock, in fact that is what inspired its name of Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Greenstone’. The tiny, fine textured foliage covers this small, rounded mound which is perfect in miniature container gardens as well as a small detail in the larger garden as I am including today.

Picea abies ‘Mikulasovice’ is a very slow grower with lots of character.

Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’ is a delightful golden yellow miniature conifer with tiny needles covering the small branches which form this slowly spreading, mounding plant. Speaking of bright yellow, I will have to include a Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Butter Ball’ to this list with its soft textured, lovely golden yellow foliage and slowly mounding and eventual broadly conical habit.

Bright yellow color and fine-textured foliage make the miniature Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Butter Ball’ a brilliant choice!

I find with all of the above broadly mounding, and spreading forms I will need to include a few more upright and narrow forms to break up the monotony and add more visual interest to the smaller details of this garden space. One of the first to come to mind is a very fine textured, narrow, compact form of the Dwarf Alberta Spruce called Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’® This rich, grass-green plant grows very slowly into a narrow, cone shape and will remain in perfect scale with the other miniatures on today’s list. Of course I must include one of my very favorite plants, Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’ at this time since it fits the specifications perfectly and adds a bright twinkle of color.

This list could go on and on, depending on how much space I end up with. Next time I will finalize this series with a list of some favorite Spillers which will spill along the ground, filling in and covering open space with year round color!


Conifer Lover


Tasty dwarfs to fill some space

As I continue to explore ideas for designing a new garden space, I am looking at some of my favorite plants to use as Fillers – plants that will fill the space with year-round color, texture and interesting form. Last time I chose three dwarf conifers which might be considered fast growing as they will tend to grow larger in a 10-20 year span of time than the selections I will explore today.

‘Banderica’ is a neat, tidy, slow growing little kiss of a conifer that will add a dandy flavor to the conifer garden.

I began this design project with a great Thriller tree, then I selected a few Japanese Maple Filler plants to pick from depending on how large (or small) my actual future space may be. My next decision was to choose a few larger dwarf conifers that will scale nicely with the maples. Based on those choices, I am ready to scale down the expected size of this next group of dwarf conifers.

This time I will take a look at a few green colored choices, each with its own distinct shade of green and unique textural features. I’ll also include a dwarf blue and a dwarf yellow selection to spice up the color palette a bit.

‘Sea Urchin’ has soft, light green foliage (with a hint of blue) and fills in a small space with other dwarf conifers and other exciting plants.

I love the rich, very dark green color of Pinus leucodermis (heldreichi) ‘Banderica’ which, along with its perfect, slow growing, broadly conical form makes it an excellent, formal looking small tree. Pinus strobus ‘Sea Urchin’ adds a pleasing effect as its rounded, slow growing, soft textured form highlights its bright, light green hues. Picea abies ‘Hildburghausen’ begins the spring season with a flush of bright  green foliage which matures into the medium green color we enjoy most of the year. Its unique mounding, textural form stays neat in the garden while slowly filling in space and looks great with an artfully placed rock nearby.

‘Hildburghausen’ is a sculptural, low, mounding dwarf conifer that fills in space with reliable color and a pleasing form.

One of the slower growers in today’s selection may also have claim to the most interesting color of the group. Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Blue Moon’ has very soft foliage with responds well to a light trimming should one be inclined to encourage its globe shape. The color of this cultivar is more of a steel blue than other common selections of Sawara Cypress such as ‘Boulevard’, ‘Curly Tops’ or ‘True Blue’. It is also a slower grower than the others which helps it remain a great garden filler plant for many, many years.

‘Blue Moon’ is a delightful, globe shaped, soft textured, steel blue conifer that will provide a dandy color spot where there is a small space to fill.

Finally, I just have to include a Cryptomeria japonica ‘Twinkle Toes’ to this group for its reliably compact growth, its coarsely textured, bright yellow foliage and its informal, mounding, broadly pyramidal form. Plus, I just love to tell folks that I love my ‘Twinkle Toes’ and if they visit my garden, they’ll fall in love too!

The coarse textured, bright yellow foliage of ‘Twinkle Toes’ adds a touch of Zing to the garden!

My imagined garden space is beginning to fill in nicely! I have a few very slow growing dwarf to miniature conifers to add to the list which will complete the Fillers, and then I’ll post some definite selections to choose from for my Spillers, which will be very low growing to prostrate forms that crawl along the ground and fill space between larger plants.

Until next time…

Conifer Lover

Filling up space with great color, texture and form

Last time I focused on some of my favorite broad-leaved foliage Fillers. As you may recall, I am pre-planning some ideas for a new garden space without actually having that space. A couple of posts back I chose a great Thriller plant to work with in this potential design and then I added to plan a few different colors and forms of Japanese maple that I think will fill in nicely with their multi-seasons of colorful foliage. But, I certainly cannot fill the space with broadleaves alone – I also need to add an assortment of colorful and interesting dwarf conifers. This time I will mention some plants that I think will work well together based on their sizes, shapes and their growth rates.

Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’ adds good color and a lot of great texture to fill garden space.

Beginning with a large, silvery, bluish-green Thriller specimen (Picea omorika ‘Gotelli’s Weeping’) and then adding a deep red Filler (Acer palmatum ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’) I can continue to fill space with some very nice color and texture. One plant that will add both a unique texture and a pleasing green color is Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’. This very popular dwarf conifer will slowly fill space with its coarse cords of light green foliage. Growing into a mounding form with branches which arch upward, out and droop toward the ground creates a very nice complement to the upward growing branches and red foliage of the ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’. It will also make a nice background plant to smaller fill-plants and other dwarf and miniatures that I will discuss later.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’ is a slow-growing filler that adds a thrill of its own with its great color and superbly graceful form.

The next two dwarf conifers that I want to consider for my imaginary space, yet-to-be are Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’ and Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’. Although both are plants with yellow foliage, they are quite different shades of yellow and each has its own unique foliage and growth habit. ‘Nana Lutea’ is the classic Dwarf Golden Hinoki and had been very popularly used in gardens for the past 50 years. It grows very slowly into a pyramidal shape with tightly held sprays of golden yellow foliage that become more intensely colored with increased hours of sunlight. It may need some protection from the hot afternoon sun in some locations to prevent its near white portions of foliage from scalding. A mix of sun and shade should provide beautiful color.

Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’ is a filler with pleasing form, bright color and a lovely scent.

‘Golden Globe’ on the other hand, is a more vigorous grower with more muted yellow tones. It responds very well to light shearing, and I prefer to keep mine in a neat globe shape by running the shears over the new foliage once per year. This practice not only helps keep the plant in tip-top form, but releases its magnificent perfume and makes shearing less a task and more of a real pleasure. Depending on the overall space, I may use one or both of these in my future design.

Ahhh… my imaginary new garden space is beginning to fill in nicely. Be sure to come back next time for more of my dreamy Fillers!

Conifer Lover

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!

Conifer Lover