Honored citizen

When we have an El Niño year, like this year, often our winter feels like spring with moderate temperatures and plenty of rain. This month, we’ve seen low temperatures in the upper 30s and 40s with highs in the upper 40s and 50s. While much of the central and eastern portions of our nation are enduring frigid arctic air, I’m feeling like I should be out digging in my garden.

Yesterday I took a stroll around my garden with pad in hand taking notes of some of the first projects I will need to address as the rains become showers and we begin to enjoy the occasional visit of the sun. As I am wandering around, I find that I am enjoying just being out and spending some quality time with my conifers. Oddly enough, they are like old friends. Some I have nurtured and enjoyed for longer than many of my human friends. There is one conifer in my garden that seems to be calling me.

“Ed…… Ed, over here.”


“Ed…… LOOK AT ME!”

“Hey, you don’t have to shout – I’m looking already!” I think to myself.

It’s then that I realize that my Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’  is just about at the end of his glorious display for the season.

“Oh, Chief… it’ll be ok, you’ll be back in top form soon enough.” I reassure myself as much as the tree.

You see, ‘Chief Joseph’ is one of those very unique conifers that provide an incredible color display in the winter. From mid-October until late winter or early spring, the Chief is absolutely stunning! He lights up the dreary winter garden like no other. But, since he is severely lacking in chlorophyll, he becomes very tired after his winter show and he seems to ‘poop out.’

'Chief Joseph'
‘Chief Joseph’ at the beginning of his season to shine in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden at Iseli Nursery.

Maybe you’ve seen it happen – some years are worse than others, but ‘Chief Joseph’ tends to turn from his spectacular golden yellow winter color to a sad looking yellowish brown as many of his needles show signs of stress late in the season. There are many theories that attempt to explain why this happens and some interesting folklore on how to avoid it, but the fact is, in the early spring when other plants are beginning to look their best, ‘Chief Joseph’ looks to need a good rest. And who wouldn’t after being the lone headliner in the winter show for several months?

Just about the time you might be thinking you’ve lost your treasured friend, you’ll notice that his buds are swelling. Then you’ll see candles beginning to extend and new needles forming and expanding.

He’s alive – and he’s ready to take a back seat in the garden with his soft green foliage. ‘Chief Joseph’ will put on a few inches of new growth, drop his older brown needles and wait his turn to be the spotlight in the garden once again when many other garden plants have come to their time of rest in autumn and through winter. The Chief waits for that right mix of cooler temperatures and shorter daylight hours and WHAM! it’s like someone turned on his inner golden glow and it is intense!

‘Chief Joseph’ remains somewhat rare, but worth every penny when you find him. Just remember, everyone needs a little rest once in a while and with patience and understanding, The Chief will be an honorable addition to your garden.

Conifer Lover

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