I was talking with a new friend about his new garden. He and his wife want a little space to grow some veggies, maybe a dwarf fruit tree or two, an area large enough for a swing-set or climbing structure for the kids and a bed or two of dwarf conifers. He loves the idea of having a garden with year-round color that is as low maintenance as it is beautiful. As we were walking around my garden, I was inclined to show him some of my most recent acquisitions – some of which are really far too rare for a newbie to look for. As we took our stroll, I noticed that he was very interested in some of the conifers that I started with many, many years ago. Conifers with great characteristics and value to the garden, but because I’ve known them for so many years, I’ve almost snubbed them for their familiarity. Silly me.
Today I’ll present to you the first two of five classic conifers worthy of a home in any garden, whether you are a conifer newb or an old-timer like me. Next time, I’ll follow-up with the final three. These five classics should be easy to find at your local independent garden center and will make a very nice combination in a new conifer bed. These same five plants will also be a joy to grow in containers, on the deck or patio, for a number of years when small plants are purchased.
My first selection really is a great dwarf conifer. Its blue foliage and low, rounded, spreading form is very useful near other colorful conifers, Japanese maples, spring bulbs, perennials – just about any companion plant. Unfortunately, this beautiful conifer has received a bad reputation, due in large part to its misuse in the landscape. Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’is one of the bluest and most readily available dwarf conifers you might find. Placed properly in the landscape, it can grow to a luscious full size adding unbeatable color and texture to the garden.
People are all too often enamored with this pretty little blue conifer and since it is labeled as a dwarf, they think it will make a great way to fill in the parking strip (that narrow space between the curb and sidewalk). At first, those little blue mounds look so good dressed up with a nice mulch of small river rock or bark. The bad news is that being small and low to the ground, they become prime targets for children on bicycles and the neighborhood dogs like to make them part of their regular routine. Then, once one dog marks the spot, they become targets for every dog in the neighborhood. Of course humans can be somewhat heartless as well when they pull up to the curb, open their door and step right out and onto the young plant trying to survive all this abuse. Before long the homeowner – and everyone in the neighborhood – detests the innocent plant that has had nothing but a life of abuse as it turns from its lively blue to shades of yellow and brown. ‘Blue Star’ is much more suited for a prime location near the front door mixed with an assortment of other colorful plants. There, it will thrive in a less disturbed environment, providing years and years of color and texture.
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’ is one of the first golden dwarf conifers I met back in my youth while working for an old landscaper in the big city. This delightful dwarf conifer has soft sprays of brightly colored, golden yellow foliage. A young plant will add tremendous color to the mixed container or the garden bed. Growing just a few inches per year, ‘Nana Lutea’ will form a compact pyramidal shape and slowly grow from several inches tall in a one gallon container to nearly five feet tall and four feet broad at its base in about twenty more years. Placed near a ‘Blue Star’, their colors contrast beautifully in the garden and can make a wonderful foundation for other dwarf or miniature conifers and other colorful companions.
I hope you’ll try these two colorful beauties in your garden. They should be easy to find and easy on the budget as well. Keep in mind that dwarf conifers can live for many years in the garden and will slowly continue to gain size, a few inches per year, for their lifetime.