Thirty years ago when I was a young fella with boundless energy, I planted my own first real conifer garden. Prior to that, I was on a piece of property that was so large, and I was so busy with work and life and home repair/re-modeling projects that I just didn’t have much time for gardening. Well, at that time I was more of an organic vegetable gardener. We had a huge garden filled with enough vegatables for us and our city-dwelling friends. Then we experienced some of life’s changes and we moved to a city lot. Much smaller, more manageable and the back yard was a clean canvas of a weedy lawn.
I had almost forgotten, but back in those days I was a huge fan of the dwarf and miniature cultivars of Picea abies (Norway spruce). Honestly, I don’t think I’ve become less of a fan over the years, I’ve just added many more plants to my list of favorites. One of the main areas I created back then had a combination of 12 different cultivars with varying size, shape, and textural characteristics. I had drawn out a traditional overhead-view design of the garden with both the planted sizes and my projected 20 years sizes. Then I also sketched out more of an eye-level view to give me more of a real-world perspective. I mention all this because I still think that plant selection was great for any beginning conifer gardener. They are easy to grow and extremely hardy and adaptable into a great many climatic conditions.
What I like about the cultivars that I chose for this project was that they all have distinctive shapes as they grow and mature creating a multi-leveled, three dimensional, sculptural bed of varying shades of green. This menagerie of shape and texture would become the year-round foundation to the garden bed which also included my first experimentation with assorted perennial flowers and some broadleaved shrubs. Over the nine years that we lived at that place, I did fill in with other conifer acquisitions and everything grew together nicely. As we sold the place and moved on, the landscape was beginning to have the “feel” I was seeking in my original plan by screening the garden shed and the neighbors directly behind us. I can only image how nice it must be now. If I were to do the project all over again, I would include more dwarf and miniature cultivars in an assortment of genera which would widen my pallet of color and texture – essentially taking the place of all those bothersome short-season perennials.
Here is the list of those original conifers. These should be relatively easy to find (or special order) at your local independent garden center and will be great selections to anchor any new garden plan. Fill in spaces with whatever your heart desires from companion small trees, shrubs and flowers to herbs and vegetables. As the seasons change, your garden will have the stability and beauty of year-round color, texture and an assortment of shapes from tall columns to broad pyramids, varying sizes of rounded, mounding forms and undulating waves of weeping groundcover. Have fun!
Picea abies ‘Clanbrassiliana Stricta’
Picea abies ‘Cupressina’
Picea abies ‘Elegans’
Picea abies ‘Gregoriana Parsonsii’
Picea abies ‘Little Gem’
Picea abies ‘Mucronata’
Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’
Picea abies ‘Pendula’
Picea abies ‘Pumila’
Picea abies ‘Sherwood Compact’
Picea abies ‘Thumbelina’
Picea abies ‘Witches Brood’