I am very excited that one of my friends has just recently decided it is time to overhaul his backyard. He is ready to transform it from an ugly duckling of abused sod, to a beautiful swan of a garden, featuring the year-round color and low maintenance of dwarf conifers!
“Ed, I’ve been thinking, since we just have the one dog now, and he doesn’t dig and tear up the backyard like the other two, I’d like to start planting the back into a nice garden like you’ve been suggesting.”
“Great! I’ll bring my tiller over as soon as the soil dries a little!”
Now, being the Pacific Northwest, that might not happen until the month of June, but in the meantime, I’ll continue to generate interest and enthusiasm in my friend by drawing a simple design, listing the plants I recommend, and point him to pictures of specimens on the internet!
In one corner, I have a nice combination of plants in mind that will utilize a dandy little ensemble of dwarf and colorful conifers that will provide nice contrasts in shape, texture, size and color. We will be starting with fairly small plants – probably nothing larger than a #3 container – so my friend will enjoy watching this space grow and mature for the rest of his life.
For the main specimen, I will use a Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Wilma’. It will be the tallest plant in the grouping and will grow to about 12-15 feet tall by 4-6 feet wide over the next 15 to 20 years. It is a bright lemon-yellow color which takes on a more golden hue during the winter – definitely a focal point in the garden.
Pinus mugo ‘Big Tuna’ will fill in nicely as a second plant which will add some height to this space. Not growing quite as quickly as ‘Wilma’, ‘Big Tuna’ will also be more broad as it matures into a small tree of about 6-7 feet tall by 4-5 feet wide in the same 15 to 20 year time span. It’s dark green needles and clumping, mounding form will be a nice contrast to ‘Wilma’s small, fine-textured foliage.
Next on my list is a really cool little conifer with yellowish-green, needles which twist and curve completely around their wavy branches creating small cords of foliage appearing to wriggle their way about the plant. Like my first two selections, Cryptomeria japoncia ‘Spiraliter Falcata’ is one of the larger growing plants in this grouping, though it does respond very well to annual pruning if one is so inclined to create a more densely growing plant and slow its overall march toward its ultimate height. Left to grow naturally, we might expect ‘Spiraliter Falcata’ to grow into a broadly upright specimen of 6-8 feet tall by 6 or 7 feet wide over the next 15 to 20 years.
Cedrus libani subs. brevifolia ‘Kenwith’, a dwarf Cedar of Lebanon, will add another element of both color and texture to this space. ‘Kenwith’ is a very slow grower with very small, sharply pointed, light green needles. Growing just a couple of inches per year, this cool little conifer will grow into a small, broadly pyramidal tree of just 2-3 feet tall in 15 years and be a little taller than it is wide. Not a densely growing dwarf, It has open, curved branches which suggest a windswept tree and it may be fun to prune this one to enhance this natural tendency.
Next time I will describe the smaller dwarf and miniature forms which will be the tiny specimens in this corner design. Of course, we will not be limited to the eight plants in these two posts. There will be room for other ground covers and flowering plants for my friends to plant and enjoy. Be sure to check back next time for the four final conifers on this list!