Last time I began a story about my good friend and his desire to transform his dog-worn backyard into a beautiful garden. Of course, I’ve been extolling the wonderful attributes of dwarf and miniature conifers and my friend is convinced that he and his wife would love a low maintenance garden filled with the year-round color and interest that conifers will provide. I began this topic by discussing some of the plants which will become the larger specimens in this first section of the new garden. Those plants put on more annual growth so they grow to a larger size more quickly over the span of years than the more dwarf and miniature plants that are on today’s list.
One of my favorite conifers, whether planted in the ground, in a container as a single specimen, or with a combination of other plants is a delightful dwarf with multi-season appeal. Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust,’ is very similar in shape to its granddaddy, the Dwarf Alberta spruce, but is much slower growing. With just a couple of inches of new growth per year, it will take its time reaching three feet tall and a couple of feet wide by its twentieth birthday. One of the fun features of ‘Pixie Dust’ is that its new growth doesn’t come in one big push in the spring. Just about the time that first spring push begins to harden off, a second push begins to emerge—not as vigorous as the first, but more slowly, over a period of several weeks, different buds will swell and pop with emerging new buttery-yellow foliage. These magical sparkles of color, dusting the plant through summer, are the inspiration behind the name of this adorable little tree.
Another delightful fairy-tale spruce for this garden is the miniature, Picea abies ‘Thumbelina’, also growing just a couple of inches per year, this low-growing, globe-shaped mound is covered with tiny, dark green needles. The oldest specimen that I have seen of this cutie is a little over two feet wide and perhaps 18 inches tall—it must be at least 25 years old. Never needing pruning to keep it small and shapely, ‘Thumbelina’ is also ideal for container gardens—and with a name like that, who wouldn’t want to plant it in their very own Fairy Garden?
Possibly the slowest growing miniature conifer on the list is Cryptomeria japonica ‘Tenzan’. With just about an inch of new growth per year, this is one small, tight little mound of succulent, light-green needles. The needles look sharp, but are actually soft to the touch, though because ‘Tenzan’ is so dense, it has a very coarse texture and is one of those plants that I can’t help but want to touch when I am near it. This miniature conifer is ideal for combining with other plants in a container since it will take many years to outgrow its space. In fact, the three conifers mentioned so far would be perfect in a nice sized patio bowl combined with some alpine Sedums or Sempervivums—but that’s a topic for another post!
The fourth conifer in this design truly is fun! My wife and I attended a couple weddings recently, and it seems one of the latest things to have at the reception are cake-pops. These little balls of frosted cake are on a stick like a lollipop. Besides being delicious, they’re just darn cute. So is Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Golden Sprite’ grafted onto a small 12″ standard! This miniature, globe-shaped, golden-yellow Hinoki cypress is already a favorite for container or garden, but put it on a stick, and it is just about as cute as a seven-week-old kitten. Adding a pop of color and interest to this garden space, ‘Golden Sprite’ will grow into a perfect little ball of color which may seem to float above companion flowers or ground covers.
So, Golden Wilma and the seven dwarfs will be the foundation to this new garden space. Once we prepare the ground and properly plant these eight new conifers, we’ll discuss what companion plants will work well in the design—that means a fun trip to the garden center with my friends, which is like a trip to Santa’s workshop – and it won’t cost me a dime!