The colors of peace and harmony

I’ve been thinking about colors in nature and how color has an effect on the human psyche or spirit. Two of the most prominent colors found in our natural world are blue and green. For most of the day, when the sky is clear, it is a vast ever-changing gradient of blues. Then, when we are able to remove ourselves from the confines of large buildings, we can be surrounded by green. From large forest trees towering overhead to small blades of grass, at least for part of the year, we can be engulfed in a world of blue and green hues.

I’ve noticed that I feel much better when the sky is clear and blue and I am surrounded by plants. I began to wonder if color itself may have anything to do with those feelings of peace, harmony, kindness, etc. so I decided to see what I could find online. Sure enough, there is quite an abundance of information that suggests the colors we perceive have an effect on our overall health and mood.

It turns out that blue and green are rather healing in their nature. Green is said to support balance, harmony, love, and acceptance while blue increases a sense of calmness, love, peace, honesty, and devotion.

Abies procera ‘Glauca’ (Prostrate Form) not only makes a stunning statement in the garden, but may also provide a sense of peace and love.

No wonder I love conifers!

Our amazing world of conifers is made up of year-round therapeutic color. From the wide range of green tones through the vast assortment of blues, conifers could single-handedly transform your garden into a private wellness center. Even in the dead of winter, when the blue sky is often blocked from view by a thick layer of clouds and other plant life has dropped its foliage or withered away until spring, the conifer garden can provide a sense of well-being and inner peace.

When spring does arrive, the color of the conifers is renewed as fresh new foliage appears. Plus, with the addition of the yellows, orange, violet and red of various deciduous trees and flowers, the garden can inspire fun, humor, creativity, optimism, enthusiasm, imagination, intuition, vitality, stamina and passion!

No wonder I love gardening!

One really great conifer with a stunning blue color is Abies procera ‘Glauca’ (Prostrate Form). This is one bright blue conifer – it is a real stand-out in the garden. Plus, it tends to be a low spreading form that can cover a wide horizontal space. Probably not a true prostrate form, ‘Glauca’ does like to send up the occasional upward growing branch which can be easily removed to encourage its flat form. If an irregular, sculptural form is desired, one might choose to allow one or two of these upright stems to grow, but keep a close watch because in time those small upright stems could become dominant and revert the form of your low spreader into a large upright tree. Either way, the color will remain an extraordinary blue.

Until next time, may your garden be a tranquil respite from the stresses of 21st century life.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

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Lovin’ the classics – part II

What is it about classics that make them so appealing? There is something pleasant and enjoyable about watching a really good old black and white film from the late 1930s or ’40s. I get much the same feeling when I have an opportunity to spend some time with my antique car restorer friend. My old heart begins to pound with excitement when I am invited to go for a ride in his 1915 Model T Ford. Of course I can easily become lost in the mesmerizing wave of tones and melodies and rhythms of classic composers like Albinoni, Haydn, Handel or Grieg. Even the older conifers – those that have been available in the trade for a great number of years and are sometimes overused – offer that same kind of nostalgia.

Just because something is old, doesn’t mean that is has lost its appeal or value. One old conifer that withstands the test of time is Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula’. This is simply one of the most beautiful and versatile conifers available. Its young branches are long and flexible allowing the creative gardener to train it into any shape imaginable. Most often, ‘Pendula’ is found with a nursery stake and the plant trained up to 3-5 feet. Very mature specimens can be seen at some of the older arboretums around the world and they have mounded and layered upon themselves creating large weeping mounds of dark green beauty.

Tsuga canadensis 'Pendula'
Tsuga canadensis 'Pendula' adds a unique sculptural effect to any garden.

In my garden, I staked mine to just about seven feet tall with a gentle curve to the main stem to give it a little character. Then I’ve pulled a few of the side branches up in a more horizontal position, alternating around the plant, adding more interest. Essentially, I’ve given my relatively young plant a head start on what its natural character will develop in many, many years. You may remember me describing how an old specimen can be trained into a living tree house a couple of years ago. Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula’ is one classic conifer that will always be a garden winner!

Abies balsamea 'Nana'
Great for containers or the garden, Abies balsamea 'Nana' is an old favorite.

Another great plant that I first became acquainted with back in 1977 is Abies balsamea ‘Nana’. This is a small-needled, dark green, compact mound that is great for the partially shaded space. In spring, its new foliage will push out a very bright green color which contrasts well against its own dark green mature foliage. As the season flows from spring to summer, the new foliage hardens and becomes a glossy dark green. Soft to the touch and the eyes, ‘Nana’ looks great planted near Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula’ and the other three classic conifers on my list.

Thuja occidentalis 'Rheingold'
The brilliant orange color and soft texture of Thuja occidentalis 'Rheingold' make it a valuable addition to the garden.

Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’ is one of the most amazing conifers in any collection. Its foliage is soft and orange – bright orange! In the spring and summer, as the foliage is flushing fresh, its color is the most intense. With the colder temperatures of winter, the orange darkens to an almost brown color – not a dead-brown, more like a dark orange. When young, it produces soft juvenile foliage. If allowed to grow naturally, it will become a broadly upright tree and the foliage changes to what is called, adult foliage. The color remains, just the overall texture changes. This is one plant that I definitely recommend giving an annual shearing to encourage full compact growth and the production of juvenile foliage. Responding very well to shearing, ‘Rheingold’ could be a great candidate for topiary if one were so inclined. I like to keep mine as a rounded mound.

With the two conifers I described last time, and the three on today’s list, a new conifer garden enthusiast would have a great combination of plants to begin their own collection. All five plants should be readily available at your local independent garden centers and they will all play well with the other plants in your garden. Include a couple Hosta and Lavender plants, a few spring and summer bulbs and a dwarf Japanese maple, and you’ll have a fairly good-sized garden bed that will be the talk of the neighborhood.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Conifer diversity

Since my last post, the rain slowed to a drizzle, became intermittent showers and finally stopped altogether. We then had nearly 48 hours of partially sunny, warmer and dry weather. As I write this, I can hear the wind pounding the pouring rain against the nearby window. As promised last time, I have a great list of conifers that will tolerate both very wet and very dry conditions.

I called one of my mid-west friends the other day and we had a long conversation on the topic. Then, much to my surprise, this morning I received the following email. My good friend has put such a great list together that I see no reason to change a thing. He has listed some excellent conifers for any garden and has grouped them by their tolerance for various levels of soil moisture. I think you’ll find this information extremely valuable.

“Although almost all conifers prefer the ‘perfect’ soil – moist well-drained loam – many will tolerate wet or dry soils.  Most Abies and Tsuga are not very tolerant of extremes in wet or dry soils.

“A few conifers can tolerate very wet, almost bog-like soils.  Probably the most tolerant of wet soils are Taxodium varieties such as ‘Cascade Falls’ and ‘Peve Yellow’.  Also, Thuja occidentalis varieties such as ‘Degroots Spire’, ‘Hetz Wintergreen’, ‘Holmstrup’, ‘Rushmore’, and ‘Smaragd’ will tolerate wet soils.  Thuja plicata varieties like ‘Canadian Gold’ and ‘Virescens’ are also tolerant of very wet soils.  Taxodium and Thuja are frequently found in boggy or swampy locations in their native habitats.  Although these conifers may actually prefer well-drained soils, they can survive in swampy areas where they can out compete other species.

Conifer Garden
No matter what your gardening challenge, there is very likely a conifer that will at least tolerate, if not thrive in, your gardening situation.

“Other conifers will tolerate moderately wet soils, such as those found in a swale that dries out, or in a low area through which rain runoff flows but does drain.  In other words, areas that can be wet, but that do eventually drain and don’t hold standing water or hold water just below the surface of the soil.  Some of the best conifers for this kind of situation are various spruces.  Some examples are Picea abies ‘Pendula Major’, Picea glauca ‘Pendula’, Picea mariana ‘Golden’, Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’, Picea pungens ‘Hoopsii’, and Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’.  In nature, Picea glauca and Picea pungens are frequently found at the edge of streams or on lake shores.  Surprisingly, Picea glauca and Picea pungens will also tolerate fairly dry locations.  Most Larix species prefer ample moisture, and would also be a good choice for these moist, but not boggy situations.  Examples are Larix decidua ‘Horstmann’s Recurva’ and Larix sibirica ‘Conica’.  Larix laricina is frequently found in swampy locations, but most Larix species don’t like a swamp.

“To the other extreme, some conifers will perform well in very dry situations.  Again, most of these plants would prefer a moderately moist, but well-drained soil if given a choice, but will tolerate dryness.  Some Junipers are excellent choices for dry, sandy or rocky soils.  Examples are Juniperus communis ‘Effusa’ and ‘Green Carpet’, and ‘Kalebab’.  Juniperus horizontalis is also very tolerant of dry soils.  Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Pygmy’, and ‘Limeglow’™ are possible choices.  Many pines are also good choices for sandy, very well-drained, and dry soils, especially two and three needle pines.  Some good choices for dry soils are Pinus banksiana ‘Uncle Fogy’, Pinus leucodermis ‘Emerald Arrow’, and Pinus leucodermis ‘Mint Truffle’, Pinus mugo ‘Big Tuna’, ‘Slowmound’, and Pinus mugo ‘Tannenbaum’ and ‘Sherwood Compact’, as well as Pinus nigra ‘Helga’ and Pinus sylvestris ‘Glauca Nana’.

“Keep in mind that most of these conifers that are tolerant of dry situations should be kept adequately moist until they are well established.  They should also be given supplemental water in times of extreme drought.  Many five needle pines such as Pinus strobus, although they prefer very well-drained and even sandy soils, actually are not as tolerant of extremely dry areas.  Most plants that are tolerant of very dry soils are also tolerant of alkaline soils.”

Until next time, I’ll be hoping for sunshine, in my garden and yours.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Are you a Conehead?

Abies koreana Aurea
Abies koreana ‘Aurea’

I have considered myself a Conehead for many years now, and yet, I don’t claim to come from France. I remember the first time I saw the Conehead sketch on Saturday Night Live back in the late 1970s. I told my friends back then that I was a true Conehead, unlike those on the TV. One of my friends mentioned that he had always thought that I was from another planet referring, I presume,  to my non-conformist wardrobe choices and lack of interest in the disco scene of the day.

Yes, even back in the late ’70s’ I was a Conehead – a conifer lover.  I love the year-round color that conifers can provide with their fantastic and sometimes seasonally changing foliage color, but quite often, it is the cones themselves that provide the color and seasonal interest.

Picea orientalis Aureospicata
Picea orientalis ‘Aureospicata’

My favorites begin as very colorful red or purple “buds” that grow  into symmetrically balanced spirals of winged pockets designed to  protect the seed as it develops and then allows the seed to launch into the wind or be relocated by birds or other wildlife at maturity.

Very colorful cones may be discovered growing on some cultivars of Abies koreana (Korean Fir), Picea abies (Norway Spruce), Picea orientalis (Oriental Spruce), Pinus parviflora (Japanese White Pine) or Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas Fir). These colorful cones can add excitement and interest to the spring and early summer garden. The detail in these young cones can be stunning, often only visible with a magnifying glass or a good macro lens on the  camera.

Pseudotsuga menziesii Blue
Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Blue’

As the cones continue to grow and mature through the summer months, their color may change and become darker or even tinged with a different hue. Most will begin to ooze resin which can actually sparkle in the early morning or late afternoon sunlight. At maturity, many cones will have turned brown and the seed-holding pockets will have spread and opened allowing the seeds to escape. The larger dried cones are what we often see used decoratively in flower arrangements or in wreathes and swags during the winter holidays.

Cones add to the multi-seasonal appeal of conifers and are one of the reasons many gardeners consider themselves Coneheads all over the world.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

As always, thanks to my friends at Iseli Nursery for the photo links.

Silberperle: a real garden gem

When I first procured my very own Abies koreana ‘Silberperle’ I was so excited. I hurried home to my garden to find just the right place to plant it. This miniature conifer is such a wonderful little garden gem. The plant grows as a small green globe with very prominent white resin coated buds. They look like tiny pearl ornaments scattered among the green and white needles. So, I found the perfect place for my new treasure in the rock garden and have been enjoying it for several years.

'Silberperle'

Just the other day – and I don’t know how I’ve missed it all these years – I stumbled across an old specimen of ‘Silberperle’ in one of the display gardens at Iseli Nursery. This plant was just over 30 inches tall and about one foot in diameter. It formed a wonderful tiny conically shaped tree. My own little specimen is much smaller and hasn’t developed a dominant leader yet, but seeing this old one at Iseli, I am looking forward to watching mine develop over the next several years.

Old specimen

Many thanks to my friends at Iseli for the photo links!

Ed-
Conifer Lover