Primary colors in the garden

Over the weekend, I had an opportunity to spend the greater part of a day with my daughter at the Silverton Fine Arts Festival. This was an absolutely delightful way to spend a day – what man wouldn’t be proud walking around a public event with his beautiful daughter attached to his arm? We enjoyed the multi-cultural cuisine, the live music and, of course, the art.

There was one artist whose work we particularly enjoyed. Her paintings were of simple shapes crafted into whimsical animal characters painted in bright, rich, primary colors. I loved the geometry of her designs and the intense colors reminded me of my garden.

The primary colors, Red, Blue and Yellow are found throughout the plant world. I do believe that when most folks begin to think of color in their gardens, they immediately think flowers – which are certainly filled with bright and exciting color. But, as I may have mentioned a time or two in previous posts, that color is really quite short lived in the garden, and entirely absent after the first killing frost of autumn, and does not return again until spring, leaving behind a dreary landscape through the winter months, when our emotional health might benefit most from the uplifting effects of color.

Last time I shared just two plants which add volumes of red color to the garden from spring through fall. Unfortunately, red is difficult to come by naturally in the dead of winter, though some deciduous trees and shrubs do offer bright red stems and twigs of deep purple to bright orange and red.

Primary color plants
Dwarf conifers and other colorful garden plants add emotionally uplifting color to the the garden.

This time, I want to share a beautiful combination of plants which represent the three primary colors. First, for my red selection, and frankly, this is probably more of a deep dark purple than red, but it serves my purposes here beautifully. Berberis thunbergii ‘Concord’ is a dwarf Japanese barberry with deeply rich, dark purple foliage and stems. The amazing color begins in spring as the tiny leaves appear and continues, without fading, through the hot summer months. Finally, in autumn, the red color becomes brighter until leaf drop when tiny red berries are revealed which may persist into winter.

I’ve mentioned many yellow conifers over the nearly five years that I have been sharing my gardening stories on this blog. Within the conifer world, there are a great number of yellow plants available, from low spreading ground covers, to tall narrow pillars of gold, to subtle butter-yellow highlights and even plants that push their new spring growth in bright yellow and then fade to dark green each year. Some of the brightest I mentioned in a recent post, and today I’ll feature Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’ because it is simply one of the purest and brightest yellow conifers readily available today and is suitable for growing in most regions of the USA.

Finally, when I need a go-to blue for garden design, I immediately think Blue Spruce. The first one that tends to come to my mind is Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ because it is a premium dwarf tree with reliable bright blue color, is much slower growing than its parent species and yet it will grow and fill in space with great blue color and traditional Colorado spruce form, while remaining perfectly scaled for smaller gardens. A maturing 25 to 30 year old tree may reach 10 to 15 feet tall rather than the 25 to 30 feet of its species parent.

When you plant groups of conifers, in combinations of these colors, with assorted shades of green, in a vast assortment of shapes, forms, textures and sizes, you can expect year-round garden interest and pleasure.

Conifer Lover

Baby, I need the blues

My wife and I both love year-round color in our garden. One method we use to pack a lot of color into a smaller space is to use variegated plants. Of course we love the variegated conifers like Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Snowkist’, Juniperus chinensis ‘Torulosa Variegata, and Pinus parviflora ‘Ogon janome’. It seems appropriate to mention the conifers that push one color in spring and mature into another such as Picea orientalis ‘Aureospicata’Picea abies ‘Rubra Spicata’, or Picea pungens ‘Niemetz’. And then there are those conifers that are one color through the growing season and morph into another color with the onset of cold temperatures in autumn and winter like,  Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’ and Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Snowkist'
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Snowkist’ has delightful varigation adding color to the garden, but Baby, I gotta have more blues!

Any garden including those nine conifers would be full of year-round color to be sure, but those selections are just small sample of the number of very colorful conifers in our garden. On top of all the color and variegation provided by our conifers, we also have a small collection of beautifully variegated and colorful Hostas and other herbaceous plants. But, I noticed something was seriously lacking in our garden this spring. I don’t know why I haven’t noticed it before. Our garden needs more blue.

I’ve talked about blue conifers several times in past posts, and it wasn’t until this past week that I began to feel the garden was unbalanced in the color spectrum – the yellow to blue ratio was way off!

Perhaps the reason for this new revelation is that the yellows and golds in my garden are absolutely stunning right now. The yellow and gold Chamaecyparis and Juniperus cultivars are as bright and clean-looking as I have ever seen them, and the spring yellow push of my spruce cultivars with that feature have never looked healthier – the foliage is lush and succulent and blemish-free (we’ve had no spring hail to pound the tender new foliage which can leave tiny brown scars on most any garden plant with tender young foliage).

Picea engelmannii 'Bush's Lace'
Picea engelmannii ‘Bush’s Lace’ will quickly become a stately specimen with excellent soft bluish green foliage and impressive weeping form.

Baby, I need the blues! If there is any money remaining in my gardening budget after I buy a few units of bark mulch to cover my many garden beds, I will definitely be adding a few new blue conifer specimens this year!

One excellent, large, bluish spruce that is on my Must Find list is, Picea englemanni ‘Bush’s Lace’. This is a very vigorous grower with a distinct weeping habit of all its lateral branches. The specimen in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden is only about twelve years old, and the past two years I have seen its terminal leader grow at least three feet – each year! I expect this beauty to be very tall, but with a somewhat narrow form, although once the branches weep down to ground level, over time they should spread and create a dense bluish green ground cover.

Some of the bluish colored conifers that are on my list to look for are:
Abies koreana ‘Blauer Eskimo’
Cedrus deodara ‘Raywood’s Prostrate Dwarf’
Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Pygmy’
Picea englemannii ‘Jasper’
Picea glauca ‘Echiniformis’
Picea pungens ‘Pendula’
Picea pungens ‘The Blues’
Picea sitchensis ‘Silverzwerg’

May your gardens grow and flourish, bringing you and yours many years of peace and tranquility.

Conifer Lover

Friendly fishing

“Conifers? Yeah, I learned about them in my science class years ago, they’re those sticky, prickly bushes that grow into huge trees. Why would I want to plant any of those things in my yard?” was the question coming from my new friend in line at the DMV.

“Oh… conifers are far more diverse and exciting than that.” I replied. “There are conifers that are as small as that paperweight on the counter over there, that can be grown for years in a container on your patio. Besides being very slow growing, they can be found in an assortment of colors, from the lemon yellow of Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Golden Sprite’, to the rich blue of Picea pungens ‘Lundeby’s Dwarf’, in shapes and sizes from a pincushion, to a wide spreading low carpet, to mid-sized sculptural forms, to giant trees.

I sensed that I was beginning to lose the subject of my coniferous proselytism, so I changed tactics.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Sprite'
Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Sprite' is an excellent choice for the rock garden, containers on the deck or patio, or in miniature theme gardens.

“I’ll bet your wife loves growing flowers in her garden, right?” He offered a slight nod and I continued, “She loves all that color during the spring and summer, and then I’ll bet you both look forward to dealing with all the dead brown debris in the late fall and winter as all those pretty flowers wither and die leaving you an unsightly yard with quite a lot of work to do to clean up that mess!”

“Huh – yeah, right!”

Picea pungens 'Lundeby's Dwarf'
Picea pungens 'Lundeby's Dwarf' is a tremendous dwarf blue conifer that will provide year-round color and never require pruning to maintain its small form.

“With dwarf and miniature conifers, you can enjoy all kinds of color and texture in your garden with almost no maintenance whatsoever. No pruning, no deadheading to encourage more flowers, no constant fertilizing to encourage more growth and blooms, and once established in your garden, very little additional irrigation. In fact, if you reduce your lawn to a few paths meandering through beds of conifers, your workload will drop and your water usage will plummet.”

“So, a conifer garden could actually save me money?”

The hook was set, now all I had to do is reel him in. In mere moments he was called to the counter and that was the last I saw of my new convert.

A conifer lover’s work is never done.

Conifer Lover

Back from the dead

Early last year I was given a great new conifer by a local grower friend. He had been growing this particular dwarf Sitka spruce for a number of years while harvesting scion wood off of it for his propagation purposes. My friend was in the process of re-working a large area of his landscape where this specimen was located, and since I had admired this particular plant for some time, he dug the plant and plopped it into a plastic pot as a special gift for me. I had been out of town at the time and about a week or so after he dug the plant I picked it up and brought it home to plant.

Of course, it was very cold and rainy, and I put off getting this great specimen into the ground for a couple of months. Once planted, I was careful to make sure it had plenty of water. Late last spring it finally pushed a small grunt of new growth. I was happy to see that it had survived, not expecting much from it that first year – especially since it had been neglected from the time it was dug.

Picea sitchensis 'Silberzwerg'
Tough as nails, Picea sitchensis ‘Silberzwerg’ has a great dwarf habit, excellent color and is useful in gardens throughout the country.

We had a bit of a hot spell, and I must not have put quiet enough water on this new planting, because most all of the new growth suffered from sun-scorch. I mentally kicked myself a few times and did my best to give this dwarf spruce better care through the remainder of the year. Unfortunately, as the year progressed, the worse it looked.

It seemed unchanged through the winter and then as my other conifers all began to push this spring, my poor neglected spruce just sat there. I looked the plant over carefully, and it did seem to have some viable buds – they just weren’t swelling yet. Time went on, and it continued to decline. I thought I had lost this new friend.

Then, seemingly overnight, as if it had come back from the dead, my Picea sitchensis ‘Silberzwerg’ popped its first bud, and then another, and another until the plant was covered, somewhat sparsely, with newly pushed foliage! Somehow, through my neglect, this great specimen has survived. I am even more determined to see to it that my ‘Silberzwerg’ not only survives, but puts on a good bud set for next year.

Picea sitchensis ‘Silberzwerg’ is rather new to the nursery trade and I think it will prove to be a great garden conifer. When healthy, it should put on 4-6 inches of new growth per year. When young, it will grow in a mounding, globe shape, but as it matures, I believe it will put on more definite top growth and become a very broad rounded upright mound of green and silvery-blue. The undersides of its very sharp needles have a prominent waxy covering making them near pure white, while the needle tops are a bluish-green color. With a great percentage of the undersides of the needles turned upward, exposing their bright undersides, gives the plant an overall silvery-blue appearance.

Dwarf habit, great color, Hardy to Zone five (and the ability to withstand some neglect on my part), I think ‘Silberzwerg’ has the potential to be an excellent addition to any garden.

Conifer Lover

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.

Conifer Lover