“How long can you tread water?”

Maybe, instead of gardening, I should be building a boat.

Just mere days ago, the temperature was 82 degrees, the sun was shining bright, and the forecast as far as the eye could see was for sunny days with temps in the mid to upper 70s. Summer had arrived. Then overnight the temperature dropped, the clouds moved in, and the showers returned. Now when I look at the weather forecast, all I see are gray skies and raindrops with temps in the lower 60s.

All this rain reminds me of the time (many years ago) my older brother came home with the new Bill Cosby album entitled, Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow. Right! One of my favorite routines on the album was Mr. Cosby’s interpretation of the conversations between God and Noah regarding building the arc. Noah, in his frustration with the whole concept of building a giant boat in the middle of the desert began to complain to God. Noah goes on and on and God listens silently until we suddenly hear thunder and the rain begins. During our seemingly endless weeks of rain and remembering this routine I ask myself,  “How long can you tread water?”

Fortunately for my garden plants, they seem to love this weather.

With a steady supply of moisture and occasional sun breaks to slightly warm the soil and encourage photosynthesis, my conifers and Japanese maples all look fantastic. The fresh and colorful new foliage continues to grow in its lush exuberance filling my garden with an inspirational prosperity of color.

The bright blues of my Picea pungens ‘Hoopsii’ have never looked better. My Picea abies ‘Fat Cat’ sports a vibrant bright green fur and the variegated foliage of Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘White Pygmy’ is an absolute delight. Complementing my conifers, the deep reds and bright greens of my Acer palmatum ‘Rhode Island Red’ and A.p. ‘Hogyoku’ are a sight to behold. Even though we are mid-way through the last month of spring, (and it feels more like mid-April) I am enjoying all the spring-time beauty of my garden while I can.

Acer palmatum 'Rhode Island Red'
Acer palmatum 'Rhode Island Red'

Before too long, summer will arrive, and we will be contending with an instant change to hot summer sunshine with temperatures in the mid-80s to upper-90s. That sudden change of the sun’s intensity can tend to sunburn some plants before their soft new foliage has abundant time to harden and become more able to protect itself. I need to think about which of my smaller, more tender plants I may want to provide a little shade until they are ready to fend for themselves. I look for plants that have soft new growth or very lightly colored foliage. Many of my yellow or gold colored conifers can be particularly sensitive to the sudden change from the natural shade of thick gray clouds to the power of pure sunshine.

May your garden thrive and provide you and yours a peaceful oasis this year.

Conifer Lover

Two left feet

I am beginning to have second thoughts about putting so much effort into my Christmas light display in December. Even though it is a lot of fun during the darkest days of winter to have a front garden full of pretty little lights, unwrapping the trees and shrubs is far less satisfying – especially when you are a clumsy old gardener like me.

You may recall my adventure installing the lights last December. Yesterday, as I was taking down the display I had an experience that might have given my neighbors a chuckle while I fumbled and flopped around which ended with me doing repair work on a treasured old conifer.

I was particularly careful as I climbed the ladder and unwrapped the string of lights from my Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Pendulum’. Back on solid ground I moved the ladder away so I could continue circling the tree as I unwound the lights from their winter home.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Boulevard'
Even unsheared, 'Boulevard' is a nice conical form. Sheared, like mine, it becomes more dense causing falling men to bounce off of it.

Now, as much as I enjoy Daylilies, what happened next made me less of a fan. I suddenly found myself stumbling in a mound of both the newly emerging foliage and last season’s dried leaves. Trying to regain my balance, I made sort of a hop on one foot that morphed into a pirouette as I spun around, bounced off of a sheared Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Boulevard’ and landed squarely in the middle of my treasured Pinus mugo ‘Sherwood Compact’.

Not sure whether the crackling sound I heard as I hit the ground was me or the dwarf pine, I pulled myself up and brushed off my jeans. Looking around to see if I needed to be embarrassed or not, it appeared as if my new dance moves were unwitnessed so I turned to inspect my pine. Sadly, it now appeared to be a new form of “Nest Pine” because of the large broken branch right in the middle near the ground.

Fortunately, I had my pruners at my side and I cut just beyond the break to a couple of side branches. Removing the broken branch revealed quite a hole, but with some creative fluffing of the remaining branches I was able to cover my mistake very effectively. Perhaps thinning out the interior of this excellent cultivar will be healthy for it in the long run. Hardy as these dwarf mugo pines are, they are not “Falling Ed” proof.

Needless to say, I am feeling the joy of gardening, in a rather painful way today. Now, where is the number for my massage therapist……?

Conifer Lover

Have you hugged a conifer today?

I love to talk about conifers with friends and neighbors (or anyone that will stand still long enough). As I engage them in conversation, I frequently discover that they know very little about my favorite plants.

“You mean those prickly juniper things,” They’ll say.

Or while pointing to a Tsuga mertensiana one said,  “I just love my mountain pine over there.” (Not a pine at all, rather a hemlock.)

On the inside I’m shaking my head and on the outside I’m smiling patiently. Others will flat out tell me they don’t like conifers because they grow too big or are just too sharp and “stickery.”  If I have the opportunity to take them through my garden, I’m able to enlighten them about the amazing world of conifers and the exciting variation of size, color, form and texture found there.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'True Blue'

One great conifer that I love to show people (and have them touch) is Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘True Blue’ because it has so many great characteristics. First, it is a beautiful silvery blue color – most people are drawn to it all on their own for its great color. Second, it is an intermediate grower, so it won’t get huge over time and it responds well to annual shearing to keep it neat and compact if you like. Third, it is incredibly soft to the touch!

I have two in my garden, one I lightly shear to encourage a formal cone shaped plant, and the other I have pruned into a teddy bear topiary. I love to tell people to give the teddy bear a hug. Some will look at me strangely while others will hug it with no hesitation. Kids, of course, run right over and hug it again and again! The foliage is so soft and fuzzy that people are truly amazed when they touch it.

“This is a conifer?” They’ll ask. “Sure,” I respond with a big smile.

It really is quite a lot of fun to help people discover their inner “tree-hugger” and to see them become enthusiastic about adding conifers to their own gardens.

Conifer lover

Thanks to my friends at Iseli Nursery for the photo link.