Getting into the holiday mood

This time of year, with the deciduous trees nearly bare from our recent cold wind storm, crisp, cold temperatures and the winter holidays on their way, I can’t help but begin to become excited. In the USA, our Thanksgiving holiday is just around the corner, and for me, that means spending time surrounded by some of the people I love. It also means that it is time to begin outdoor winter decorating, which includes displaying little lights on many of my “Christmas tree shaped” conifers. I am not sure how or when Christmas trees were determined to be perfectly conically shaped, or how the tradition of decorating trees and houses with lights came about, but I sure do enjoy it!

‘Banderica’ is a superb choice for the garden – any time of year!

Some folks seem to think that more is better when it comes to decorating their space with lights. Some even go to the extreme with computer controlled lighting that is in sync with music, and some even broadcast the music over a low-power FM signal so drivers may enjoy the show in their cars. I, on the other hand, am perhaps a bit more of a traditionalist and I like a more subtle approach to my lighting technique. Several of my dwarf conifers are just the right size and shape for that traditional look of conically shaped trees strung with lights. You may recall my experience stringing a non-traditionally shaped tree some years ago, if not you can check it out here.

Some of my favorite small trees to decorate with lights this time of year include Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ and ‘Sester Dwarf’. Both of these dwarf forms of Colorado Blue Spruce have very nice blue needles that really shine when I string them with either colored or plain white lights, plus they stand out all year long with their great color.

A few choice pines to decorate include Pinus leucodermis (heldreichii) ‘Banderica’, ‘Irish Bell’ and ‘Compact Gem’. ‘Banderica’ has taken some time to become sizable enough to decorate, but now that it has matured, this very slow grower is a short, chubby tree that complements the other two in this section. ‘Irish Bell’ is a faster grower, but provides the same kind of broadly conical shape in a more open form. ‘Compact Gem’ is very nice with its taller and more narrow stature. I love planting these three in a group that shows off their varying forms and sizes while providing a great effect when they are all lit up for the holidays!

Coney Island’, this nice green mound of fine textured foliage, is as great in the summer garden as it is when covered with tiny lights through the holiday season!

But hey, I am certainly not going to limit myself to the traditional conical shapes when deciding on where to place lights in my garden. I like to cover the larger globe shaped conifers as well and turn them into giant, glowing snowballs! One in my garden is Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’, which lights up brightly and gives off a wonderfully therapeutic scent during the decorating process. Another great rounded conifer to decorate is, Pinus strobus ‘Coney Island’ which comes pre-decorated with an abundance of delightfully dangling small cone ornaments – just add lights. One final plant to list this time is Picea abies ‘Fat Cat’. I just love this one with its nice, tidy, compact, rounded form – it’s perfect for those net lights which can simply be laid over the plant for easy installation and removal.

Okay, my fingers are warmed up from all this typing, I think I had better get into the garage and start going through my boxes of lights. Let the holidays begin!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Making the fun meter hit high

I have so much fun during the Christmas holiday season. Sure enough, Thanksgiving weekend is usually when I dust off the old Christmas songs and begin to fill the house with a festive mood. As I’ve mentioned before, my wife loves to decorate for the holidays and I love to supply her with fresh foliage from the conifer garden for all her decorating desires. The day after Thanksgiving, I created a pair of colorful wreaths and a few days later, I was back in the elves workshop creating a pair of colorful swags. There is nothing like nice fresh-smelling greenery collected right outside my door in my very own festive evergreen factory!

Next, I had a request to harvest some more traditional greens from the large Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedars to surround a table centerpiece that my wife was planning. After I discovered what she had planned, I realized that this particular centerpiece would not be complete without a few of those cute little conifers in the festive red pots that I see this time of year at my favorite independent garden center. Being it was still the end of November, I was fairly confident that they would have in stock exactly what I was looking for. My quick trip (okay, when have I ever had a quick trip to my favorite garden center?) to the store proved a success and I returned with several little conifers that would add a touch of life to the already whimsical table display.

Cute little conifers in festive red pots are just the thing to make my wife’s already whimsical display a whole lot more fun! Harvested greens are one thing, but adding live plants in an assortment of colors and textures brings the display to life and kicks the fun meter all the way to high!

What I like to do is keep my potted conifers outdoors until needed. My wife’s display is very nice most of the time, but when guests arrive for a meal and on that special holiday, I will bring in my festive red potted plants to give the display just a little added zing! After the holidays, since my new plants will only be indoors for short periods of time, I can either just keep my new dwarf and miniature conifers in their red pots, plant them in other containers or find a place for them in the garden. By living in the Pacific Northwest, I may have the luxury of potting or planting my new plants right away since we often have mild enough temperatures in January and February to do so. If the weather does take a turn for the worse and I find that I need to delay finding these new additions a more permanent home, no problem! I can just tuck them away with my other potted conifers on my patio and take care of them through the remaining winter months as I do the others in my collection. Folks in far colder regions than my own will likely want to overwinter their cute little potted conifers in a protected cold frame or unheated garage until their ground thaws in spring.

I love these cute little potted miniature and dwarf conifers for winter decorating, and I really love that I end up with some new conifers to plant in my garden or enjoy on my patio all year long, for many years to come!

Happy Holidays to you all!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Santa and the Sester Dwarf

I know it seems early, but really, we are into the 2nd week of November. Thanksgiving is just two weeks away and Christmas – well, it’s coming quickly – and chances are, your family enjoys doing some kind of festive decorating for the holiday season. I know mine does.

A few posts back I mentioned that I was making an attempt to encourage my wife to miniaturize our holiday decorating to some degree. I talked about creating some winter themed container plantings which featured dwarf and miniature conifers. As I began to work on some of those new plantings, I realized how perfect these kinds of decorations would be for my urban friends living in apartments or condos. Most all of them have at least a small patio or balcony where they enjoy potted plants throughout the warmer season. Why not utilize those same pots that are now filled with spent annuals and perennials and fill them with holiday themed plants featuring conifers?

Picea pungens 'Sester Dwarf'

An ideal living Christmas tree, Picea pungens ‘Sester Dwarf’ looks great in a premium clay pot.

Some plantings could be larger and remain just outside the sliding glass door that leads out to the patio or balcony. Other smaller (and therefore more portable) containers could be brought indoors during the day to be enjoyed by the family and guests, and then be set back outside to prevent the plants from thinking spring had arrived early and begin to break dormancy. This same technique could be modified for folks desiring to enjoy a living Christmas tree this year.

In a past post I discussed methods of keeping a living Christmas tree in good health so that it can be planted in the garden following the holidays. Another option is to simply leave your featured tree for the holidays in a container and enjoy it on the patio or deck all year long. This seems to make great sense for the urban dwellers with limited space, both indoors or out.

Picea pungens ‘Sester Dwarf’ is an ideal selection for holiday decorating. This compact, symetrical, Christmas-tree-shaped dwarf conifer has a pleasant, soft blue color to its foliage and looks good from sizes, small to large. It is definitely one dwarf conifer that I will be using this year for some of the new containers I am planting for our front walkway. Being a slow-growing conifer, ‘Sester Dwarf’ will be very well behaved in a quality container for a number of years. Then, one might either plant it in the garden or simply move it into a larger container to be enjoyed as your decorating heart desires.

Some additional great choices for containerized, living Christmas trees include:

Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’
Picea glauca ‘Conica’
Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’

Pinus mugo ‘Tannenbaum’
Pinus helrichi leucodermis ‘Compact Gem’
Pinus helrichi leucodermis ‘Irish Bell’

It’s not too early to begin to make your plans for a successful season of holiday decorating!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Seventy-seven days

“Hi Uncle Ed, happy seventy-seven days until Christmas!” was how the first phone call of the day began Sunday morning. My niece and I visited on the phone for fifteen minutes or so – she was checking in to see what my wife and I might have planned for the winter holidays. Our extended families always try to spend either Thanksgiving or Christmas together, and this year my niece and her husband decided that it was their turn to host one of the big events.

“Great, we would love to spend the Christmas weekend at your house.” I said while thinking that since we wouldn’t be hosting the big event this year, perhaps I would be able to encourage my wife to tone down our Christmas decorating just a little bit. I began to play out in my mind the methods I would use to convince my wife that miniature decorating could be just a fun as the usual full-on extravaganza of transforming our home and garden into a winter wonderland. “Okay, thanks for calling…gotta go.” I cut the conversation a little short as my mind became flooded with ways to decorate key spaces around our home with miniature decorations that would reduce my winter holiday workload and yet still satisfy my wife’s desire to have the cutest house ever!

Picea glauca 'Jeans Dilly'

Named in honor of Jean Iseli, Picea glauca ‘Jeans Dilly’ is perfect for small garden spaces, containers and miniature gardens.

My plan is to create several container groupings that will include dwarf and miniature conifers along with fun miniature accessories and tiny lights. I know that a few of my existing container plantings are perfectly suited to become enhanced for the upcoming holidays. With the addition of a few more conifers, planted in nice containers and individually decorated, plus a few planted in larger containers together with fun accessories, I’ll be able to decorate the front entry along the pathway from the driveway to the front door as well as other key areas that I know will please my wife.

What’s great about these container plantings is that they will be perfect for year-round use. Like I mentioned, I’ll be able to utilize some of my existing containerized conifers as well as have a great excuse to plant up a new container grouping or two. Of course, I’ll be creating holiday themed miniature container gardens now, but they will be easily converted into ordinary container plantings when the holidays are past making them beautiful additions to our patio garden.

One key conifer that I will be using in more than one design will be Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly.’ This premium dwarf was named after Jean Iseli, a dwarf conifer pioneer and founder of Iseli Nursery. ‘Jean’s Dilly’ is also one of the first plants selected as one of Iseli’s Signature Series of plants in honor of Jean. An exceptional slow-growing form with small, thin needles and  a familiar, traditional Christmas-tree shape.

I’ll use ‘Jean’s Dilly’ as a foundation plant and place additional plants and accessories in the container as my imagination dictates. I envision using tiny snowmen and elves and, if I am lucky enough to find one, an Abominable Snowman from the classic, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer animated special from 1964 in one of my designs. Of course, what holiday decoration would be complete without tiny lights and a miniature train set?

I have quite a lot of work ahead of me now, Christmas is only 77 days away!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Ps, This post marks the Fourth Anniversary of The Amazing World of Conifers!

See you next year!

Just quick note to wish you all a Happy and Joy-filled Christmas Holiday Season! Pop on over to the Facebook page and say “Hi” to one another there until I return!

See you in 2011!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Federal coneheads

“Hey Ed! Did you see that one of the largest and most popular branches of the federal government have become coneheads?”

“Pardon me?”

“Yeah Ed, apparently the United States government has gone conehead!” laughed my friend. “You’ve got to check out their website.”

The conversation continued like this for a little while before I was able to get my friend to tell me exactly what he was talking about. As it turns out (and maybe many of you are already aware of this) one of the new Holiday designs for the United States Postal Service this year is a collection of four artist’s renderings featuring conifers.

I checked out the USPS website and found that they have holiday conifer stamps and other products available. The stamps feature nicely drawn details of the foliage and cones (or in the case of the Juniper, its berry-like structures). They also have very nicely produced postcards prestamped and with information about each conifer. I was very excited and impressed when I saw what they had to offer.

My wife and I were just talking a few days ago about our need to purchase more stamps for our holiday greeting cards this year. I hope she sees these great conifer stamps. Since they are Forever stamps, I think we should stock up now – then we’ll have plenty of conifer themed stamps to last us a very long time.

Check out the link above and you’ll find four conifers featured in the set including; Abies balsamea (Balsam Fir), Juniperus virginiana (Eastern Red Cedar), Picea pungens (Colorado Spruce) and Pinus ponderosa (Ponderosa Pine).

Happy Holidays!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Dear Santa…

It’s been a very long time since I have written a letter to Santa Claus. I remember one of the first times I wrote to Santa – it was a cold and rainy day, I was probably being fussy (as small children can get when the big holiday gets closer and the days are shorter, colder and wetter). I suppose I was five or six years old. I remember trying to write the letter, getting frustrated with my ability and going to Mom for help. She ended up doing most of the writing while I dictated my Christmas wishes to her, trusting that Santa would approve.

Picea omorika 'Kamenz'

Picea omorika 'Kamenz' is an excellent spreading specimen.

This year there are three conifers on my Christmas list that I am hoping Santa will find a way to deliver on that special morning. I’ve been admiring these three for a number of years during my visits to the display garden at Iseli Nursery. I love a good conifer hunt, and these three may still be rare out in the independent garden centers, I know I could make a special order through my favorite retailer, but I just haven’t done it yet. So, Santa, it’s up to you.

These are a few of my favorite things – all three are forms of Picea omorika, the Serbian spruce:

First on my list is a low, spreading, dwarf form named Picea omorika ‘Kamenz’. The one I’ve been admiring at Iseli is four or five feet across and about 10 inches tall. It has the typical two-toned needles of Picea omorika, with its green top and silver-coated underside. The needles radiate out from the branches in a way that they catch the light very well and seem to almost shimmer as the sun moves across the sky. This one looks to be a great choice for where a sturdy ground cover is desired as well as being a distinctive specimen in its own right.

Picea omorika 'Minima'

Picea omorika 'Minima' captivates my attention.

Number two is Picea omorika ‘Minima’. This enchanting little globe is covered with tiny, thin, two-toned needles giving ‘Minima’ a soft or delicate looking texture. Being the Serbian spruces are hardy to Zone 4, they are anything but delicate. Growth rate is still within the Dwarf range according to the chart published by The American Conifer Society, but it is on the slower growing end of the scale, creating a captivating, small globe-shaped plant that I have a difficult time taking my eyes off of when I am near.

Picea omorika 'Silberblue'

Picea omorika 'Silberblue' is a stunning beauty with silvery-blue needles and a perfectly symmetrical form.

Picea omorika ‘Silberblue’ is the third item on my wish list. This is a large growing tree with a perfectly symmetrical Christmas tree shape. It’s two-toned needles give the tree a silvery blue color that shines in the sun capturing the attention of anyone in its vicinity. Should Santa come through with this one, I’ll place it in a prominent place with room to grow and plan on it becoming a featured tree for future holiday decorations.

That’s it – my entire wish list for 2010. I’m hoping Santa reads my blog.

Ed-
Conifer Lover