Where spring remains winter and autumn visits spring

It seems difficult to believe that any spring could be longer, colder and wetter than last year when we didn’t see sustained temperatures above 60 degrees fahrenheit until well into June. Even then, the rains continued past their “normal” cut-off date of July 4. Last year I did see much more activity in my garden by now in both my conifers and Japanese Maples – we seem to be two to three weeks behind last year.

It was nice to have a brief respite from the cold rain for three days last week. The thermometer on my patio claims that we had a high of 63° on Saturday. Those nice days were followed by a mix of sunshine, rain and hail and a high temperature of 48°, and now we’re back to our cold showers.

Acer palmatum Goshiki Kotohime
Summer foliage of Acer palmatum Goshiki kotohime showing great texture and color.

I did enjoy spending time in my garden during those nice spring days. I transplanted several little one year old grafts into slightly larger pots and I managed to get a little weeding done. The weeds do love our constant rain and the fact that said rain prevents me from attacking the weeds in a more timely fashion. I also noticed that my Japanese Maples are beginning to push their new flush of growth (which is a sure sign that the conifers will be following along very soon).

Perhaps the earliest plant to push its first grunt of new growth in my garden is Acer palmatum ‘Goshiki kotohime’. This very dwarf Japanese Maple will often show signs of life well before anything else in my garden. Its orange/pinkish-red new growth is very small and always seems to sparkle because when it is trying to emerge, we are still experiencing plenty of rain and the threat of light frost. I always become a little concerned when I see its first little leaves popping out and I know that frost is forecast in the area. It does seem to be more hardy than it looks since it always just waits for the cold weather to pass and continues right where it stopped without any sign of damage.

‘Goshiki kotohime’ is a great dwarf plant. Its leaves are closely packed on thin branches giving the appearance of being more of an herbaceous plant than a woody small tree. Its new leaves push with brilliant color and then turn green with deeply cut lobes and undulating edges which create a wonderful texture. Being a slow grower, it is an excellent choice for the container garden as well at other themed miniature gardens where it could easily be pruned to maintain a smaller size if needed.

Acer shirasawanum 'Autumn Moon'
The spring flush of Autumn Moon may look like fall foliage color, but trust me, it is springtime – really.

Another Japanese Maple that I love in spring is Acer shirasawanum ‘Autumn Moon’. The spring foliage is an amazing blend of autumn yellow and orange which is certainly eye-candy while it can confuse ones sense of time. This small tree is a beautiful, compact grower with nice form and a very pleasant color all season long. I love how its color complements the blue, green and gold of my conifers.

Spring is upon us, I just hope that winter will release its grip so that we may enjoy more sunshine and warmer temperatures before the calendar reminds me that it is mid-summer.

Conifer Lover

Great color for the cold days of winter

After several days of spring-like temperatures, our Pacific Northwest weather has made a u-turn back to winter. Well, around here that means the east wind is howling, bringing low temps to near freezing. But, when you factor in the 15 to 30 mph winds, that makes us feel considerably colder. With our friends in the mid-west and back east enduring much lower temperatures and a fresh onslaught of snow, all I can think about are cold hardy conifers!

Three of my favorite hardy conifers make a beautifully colorful vignette when grouped together in the landscape or in containers. This time of year when many other plants are taking a beating from the bitter cold, these three provide enough color to make anyone smile.

'Curley Tops'
The foliage of Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Curley Tops' has a unique curly habit as can be seen in this close up photo.

My first selection is the bright, silvery blue, Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Curley Tops’. This vigorous grower rates within the Intermediate growth range as charted by the American Conifer Society, putting on 6″ to 10″ of new growth per year in my area. ‘Curley Tops’ has a very nice compact form with soft, dense, curly blue foliage. If you would like to slow its growth, it does respond very well to a nice light annual shearing. Naturally growing in a cone shape, if one desired, it could be shaped to the heart’s content.

'Golden Mop'
'Golden Mop' is a slow grower suitable for small spaces in the garden or in containers when young.

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mop’ is listed as a dwarf, but keep in mind that it can become large in time. As a young plant, ‘Golden Mop’ will form a broad roundish mound of bright yellow, coarse, tread-like foliage. In time it becomes broadly pyramidal in form and is quite stunning in the garden planted near dark green or blue conifers. Its color takes on a rich golden hue as winter becomes more intense.

Like the fluffy clouds it is named for, 'Cumulus' is a perfect miniature puff for any small space in the garden or in containers.

Finally, Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Cumulus’ is a great little miniature with tight coarse green foliage and a form that is reminiscent of those wonderful, fluffy, puff-ball clouds on a warm spring or summer day. Since this one is a true miniature conifer growing close to an inch per year, it is perfect for the container garden too. In fact, if acquired as young plants, all three selections are suitable to be grown in containers for a number of years. Then, as they put on some size, you could place them near each other in the garden for a spectacularly colorful corner. Add more colorful conifers or other companion plants for a display worthy of the finest gardens.

Until next time, stay warm!

Conifer Lover

The colors of cold

Last week we experienced a few days of sub-freezing temperatures. Around here, that is a little unusual, though I do know that a great many of my readers would love to have their days warm up to near freezing conditions this time of year.

So, I’m sitting near the wood stove, sipping a delicious cup of tea, gazing out at my garden, and I begin to take notice of all the color in the conifer garden. The deciduous trees and shrubs have all lost their leaves, any remaining perennials have browned and dropped into piles on the ground, but the conifers are full of deep greens, various shades of grays and blues, rich golden tones and bright yellow – and this is just the first cold-spell of the season. I know that as the temperatures continue to stay colder, I will begin to see plums and purples and pinks and orange tones begin to develop in many of my conifers.

Some of the Colors of Cold
Brrrr.... Some of the Colors of Cold in the Pacific Northwest.

All this color, in addition to the texture of the conifers, create quite a lot of interest in the winter garden. On the rare sunny day this time of year, when the sun is very low in the sky, the colors seem to become intensified by the bright sunlight and the dark shadows that frame plant after plant as the sun moves across the sky. Frosty mornings also add a crisp nuance to the garden, then as the sun begins to warm the plants and the frost melts, wisps of steam may begin to rise adding to the mystery of the winter landscape.

Winter is a wonderful time of year for the conifer garden.

Now I want to ask you, what is the color of cold in your garden?

Conifer Lover

My green thumb turned blue

The cold Arctic air that I mentioned last week has moved into our area. I understand that what those of us in the Pacific Northwest will experience over the next few days is nothing like what many of our friends are enduring in other parts of the country right now. A good friend took his eleven year old son to the “big game” in Green Bay and managed to survive four hours of -21º F wind-chill Sunday. Conditions like that give me a new appreciation for our gray rainy days here.

Picea pungens 'Montgomery'

When cold air does make its way into the PNW, I also renew my appreciation for hardy conifers and how great they are for those areas where the winter is commonly far more bitter cold than here. In an earlier blog, I mentioned a handful of dwarf Colorado Blue Spruce that I am particularly fond of. One of the most popular ones on my list is Picea pungens ‘Montgomery.’

Growing at perhaps one third to half the rate of the Colorado Blue Spruce, ‘Montgomery’ is a dwarf version reaching a height of 10 to 12 feet in 20 years. When young, ‘Montgomery’ will grow as a globe shaped mound. Its striking, consistant blue color will certainly draw the attention of passersby. As it matures, it will form a broad pyramidal shape eventually growning into a neat and compact version of the much larger parent tree. Some people prefer to prune out the developing dominant leader to encourage a broader than tall mound shaped plant into maturity. Either way, ‘Montgomery’ is a fantastic garden plant with brilliant blue color and extreme hardiness growing in zone 2 (-40 to -50º F).

‘Montgomery’s hardiness is an attribute that I don’t need to be concerned with where I live. I love it for its generally care free nature, great form and color. With all the shades of green in the garden, I’m thrilled to have ‘Montgomery’ as one contributer to the exciting range of blues to make my garden a real joy.

Conifer Lover

Thanks to Iseli Nursery for the photo links!