Color and texture and form, oh my!

A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to spend some time with a conifer skeptic. This dear woman and her husband came for a brief visit to discuss a remodeling project in our kitchen. My friend is a brilliant mechanical/construction type of fellow with all kinds of repair and remodeling experience. He and I go way back and he loves conifers nearly as much as I do. His wife has loved flowers all her life and has big plans to remodel their garden. Before they arrived, I pulled together some publications filled with informative text and hundreds of photos of conifers.

Conifers help create a beautiful garden filled with year-round color, texture and form.

We greeted our friends with smiles and hugs and then I immediately made my move.

“I’ve put a few things together for you, since I knew that you were beginning to make plans for re-working your garden.”

“Oh yes! I am going to fill our garden with so much color, your eyes will pop!”

“Great! I pulled together a few books that I thought you might enjoy pursuing for inspiration. These things are filled with ideas for year-round color – which, as you know, can really help to overcome the winter doldrums around here!”

She flipped through one of the catalogs that I had given her and a large smile grew as she began to exclaim, “Color and texture and form, oh my!”

I grinned and began to repeat her phrase and soon all four of us were chanting as if from the movie, The Wizard of Oz. We all laughed and she noted that she had no idea conifers could fill a garden with so much color and interest. She admitted that when she thought of conifers she only considered them to be super tall forest trees or overgrown, half-dead Junipers. I was very happy to see the light bulb floating above her head.

My friend and I moved to the kitchen to discuss my project while the ladies talked about… whatever it is that ladies talk about when the men are not present. A few minutes later, we all took a quick stroll through the garden. By the look on her face, I believe that my friend may have become a convert and I expect many questions in the coming weeks! Little do they know that over the past few years I have grafted several new conifers to share with them and help get them started.

Conifer Lover

A beautifully unusual spring

With over 230 posts published on this blog, I need to review them once in a while so that I may make an effort to not talk about the same plant or general topic too frequently. One topic that has come up many times over the years is the long, cold and wet winter and spring seasons we normally have in this part of the Pacific Northwest.

Beautiful little cones seem to pop up randomly on the spreading, Abies koreana ‘Blauer Pfiff’.
Fresh new foliage of Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ emerges with a hint of copper/bronze which fades to light green. Tiny flower cluster dangle below new leaves and slow transform into hairy, winged seeds.

Ever since the last week of March, we have had a very unusual spring. Although we have had plenty of rain, it hasn’t been the constant cold, gray downpour with rare and occasional sun-breaks. This spring we have enjoyed several warm and sunny days along with some cool and dry days which only included a brief shower or two. One of those days took me by surprise when the brief shower turned into a downpour of hail, but our hail is usually only about the size of a BB pellet, so it was just an annoyance and not a danger.

Incredible deep, rich, purple cones highlight the soft blue foliage of Picea englemanii ‘Fritsche’ in early spring. Soon, the fresh, bright blue foliage will emerge on this majestic, vigorous weeping tree.

Thanks to this great spring weather, I have been able to spend a tremendous amount of time in my garden. Here we are, in the later part of April, and I have most of my garden clean-up chores completed. I’ve planted several new dwarf conifers (some of which were mentioned a few posts back), I’ve prepared the raised beds of my dedicated veggie and herb garden, weeding is under control and perhaps what I am most excited about — the garden is coming alive with all the wonderful signs of spring!

My Japanese maples have exploded into full spring color; most of my cultivars within the Picea glauca family have a healthy start to their new push of foliage; cultivars of Cedrus deodara are pushing their bright new foliage tips; all of my pines are beginning to extend their new candle growth; and tiny colorful cones are beginning to emerge in this new season of the reproduction process. Even the first of my newly grafted plants is beginning to break bud!

After several years in a row of long, cold, wet, gray springs — which delayed plant growth by an additional week or two every consecutive year — it is very nice to enjoy a real spring-time season. But, keeping a sense of reality, this is the Pacific Northwest, so even though our spring is delightful, our area seems to always balance out, and I expect we may have a cooler, wetter summer — but who really knows — this is the weather I’m talking about!

I hope that wherever you are, springtime is near!

Conifer Lover

Please enjoy these additional photos by R.C.Smith, provided by my friends at Iseli Nursery!

Kick it up… with color!

We had quite a little stretch of sunny and warm weather here in the Pacific Northwest, but for now we have returned to our normal May showers – thankfully, the temperatures have remained mild, so I believe the spring push of new growth will carry on without further delay. We did have almost two full weeks of very pleasant weather which encouraged my conifers (and the large Rhododendrons that border on edge of my property) to push their respective colorful new growth (and flowers in the case of the Rhodo’s).

The greens, blues and yellows are all fresher and brighter and cleaner looking as they become covered with a new coat of foliage. I’m not sure how it is, but this time of year, when the clouds fill the sky and the rain flows from a constant drizzle to a scattered light shower to a drenching downpour, all the colors in the conifer garden seem more alive. the blues of my assorted Picea pungens cultivars look vibrant alongside the deep reds of my Japanese maples and complement the intense color of my golden Juniperus and Chamaecyparis cultivars which are all dressed up in their bright yellow new foliage. Even the more common green conifers are brighter and happier looking while clothed in their new spring foliage.

Juniperus horizontalis 'Mother Lode'
Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’ is a very low growing, spreading and flowing ground cover which will trail along the ground, over rocks and around hardscape features like a flowing river of gold.

One great feature of many conifers is that they push new growth a few times through the growing season giving waves of fresh new growth all season long. Others put their energy into one big push of new foliage and then slowly harden off through the summer months. Some become brighter or darker as the season progresses, others change color completely, beginning the new season with bright yellow growth that changes to dark green over a period of weeks or months. Right now, on this dark gray, rainy day, the most vibrant color in my garden is coming from three different spreading junipers.

Juniperus horizontalis 'Gold Strike'
Juniperus horizontalis ‘Gold Strike’ has brightly colored, soft textured foliage that mounds and spreads in the garden – a real color spot!

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’ is one of the brightest yellow, fine textured, flat to the ground growing conifers you may find. It has become a favorite in many gardens due to its cold hardiness and amazing, bright yellow foliage through spring and summer. As colder weather arrives during the autumn months, ‘Mother Lode’ will begin to exhibit tones of pink and orange as it remains a colorful feature all winter long.

Juniperus conferta 'All Gold'
Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’ has an amazing bright color that I suggest you be wearing sunglasses when you first encounter it in a garden!

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Gold Strike’ is a seedling selection from ‘Mother Lode’ and to my eye has a slightly deeper golden-yellow tone compared with the brighter lemon-yellow of ‘Mother Lode’. Although ‘Gold Strike’ is a low spreading form, it does tend to mound a little higher than its mother.

Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’ is a coarse textured ground cover with what may be the brightest and most intense yellow color I have ever seen in a plant growing in the full, hot summer sun. Of course, I cannot speak to how it may perform in your micro-climate, here in my garden, it is simply stunning!

By placing a few strategically placed bright color spots like the above mentioned plants, along with other assorted blue and green (and other yellow) conifers of various shapes and sizes, you could have the brightest and most colorful, low maintenance and easy-care garden in the neighborhood.

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

On the threshold of an Orange Dream

The Japanese maples are my favorite companion trees to plant with conifers. With hundreds of cultivars available that vary in size from very dwarf small trees to large shade providers and in colors from spring to fall that appear to have been picked out of a rainbow, they are nearly as versatile as conifers. The month of May is a big one for conifers. Some will begin their spring flush of new growth in April, but in May—BAM!—they all explode in their new foliar glory. April on the other hand, will see an explosion of color from the Japanese maples.

Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream'

One of the most spectacular, most intensely colorful spring shows is put on by Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream.’ This delightful small tree’s orange new foliage color in spring is a sight to behold. With a background of dark green and blue conifers, the color is so stunning; I find that I need sunglasses whenever I’m near it in the spring. A very tidy small tree, ‘Orange Dream’ grows just a few inches a year and will remain manageable in smaller gardens for many years. It is also very adaptable to being grown in containers for the patio or deck. I’ve planted mine where it will receive ample morning sunlight while providing afternoon shade. In summer, the tender bright orange leaves can sunburn so I may try growing a second one in a container. That way, I could move the plant around a little if it was getting too much sun.

I’ll tell you, the color is so intense and exciting; it’s worth a little extra effort to grow this beauty. And right now I wait in anticipation of the awakening of my ‘Orange Dream.’

Conifer Lover

Many thanks to Iseli Nursery for the photo links!