Colorful conifers for good health and well-being

We have just recently returned to Pacific Standard Time with our clocks falling back an hour, and even though I have allegedly gained an hour of sleep, I am already feeling the effect of shorter daylight hours. I love the summer when the sun usually wakes me up around 5:30am and finally puts me to rest after 9:30pm. Those long, bright days are truly energizing. Our recent Fall Back, hit me like a ton of topsoil and I’ve been dragging through the past couple of days.

Then, today it hit me—it’s time to start making plans for holiday decorating!

I love to make wreaths, and my wife loves hanging them both indoors and out! We recently made some major progress in organizing our garage which resulted in my having a place for my, “You’re not going to make a mess in my house” projects like holiday wreath making, candle making, whittling and carving. That is perfectly okay with me, now that I have a nice warm space to work on my projects.

wreath
Here is one wreath I crafted in 2015. I am so looking forward to getting started this season!

One of my first projects will certainly be making wreaths for the holiday season. Conifers are perfect for this craft because of their very wide-ranging assortment of foliage colors, textures, and even their scents. One of the comments I hear when folks visit during the holidays is how fresh and “Christmasy” the house smells. I’m certain that conifers play a big role in those comments (as well as my wife’s “Swill” she has warming on the stove through the holidays).

I love to create my wreaths with an assortment of conifer foliage. I will often begin with something simple like our native, dark green, Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas Fir) or the glossy green sprays of Thuja plicata (Western Red Cedar) or Calocedrus decurrens (Incense Cedar). As I work my way around the wreath, the real fun begins as I begin to include other complimentary and/or contrasting color elements.

wreathfoliage
Just a small sample of some of the foliage I prepared for my wreath-making in 2015. Now that I’ll have a larger workspace, I hope to make several new wreaths this holiday season!

For bright powder blue color, I love to use Cupressus glabra ‘Blue Pyramid’ or a splash of Picea pungens ‘Hoopsi’ . When I want to add a flash of bright yellow, I love to use Cupressus glabra ‘Aurea’, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’ or C. pisifera ‘Golden Mop’. Of course each of these selections add their own unique texture and aromatic presence to the piece. Variegated conifers such as Juniperus chinensis ‘Torulosa Variegata’ or C. ob.‘Snowkist’ add a delightful zing as well. For a softer texture, Pinus strobus ‘Macopin’, P. s. ‘Louie’ and the variegated Pinus parviflora ‘Ogon Janome’ are delightful choices.

If you have never made your own wreath before, I want to encourage you to take the time. It is a very fun and relaxing (even meditative) project that yields tons of smiles and happiness in those who visit. I always make several and give a few away to neighbors and loved ones. It’s always fun to spread the cheer!

Yes, now that I have fresh new wreath-making ideas flowing, my back seems to hurt a little less and I seem to have a spring to my step that has been missing for several days. Thanks to the therapeutic power of conifers!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

The thrill of spring!

After our unusually dry and mild winter, we have entered into the spring season with cooler temperatures, more clouds, more cold rain and even brief, scattered hail showers. We seem to be back to our “normal” now and many plants are beginning  to push a bit of their new growth. Most of the early Japanese Maples have flushed their first push of fresh colorful new growth. Along with this first push of foliage, we also see tiny, delicate looking flowers, many with bright red or burgundy bracts that are very showy in the green foliage types and almost invisible in the cultivars pushing red new growth.

Bright, fresh, new foliage may be observed to be accompanied by tiny, delicate looking flowers, by those who look closely.

The Ginkgos have pushed some new foliar growth as well, although not near as much as many of the maples. Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’ is a very nice dwarf selection and its very tiny, new, bright yellow-green leaves are just beginning to emerge from buds along golden-tan branches.

Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’ holds stray water droplets captive in its tiny, emerging spring foliage.

Picea bicolor (alcoquiana) ‘Howell’s Dwarf’ is in beautiful color right now as both the male and female cones are rich purple-pink in color and look gorgeous against the bi-colored foliage of this very attractive small tree. Growing as a wide spreading shrub when young, the small garden tree will eventually set a leader and grow into an upright form. Light green needles with their waxy striations give the plant its distinctive bi-colored look.

The amazing spring color display of Picea bicolor (alcoquiana) ‘Howell’s Dwarf’.

Another exciting selection with bi-colored foliage just beginning to emerge is the low, wide spreading Abies veitchii ‘Heddergott’. Like ‘Howell’s Dwarf’ this slow growing dwarf conifer will eventually begin to grow into a broad upright shape. Its light yellow-green foliage is coated on one side with a thick white wax which is very effective at reflecting light and makes this dwarf fir shine bright in the garden.

Swelling buds are just beginning to break with the emerging new foliage of Abies veitchii ‘Heddergott’.

Intense color that cannot be missed this time of year is when the Abies pinsapo ‘Aurea’ is clustered full of bright purple-pink male pollen cones against the yellow, short, thick, succulent needles on this large garden tree.

Clusters of richly colored pollen cones adorn the short, succulent, yellow-green needles of Abies pinsapo ‘Area’.

I also particularly enjoy the mature, dry cones of Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Waggin Tails’. This tree seems to set cone at a fairly young age and displays many cone clusters creating a delightful ornamentation to this already unique and appealing, slow growing form of Douglas fir.

Making me nostalgic for Christmas-time, the mature cones and foliage of Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Waggin Tails’ ornament the garden beautifully.

What description of spring in the conifer garden would be complete without the reddish-pink new candle growth of Pinus parviflora ‘Tanima no yuki’? The newly extending candles of future foliage are always a pleasing sight against the mature, creamy white and green variegated, fine textured foliage of this stunning dwarf Japanese White pine.

Always a favorite sight in the spring are the pink extending candles of Pinus parviflora ‘Tanima no yuki’.

Last on my list of early spring garden stunners are the nearly pure white, bottle-brush flowers of Fothergilla gardenii. This pleasing, small, broad-leaved plant begins its spring season covered with sweet smelling, delicate looking flower spikes. During the summer, its green foliage reminds me of Clark Kent, unassumingly doing their job before the Superman of autumn color explodes onto the scene with mighty shades of red, orange and purple.

The thrilling, white, bottle-brush flowers of Fothergilla gardenii are the first exciting feature of this multi-season plant.

Springtime is a refreshing time of renewal. I hope you have time to stroll through your gardens and be enthralled and energized by all of the activity going on there, wherever you are.

Ed-
Conifer lover

A promise of gold

In my corner of the Pacific Northwest, 2014 will be remembered as one of the exceptionally great weather years. I simply do not remember a better stretch of pleasant, mild, warm and sunny days. Even during the heat of our summer hot days, we rarely saw the thermometer rise above the mid-90s with most days peaking in the mid to low-80s – just perfect!

Now as we slide into the end of October, the rain has been with us for several days in a row with no real end in sight. I think for many of us native born Oregonians, this is a welcome change. As tired as we may become of the rain after five or six months of it on a daily basis, most of us do tend to welcome its return after a hot and dry summer.

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Golden Promise’ is a stunning, bright yellow, globe-shaped dwarf conifer ideal for the temperate garden.

This year our fall foliage color has been delayed when compared with years in recent memory. My photographer friend keeps an accurate photo record of the gardens at Iseli Nursery, by cataloging his photos by date. It is fairly easy for him to look back over the past decade and a half and report just when the deciduous trees began their autumn color changes, when they peaked and which trees were among the last to finally drop their leaves. For example, he has photos from early October of 2013 showing many Japanese Maples in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden in a blaze of orange and red, while this year those very same trees have just started to show their seasonal color over the past week or so – non being near their peak of color as compared with previous years.

I am sure that weather conditions, precipitation amounts, daily temperature range and early or late frost all play a role in how and when a tree may display its autumn color. Fortunately, seasonal color in the garden is not limited to deciduous trees and shrubs.

One of the greatest advantages of using conifers in the garden is that they have the potential to provide fantastic color all year long, and some of them even change color through the seasons. One of the most colorful and most exciting conifers in my garden is a dwarf Japanese Cedar called ‘Golden Promise’. Cryptomeria japonica ‘Golden Promise’ is one of the brightest yellow conifers from spring through summer and only begins to darken a bit as it takes on a slight golden-bronze hue with the onset of colder weather in autumn or winter.

Slightly bronzed foliage from the cold winter temperatures begins to awaken as reddish-orange new foliage emerges in spring. Soon, the outer, sun-exposed foliage with brighten to fresh, lemon-yellow as older, shaded interior foliage provides a green contrast.

Once the temperature begins to rise again in spring, new growth will emerge with a hint of bronze to the tips which quickly brightens to lemon-yellow, creating one of the brightest color spots in the garden. The slow growing plant has a very tidy globe shape and never needs shearing to maintain its attractive form. Tiny, succulent needles give the bright golden globe a coarse texture.

For a promise of gold in your garden that you may rely upon year after year, ‘Golden Promise’ is rated at Zone 6 cold hardiness and is perfect for all kinds of container gardens, rock gardens, or any small space where a beautifully bright blast of color will be seen and enjoyed.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

A burst of sunshine!

The dark and dreary winter days are beginning to brighten! I have noticed that our daylight hours are definitely increasing and I feel the brightness in my spirit as well as see it with my eyes. This morning I decided that I would spend a little time catching up with some of my favorite garden blogs. One of them, written from her home on the opposite side of the continent, A Garden of Possibilities, had posted a picture of one of my very favorite golden conifers. Imagine my excitement to not only find one of my favorite bloggers highlighting a conifer, but one of my favorite conifers at that!

Pinus contorta ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ bursts forth its proclamation of spring-time.

Pinus contorta ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ is one of those conifers that burst forth their new growth in bright colors and then slowly fade to green as the season progresses. Beginning with the warmth of spring, this Lodgepole Pine will begin to extend its new foliage. These new “candles” will be covered with tiny, emerging, soft-yellow needles. As the candles continue to extend, longer and longer, the tiny needles also burst forth in their butter-yellow and then slowly become more and more golden in color. Eventually as summer arrives the golden color of the needles begins to fade to the nice medium green color that the small garden tree enjoys until the follow spring. This color burst is a lot like the bloom of some flowers, except that it lasts for months instead of weeks.

Bright, rich golden needles emerge from the new candles while both the new, bright pink and the older green cones add interest and color highlights.

But wait, there is an added color bonus with ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’. When one looks closely, there are tiny, bright pink cones here and there among the newly extending golden candles. These cones slowly develop through the spring and summer, becoming larger and darker pink and then gradually they turn a bright green color. I enjoy finding both the bright pink new cones and last season’s green cones on the tree at the same time. The green cones will mature through the summer and fall, dry, and then open up to disperse their seeds and eventually fall from the tree.

The tiny pink cones emerging between the small needles are a thrill for me to discover every spring!

There really is nothing quite like the burst of color that ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ provides in the garden, and its bright color in spring lifts my spirits very much like the increasing hours of sunlight we are experiencing right now!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Rainbows and rants

We  have been experiencing a rather typical Pacific Northwest February with plenty of chilly temperatures, rain showers, sun breaks and the occasional rainbow sighting. The other day, after completing several chores around the house, my wife and I decided to allow someone else to fix us dinner and treated ourselves to an early dinner out. Moments after we were seated near an east-facing window, it started raining. As it turned out, this was one of those heavy downpours that last only a few minutes and are followed by a sun break. In fact, while we gazed out our window, it seemed as though the rain has almost completely stopped while looking out a window on the other side of the building, we could see the rain was still pouring as it was highlighted by the bright sun.

The winter conifer garden is full of color, texture, form and interest.

My wife has a special gift of being able to sense when a rainbow is coming and within a moment or two, she announced, that we were in a perfect spot to see the rainbow. I looked out the window across the nearly barren landscape of the restaurant and looked back and forth for her anticipated rainbow. Sure enough, within a couple of minutes, one began to materialize right before our eyes. It slowly grew in intensity until we could see the entire thing, from end to end. The colors became brighter and brighter and then a second rainbow appeared in an outer ring not far from the original.

In a few more minutes, the magical color had dissipated, the rain began to fall again and we were left with a view of the bleak landscaping darkened by the now gray, cloud filled sky.

“When are people going to figure out that even commercial landscapes could be places of year-round color and interest if they would use dwarf conifers?” I asked my wife, not expecting an answer.

The low winter sun, diffused by many clouds, provides a well-lighted vista of the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden.

It really does not matter whether the sun is shining or not, a barren winter landscape, splattered about with few Barberry plants, some Rhododendrons and a flowering cherry or two just does not make an attractive winter scene. Since winter lasts from November through March around here, nearly half of the year many landscapes are bleak and barren. How simple it would be to design a commercial landscape with colorful, low-maintenance dwarf conifers! There may be more of an initial investment for the property owner, but in the long run, the cost of maintaining dwarf conifers in any landscape should be dramatically lower.

The incredible color and interest of the conifer garden is highlighted during a winter sun break.

Most commercial properties are not designed for outdoor lawn activities, so why pay to plant, fertilize, irrigate and mow a huge, lush green lawn that no one uses? Dwarf, intermediate and even large conifers would be a perfect replacement for large expanses of lawn grass in commercial landscapes. Reducing lawn areas to complement the visuals in many designs may be more effective, aesthetically and monetarily.

Once established, conifers require very little care. One would need to inspect for insect infestations and treat accordingly. Complementing any garden design with a mix of plants can encourage a proper balance of predator insects which can keep the unwanted critters under control. With the proper plant selections, there should be very little pruning necessary aside from trimming out the occasional dead branch from the abuses plants in public spaces often endure.

Low maintenance, drought resistant, colorful, hardy conifers, for beautiful gardens all year-long, I say!

Who’s with me?

Ed-
Conifer Lover