There was a reason it was priced so low

I was puttering around in the little wooded corner of my lot the other day. While there, I heard the neighbor dogs begin to bark in the fashion which I have learned means that their masters have arrived home. I could see Mrs. Neighbor climb out of her SUV, greet her happy dogs and immediately roll a wheel barrow to the back end of her vehicle. That behavior, I presumed, would lead to an assortment of new plants being unloaded and a fun day of planting was ahead for her.

I walked over to the fence and gave a little wave as she turned and caught my eye. “Hi Ed!” she called out, “I’ve brought home some new color for my fall displays – wanna’ come see?”

That was all I needed and I began to make my way over the low fence which stands between our wild-garden and their front driveway. “Looks like you’re all set for autumn, all right” I said as I approached her nearly full first load, “Let’s see, looks like, mums and asters and pansies and… What’s this, a conifer?”

Turning a slight shade of red, “You caught me!” she said and quickly followed with, “Well, you see this one is such a bright yellow color, and it fits in with my color scheme – besides, you always tell me that conifers are easy to grow and low-maintenance… and it was on sale!”

The early autumn conifer garden
The early autumn conifer garden is full of color, texture and form – and it’s incredibly low-maintenance too!

“Mmmmm…”

“What?”

“I am so happy that you have decided to add a colorful conifer to your autumn display, but… I do believe there is a reason that this particular specimen was on sale.”

“I saw the bright yellow color and thought you’d be thrilled to see I picked a conifer.”

“Yes, I am… it’s just…”

“What?”

“It’s just that this particular conifer is supposed to be blue.”

What my friend had found “on sale” at the big-box garden center was a terribly stressed and neglected Blue Star Juniper which had actually turned a surprisingly yellow color. She did get a great price, and the plant might survive, but it will definitely require some extra care to nurse it back to health.

Deciding that it would cost more in fuel to drive back to the store for a refund than she paid for this bargain plant, my friend opted to consider it a one-season addition to her autumn decorations. I smiled and carefully crawled back over the fence, grabbed my favorite chair, carried it out to the middle of my garden and enjoyed all of the beautiful seasonal color that my healthy conifers and companion plants provide. I sat back happily enjoying the late summer sun without the need to dig out old and tired plants and replace them with new seasonal color.

Conifers truly are the most reliable, most colorful, least labor intensive way to enjoy year-round color, texture and form in the garden.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Primary colors in the garden

Over the weekend, I had an opportunity to spend the greater part of a day with my daughter at the Silverton Fine Arts Festival. This was an absolutely delightful way to spend a day – what man wouldn’t be proud walking around a public event with his beautiful daughter attached to his arm? We enjoyed the multi-cultural cuisine, the live music and, of course, the art.

There was one artist whose work we particularly enjoyed. Her paintings were of simple shapes crafted into whimsical animal characters painted in bright, rich, primary colors. I loved the geometry of her designs and the intense colors reminded me of my garden.

The primary colors, Red, Blue and Yellow are found throughout the plant world. I do believe that when most folks begin to think of color in their gardens, they immediately think flowers – which are certainly filled with bright and exciting color. But, as I may have mentioned a time or two in previous posts, that color is really quite short lived in the garden, and entirely absent after the first killing frost of autumn, and does not return again until spring, leaving behind a dreary landscape through the winter months, when our emotional health might benefit most from the uplifting effects of color.

Last time I shared just two plants which add volumes of red color to the garden from spring through fall. Unfortunately, red is difficult to come by naturally in the dead of winter, though some deciduous trees and shrubs do offer bright red stems and twigs of deep purple to bright orange and red.

Primary color plants
Dwarf conifers and other colorful garden plants add emotionally uplifting color to the the garden.

This time, I want to share a beautiful combination of plants which represent the three primary colors. First, for my red selection, and frankly, this is probably more of a deep dark purple than red, but it serves my purposes here beautifully. Berberis thunbergii ‘Concord’ is a dwarf Japanese barberry with deeply rich, dark purple foliage and stems. The amazing color begins in spring as the tiny leaves appear and continues, without fading, through the hot summer months. Finally, in autumn, the red color becomes brighter until leaf drop when tiny red berries are revealed which may persist into winter.

I’ve mentioned many yellow conifers over the nearly five years that I have been sharing my gardening stories on this blog. Within the conifer world, there are a great number of yellow plants available, from low spreading ground covers, to tall narrow pillars of gold, to subtle butter-yellow highlights and even plants that push their new spring growth in bright yellow and then fade to dark green each year. Some of the brightest I mentioned in a recent post, and today I’ll feature Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’ because it is simply one of the purest and brightest yellow conifers readily available today and is suitable for growing in most regions of the USA.

Finally, when I need a go-to blue for garden design, I immediately think Blue Spruce. The first one that tends to come to my mind is Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ because it is a premium dwarf tree with reliable bright blue color, is much slower growing than its parent species and yet it will grow and fill in space with great blue color and traditional Colorado spruce form, while remaining perfectly scaled for smaller gardens. A maturing 25 to 30 year old tree may reach 10 to 15 feet tall rather than the 25 to 30 feet of its species parent.

When you plant groups of conifers, in combinations of these colors, with assorted shades of green, in a vast assortment of shapes, forms, textures and sizes, you can expect year-round garden interest and pleasure.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

79 degrees in the shade

Finally!

We have finally had a few days in a row of sunny and warm weather. After the month of March and its cold snow showers and April with its cold rain showers, May is beginning to show true signs of spring. This past Sunday afternoon, while my wife and I were enjoying the first grill of the season, I noticed that the large thermometer on the wall under the patio cover read 79°F. It felt as if we had skipped spring and jumped directly into summer. Today we expect a high near 70, tomorrow 61 – and the showers return.

Abies koreana 'Silver Show'
The spring, female cones of Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’ do put on quite a show. From a relatively young age, an abundance of showy cones cover many branches of this silvery-green tree.

We made good use of the great weather and spent a lovely few hours planting many of the little conifers I have grafted over the past two years. They look so happy now that they have a more permanent home in my garden. We also had time to plant several veggies into the four raised beds I had prepared two weeks ago. In that time, the soil warmed up very nicely, so I am confident that my lettuce, peas, beans, spinach and Brussels sprouts settled in nicely to their new homes.

Pinus pumila 'Blue Dwarf'
Pinus pumila ‘Blue Dwarf’ is a slow growing, bluish colored, soft textured pine with the reliable appearance of bright pinkish-red pollen cones in spring.

This small blast of very desirable weather has had a positive effect in the garden and I am seeing so much activity, not only in my plants, but all the garden critters have been active and full of life. Shortly after I worked up the soil in the vegetable garden, one of the squirrels took advantage of the soft, fluffy soil and planted a few seeds of his own. I look forward to seeing what pops out of the ground there.

Picea abies 'Pusch'
Discovered as a witches’ broom on Picea abies ‘Acrocona’, known for its prolific, brightly colored cone production, Picea abies ‘Pusch’ is a small mounding, spreading dwarf form with showy, brightly colored cones each spring. It looks great planted with other colorful garden plants.

With buds breaking and fresh new, brightly colored foliage beginning to emerge from many of my conifers along with a prolific number of conifer flowers – the colorful male and female cones that make their appearance in springtime  – my garden is waking up and transforming from the subdued colors of winter, like a painting by Camille Pissarro, into the vibrant colors of spring in Monet’s Garden. As I stroll through my garden, I enjoy finding a new cone here or a new push of growth there. Soon, the garden will truly explode with color as all the conifers burst forth with their new growth.

Pinus mugo 'Orphir'
Pinus mugo ‘Orphir’ is a sturdy mugo pine that turns a rich gold during the cold winter months. In spring, as the needles return to their green color, bright lemon-yellow pollen cones make their appearance extending the season of yellow color of this unique dwarf pine.

It seems to be a very long time since we have had a sunny and warm month of May. These past few days have reminded me how much a warm spring day can bring healing to old aching bones and delight to the heart and soul.

Abies koreana 'Green Carpet'
Abies koreana ‘Green Carpet’ is a grass-green, spreading, dwarf conifer that is highlighted in spring with purple cones which persist through summer, eventually drying and releasing their seeds.

May your garden be lush and full of life,

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Lace and the bright light

I suggest that you find your sunglasses before you continue reading this post.

Ready?

I have a conifer on my wish list that is very possibly the brightest, the most intense yellow I have ever seen in a plant. So far, I have only seen small specimens – the largest is close to three feet tall – but I can imagine how this might look as a large tree. I have a feeling, when I do find one of these beauties, and it has grown in my garden for five to ten years, it may very well become my only outdoor light source – I really think it must generate its own light!

This new conifer was discovered in 1987 as a yellow sport growing on one of the Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Graciosa’ in the production fields at Iseli Nursery and has been given the name, ‘Sunlight Lace’. If you are familiar with the cultivar, ‘Graciosa’ and its characteristically lacy foliage, then you should be able to imagine the foliage of ‘Sunlight Lace’ with its wide, flat sprays of foliage that may remind you of intricate lace work found on a fine gown that your great-grandmother may have worn many years ago.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Sunlight Lace'
'Sunlight Lace' is a newcomer with great potential to be one of the finest yellow conifers in your garden. This specimen shows a hint of winter bronzing in the foliage. As temperatures warm, the bronze tint will disappear, leaving only the brightest yellow foliage you may have ever seen.

This small tree appears to grow at a rate of six to eight inches per year with an open, airy habit. It should grow into a medium-sized tree with a broadly pyramidal form, but with some annual pruning, it could be shaped and encouraged to grow with a more compact form for many years in the smaller garden. If acquired as a small plant, it would very likely be ideal for growing in a nice container on the deck or patio for many years before it would need to be transplanted into the garden.

The brightest, most intense color will be produced when grown in full sun, but the bright yellow and white foliage can be susceptible to sunburn, so growing where it will receive some afternoon shade would be a good idea. The specimen pictured here receives some direct sun, off and on throughout the day during the growing season, which seems to be growing in an ideal mix of sun and shade because it is a beautiful color with little to no sunburn whatsoever.

I can imagine this bright light glowing in my garden with a groundcover of the bright blue Picea pungens ‘Procumbens’ and other blue and green conifers planted nearby creating a garden space filled with dazzling year-round color. Plant this beauty near the deck or patio and I imagine that with just a little moonlight, it will be bright enough to read a book by at midnight.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Friendly fishing

“Conifers? Yeah, I learned about them in my science class years ago, they’re those sticky, prickly bushes that grow into huge trees. Why would I want to plant any of those things in my yard?” was the question coming from my new friend in line at the DMV.

“Oh… conifers are far more diverse and exciting than that.” I replied. “There are conifers that are as small as that paperweight on the counter over there, that can be grown for years in a container on your patio. Besides being very slow growing, they can be found in an assortment of colors, from the lemon yellow of Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Golden Sprite’, to the rich blue of Picea pungens ‘Lundeby’s Dwarf’, in shapes and sizes from a pincushion, to a wide spreading low carpet, to mid-sized sculptural forms, to giant trees.

I sensed that I was beginning to lose the subject of my coniferous proselytism, so I changed tactics.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Sprite'
Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Sprite' is an excellent choice for the rock garden, containers on the deck or patio, or in miniature theme gardens.

“I’ll bet your wife loves growing flowers in her garden, right?” He offered a slight nod and I continued, “She loves all that color during the spring and summer, and then I’ll bet you both look forward to dealing with all the dead brown debris in the late fall and winter as all those pretty flowers wither and die leaving you an unsightly yard with quite a lot of work to do to clean up that mess!”

“Huh – yeah, right!”

Picea pungens 'Lundeby's Dwarf'
Picea pungens 'Lundeby's Dwarf' is a tremendous dwarf blue conifer that will provide year-round color and never require pruning to maintain its small form.

“With dwarf and miniature conifers, you can enjoy all kinds of color and texture in your garden with almost no maintenance whatsoever. No pruning, no deadheading to encourage more flowers, no constant fertilizing to encourage more growth and blooms, and once established in your garden, very little additional irrigation. In fact, if you reduce your lawn to a few paths meandering through beds of conifers, your workload will drop and your water usage will plummet.”

“So, a conifer garden could actually save me money?”

The hook was set, now all I had to do is reel him in. In mere moments he was called to the counter and that was the last I saw of my new convert.

A conifer lover’s work is never done.

Ed-
Conifer Lover