Hooray! Hooray! It’s a coney day!

Hooray, they’re here! The first of the colorful little spring-time treasures have begun to show themselves. I caught my first glimpse of new developing cones just about two weeks ago. If you have been reading my blog for a few years, you will know that I always look forward to spring when the conifers begin to “flower” and their colorful little cones emerge on last year’s stems. Both male and female cones will show up along stems and upper branches on many conifers – some at a very young age, others after they have aged some years. And this treasure hunt is not limited to early spring, some conifers develop their new cones on the current seasons new flush of growth, so cone hunting season can last into summer.

Clusters of cones add interest to the garden every spring.

The first cones I spotted this season were on a few different cultivars of Abies (fir) that I have in my garden. Abies balsamea ‘Tyler Blue’ is a blue foliage form of the Balsam fir and is a very attractive tree. I was doubly pleased when I first noticed that my young specimen began to develop cones last year. These cones are not as showy as some others with their brighter colors, but the light green new cones do stand out against the bluish foliage of this great tree. Over a period of weeks, as the cones mature, the main core of the cone begins to turn light lavender-purple while the light green “wings” remain. In a month or so, the cones will have swollen and become a more solid light purple color, eventually drying to brown over the summer and into autumn.

Colorful cones create quite a spring-time show on Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’.

Another spring-time show stopper is Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’. This beautiful cultivar has very showy curved needles which are rich green on one side, and have a silvery white coating on the other. Due to the curve of the needle, its white side is exposed making the tree shimmer in any light at all – even in our gray Pacific Northwest weather. A big part of the show for me is the massive amount of purple cones that develop, in well-numbered clusters all over the upper side of the branches. My small tree had cones on it when I planted it several years ago, and it was just a young plant at the time. The skinny purple cones will fatten up and become a much deeper purple than the ‘Tyler Blue’ mentioned above.

‘Mac’s Gold’ has pretty new foliage and colorful cones to add an exciting zing to your spring garden!

One of the first spruce to show off its cones in my garden is Picea glauca ‘Mac’s Gold’. Not only do its bright pink cones emerge and begin to develop, but at the same time it begins to push its bright butter-yellow new foliage. This color combination is the cause of many a second look whenever my spring-time guests make their way to the back garden. As summer arrives, the golden foliage darkens to a light green and the cones become darker and dry to a tan and brown with warmer temperatures and longer days.

There is so much happening in the garden right now and everyday I try to make time to take a stroll, seeking out whatever tiny treasures may be emerging in the splendor of spring!

Conifer Lover

They’re coming, and there is nothing we can do about it

Get ready.

Spring is less than a month away. I know, you are looking out your window and think I am out of my mind, spring feels more like a  year away rather than a month, but, it’s true. Spring officially begins March 20th this year. No matter what the weather might be doing in your part of the world right now, the days are definitely longer and signs of spring are beginning to show themselves. One of the sights that ensure spring is officially here in the Pacific Northwest is when Cone Hunting Season officially begins.

Now, I can generally count on a few early cone sightings in the month of April, and the cones are reliably emerging through the month of May. I love the spring cone season! So many colors. So many details. So many tiny surprises begin to emerge on my conifers that every walk through the garden I observe something new. I am very excited about spring!

Here are a few pictures of the exciting cones I look forward to seeing this coming spring! I almost always wander my garden during springtime with my trusty magnifying glass in hand – I don’t want to miss the beautiful details as captured in these pictures.


I can always count on a terrific show from Picea abies ‘Acrocona’. Its clusters of brightly colored cones cover the tree and demand attention!
Always a favorite, Pinus contorta ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ is very pretty as tiny yellow needles and bright pink, sea-urchin like cones emerge on new extending candles.
Very pretty, lavender colored pollen cones fill out the extending candles of new growth on Pinus parviflora ‘Glauca Brevifolia’.
Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’ is known for its beautiful silvery foliage highlights, but for me, the show begins in spring with the massive clusters of purple and pink cones!
Another favorite exciting springtime sight are the emerging purple cones against the yellowish foliage of Abies koreana ‘Aurea’.

They are coming soon!

Conifer Lover

Look no further for a lifetime of gardening enjoyment

During one of my last walks through the garden, before the first series of autumn rain storms hit the Pacific Northwest, I was struck by the beauty of what some might consider to be “just another evergreen tree.” The truth is, Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ is an extraordinary tree with great landscape functionality and multi-season appeal.

Picea abies 'Acrocona'
Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ displays its tan colored cones in the autumn sun.

Possibly the most prominent feature of ‘Acrocona’ is its prolific production of cones which hang like decorative ornaments on the multiple branch ends and vary through the seasons from intensely bright pink, to purple in spring, to reddish-tinged green during the summer, an almost golden-brown in autumn and finally darker brown through the winter. During the winter, most of the mature cones will have dispersed their seed, break down and fall off of the tree. Some remnants of older cones may be visible in springtime when the first tiny, bright pink pollen cones begin to emerge, announcing that the new cycle of life is beginning.

Picea abies 'Acrocona'
The pollen cones of Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ emerge early in spring.

I briefly mentioned in an earlier post about ‘Acrocona’ its unusual branching and growth habit which is most noticeable during the plant’s youth. As my tree has matured, it has become more and more beautiful with its combination of thick, vigorous branches and what appear to be smaller, weaker branches which give the tree an upright, broadly pyramidal form filled with a combination of sweeping and weeping branches.

Picea abies 'Acrocona'
The seed bearing cones of Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ during the peak of their pink color stage.

The unusual growth habit of ‘Acrocona’ very much insures that no two trees will look exactly alike, and make them an excellent choice to use as a primary focal point in garden design. Their four full seasons of color, supplied by the rich, grass-green foliage and the ever-changing cones as they move through their annual cycle, give ‘Acrocona’ the ability to capture attention and add visual interest to a level which is available in few other plants.

Picea abies 'Acrocona'
Large, dense, summer cones of Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ begin to make their gradual color shift from bright pink to a red-tinged green.

I love the way the cones begin as such tiny little pink buds and grow rather quickly into large, dense, purple red cones. The appearance of the cones, dangling from the tips and along branches reminds me of a tree decorated for the Christmas holidays. As the cones grow larger and heavier, they seem to move in a dance, swaying at the ends of windswept branches. When growing in clusters, the cones will weigh down branches, pulling them from their usual upward sweeping form to a downturned direction, sometimes reaching the ground. Fortunately the branches are very flexible, and I have yet to see any remarkable breakage from either the heavy cones or wet, sloppy snow.

Picea abies 'Acrocona'
The golden-brown, autumn cones of Picea abies ‘Acrocona’.

‘Acrocona’ is a fun tree which will provide a lifetime of enjoyment. I suggest you plant one while you are young and enjoy its playful presence for many years to come.

Conifer Lover

79 degrees in the shade


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,

Conifer Lover

The hunt begins

You may recall from past posts how much I enjoy the hunt for the first signs of tiny cones beginning to develop on my conifers. I must still be a kid at heart, playing a horticultural version of hide and seek, because I love looking for those colorful little signs that springtime has arrived. This year is definitely proving to be a week or two behind last year when it comes to my conifers beginning their spring flush of new growth and their display of male pollen cones and the female seed cones.

I believe that last year was an especially good year for cone production on the conifers in my area. Both my garden and the gardens and production fields at Iseli showed an abundance of cones like I’ve never seen before. It is still early, but by this time last year I was seeing more cone developement on more species and cultivars than I had ever seen in one season before. I asked my friends at Iseli what they were seeing this year, and their observation is very much like my own. Few cones developing on fewer plants. No doubt, for whatever reason, last year was an extraordinary year for the cone hunter!

Abies koreana 'Blauer Pfiff'
Abies koreana 'Blauer Pfiff' is a wonderful, low-growing form of Korean fir. One of it's wonderful features is that is seems to cone at a fairly young age.

But don’t let that stop you from getting out into your garden and taking a close look at your conifers. Take a strong magnifying lens or your camera with a quality macro mode, and you just might be surprised at the wonders you will discover.

I love the cone development on my Abies koreana ‘Blauer Pfiff’. The seed cones begin to develop shortly after the pollen cones and just prior to their spring flush of new foliage. The female cones will develop and mature for the next few months, becoming larger and slowly morphing from a spiraling column of reddish-pink pointed wings to a gradient of muted yellowish-green to pink stack of wings on an ever thickening body.

Pinus mugo 'Big Tuna'
Pinus mugo 'Big Tuna' is a great, compact, upright form with rich green foliage and colorful pollen cones.

Another favorite discovery right now is the colorful pollen cones of Pinus mugo ‘Big Tuna’ with their purplish tightly closed pockets of pollen awaiting just the right conditions to open and begin to disperse their fertile pollen into the air. As they mature and begin to elongate a little further, their color takes on some hints of yellow and red suggesting a tinge of orange before they fully open, empty themselves of pollen, and then dry and fade away after completing their important reproductive function.

I look forward to the next several weeks as the hunt will continue and I will discover more and more tiny treasures throughout my garden.

Conifer Lover