Slow and steady as she goes

This summer has been one of the most consistently wonderful weather-wise in my memory. I do have faint memories of when I was a young fella, swimming almost daily in our neighbor’s pool from at least early July through the Labor Day weekend – and that was way back in the early 1960s. I didn’t care much for the cold water of an unheated pool, so at least one summer, way back when, must have been similar to this year with day after day of sunny and warm weather.

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Even a small garden space has room for a path through beds filled with dwarf conifers and other exciting plants.

Our spring began on time this year and we have enjoyed bumper crops in our raised bed vegetable garden. I’ll even be harvesting a water melon soon (which is very rare in this area – at least for me)! With great crops of peas, beans, cucumbers, lettuce, basil and tomatoes, we have enjoyed heart-healthy eating all summer.

Our deck is alive with over 30 dwarf conifer and flower-filled containers. These warm summer evenings have been enjoyed snuggled with my beloved wife as we have listened to frogs, crickets and the occasional coyote serenade the otherwise quiet evenings, gazing at the stars or reading our books.

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A beautiful way to fill a corner with tons of color and excitement!

New construction of the larger garden has been very slow this season and I have achieved far less than I had hoped early on. But, life happens and I have found it to be much less stressful to go with the flow of what life presents to you rather than insist on being the one in control. Steadily working through the challenges as they arise, we have made some strides in achieving our garden transforming goals. Not rushing into some of my landscape projects has allowed me to get to know the property a little more and I have made adjustments to my original plans.

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Wouldn’t this be a great view right off your back patio or deck? Who needs lawn grass? It’s just something you have to mow and water all summer long!

In the meantime, we have enjoyed visiting other gardens and absorbed all kinds of ideas and inspiration to apply to our new garden space. Please enjoy these inspirational photos from the display gardens at Iseli Nursery!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Not your mama’s hedgerow

Over my years of gardening, I have been inspired by all different kinds of tremendous garden designs. Many have had a lasting impact on me, while others have faded away like so many memories do over time. I love large garden spaces that present the opportunity to create smaller, more intimate garden rooms to enjoy while strolling through the garden or when available, being able to stop and dwell in a “private” space which is enclosed by all kinds of plants. I try to keep mental notes of those inspirational settings so that I can draw from them to implement similar concepts in the gardens I design.

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Picea abies ‘Pendula’ may be easily trained to provide an excellent, low-maintenance screen.

When we arrived at our little lot, the 30 year-old fence showed signs of haphazard repair, barely helping the fence to stand and with the first big windstorm, down came sections that had not yet been patched together. Fortunately, we were prepared and had already scheduled the old, rotting fence to be removed and an nice chain-link fence to be put in its place. Of course we lost any privacy the old fence provided, but my strategy is to utilize a number of great conifers (and other exciting plants) to create natural screening that will grow and eventually offer complete privacy to our back-yard space.

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Picea pungens ‘The Blues’ is pliable when young and can be trained for height, breadth or however you might desire.

To achieve this goal, I have an overall strategy that will utilize a number of different selections, planted in layers, beginning near the fence and then working inward toward areas that will feature smaller, more ornamental plants, vegetables and herbs. I have already planned the placement of “rooms” that will be considered more private than others and will require planting combinations that will fill in quickly to provide the desired screening effect as soon as possible.

My first strategy is to plant an initial layer that will block eye-level views into our garden from the adjacent city park. My desire is that this outer layer will be as low-maintenance as possible. I have no desire to spend the final years of my life shearing large hedges to contain them and keep them looking tidy. I’ll be using a combination of groups of weeping conifers for this Fence Layer of the screen.

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The super bright color of Thuja occidentalis ‘Jantar’ can brighten most any space.

Picea abies ‘Pendula’ can be commonly found in many garden centers around the USA. What I love about using this selection as a screen is that it has a perfect curtain-like effect. Similar to the example photo above from the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden, I’ll be staking my plants to a height of about seven feet, along my five foot chain-link fence. As the trees grow, I’ll spread side branches along the top of the fence and their lateral branches will fall and eventually cover the fence from tree to tree. I will also take side branches at about the six foot mark and train them loosely from tree to tree for a softly sweeping effect. At the top, once I no longer train the central leader up the stake, it will simply flop over creating a rounded top. Planting several of these in a line along the fence will create a very attractive, first level of screening.

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A finer textured option for garden screening, Tsuga heterophylla ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’ may be trained along fence or even to cover a gazebo to provide privacy and shade.

I don’t intend to simply plant a row of Weeping Norway spruce along the entire length of my fence – that would be terribly monotonous. My plan is to use the same technique with conifers of different colors or textures depending on what “room” of the garden they are screening. In a more shaded area, I’ll use the shade tolerant, Tsuga heterophylla ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’ with very much the same technique of training. To brighten a smaller space, I may use Picea pungens ‘The Blues’, which has a very similar growth habit but its bright silvery, powder blue color will reflect light. To really brighten a space, a hedge of Thuja occidentalis ‘Jantar’PP#22296 could be used. I may plant a row along the north side of my vegetable garden to reflect more light into the space for those sun-loving plants.

Remember, the weeping plants I’ve mentioned today are just the first layer of screening that I will be using in my new garden. I’ll also consider mixing a row of a combination of these plants (or others) for a beautiful non-conventional screen. Imagine the color of ‘Jantar’ placed between a pair of ‘The Blues’ and continuing that effect for 30 feet or more. Stay tuned to learn more of my strategy to screen my garden for privacy – and for fun!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Autumn—So much life to live!

I love autumn.

More than any other time of year, I believe that autumn fills me with a consistent flow of peace, joy, happiness and anticipation. Even after having given this phenomenon a great deal of thought over many years, I still cannot explain it. Best just to accept and enjoy it, I think.

The other morning, just before sunrise, I stepped out onto my second story deck to breathe in the air of the new day and allow my mind to become stimulated by the sights, sounds and smells of that autumn morning. The deck was damp from the overnight rain, but I could see enough hint of light from the dissipating clouds in the sky above me that it appeared we would, at least for a little while, enjoy a break from the recent refreshing showers. The garden space, but a place of dreams at this time, was ensconced in a misty fog where I imagined maturing conifers filling beds, yet to be dug.

‘Chief Joseph’ begins his colorful show as daylight hours become shorter – usually, by mid to late October here in my corner of the PNW. As temperatures drop, his color becomes more and more intense through the winter months.

I breathed in very deeply, the misty air, and enjoyed the faint smoky-sweet scent of a neighbor’s wood-stove, while the hum of another neighbor’s heat pump reminded me that summer was truly, finally over. Sounds of far off traffic purred as commuters were busy about their morning routines and children talking and laughing at the nearby bus-stop reminded me of the special appointment I had that morning.

By the time I arrived at the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden, the sun had made its way above the neighboring stand of tall Douglas fir trees and gave the garden a very special morning glow. Light glistened off of the remaining rain drops which still clung to branches creating a spectacular sparkle to the garden as I made my approach up the long driveway which leads to this very special place.

Thankful for my long association with the folks at Iseli, allowing me my treasured visits to the display gardens; I climbed out of my truck and made my way in to the office to check in. Once I was welcomed, and set on my way to stroll the garden paths, I quickly began the inspiration absorption process.

Thankful for my long association with the folks at Iseli, which allows me my treasured visits to the display gardens…

So much to see there—I do believe I see something new with each visit. Being that I have had some input on the garden design over the years, it is particularly encouraging to see how specific trees and viewing vistas have matured over the 30 years since the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden was first planted. Seeing changes through the years and making note of what design and plant combinations worked and which ones didn’t has always been very helpful to me in making planting choices in my own gardens over those same 30 years. Now that I am in the early planning stage of creating a new garden, I am excited to draw on all those lessons.

One tree that consistently gives me a charge this time of year is Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’. I have mentioned this delightful, slow-growing tree over the years and it never fails to inspire admiration from most all who see it. Although photos of the tree are very nice, there is something very special about seeing this exciting tree, in person, in a beautiful garden setting.

As I stood, admiring the beauty of the large specimen planted at Iseli, my mind took me immediately back to that morning as I stood upon my deck, overlooking the small, foggy garden space. I imagined where I might place the good Chief in my new garden so that it would stand out through the autumn and winter months and yet be able to fade into the background during the spring and summer when it takes its rest and re-energizes itself during its light green color-stage.

Autumn, a season with so much to experience, so much life to live, I love it!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

A new garden and a new perspective

For those of you who have been following my gardening adventures for some time, you will be pleased to learn that I officially have a new bit of soil in which to dig my spade, enrich with compost and transform from rather dull to a garden full of life. This new place, although a fairly blank canvas to work with, is not without its challenges and its blessings!

Looking to the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden for inspiration in creating my own new garden space.

First of all, it is a much smaller plot to work with – the smallest I believe I have ever had the pleasure to be a caretaker. Being a small space is actually very good since as I age I am finding it is becoming more difficult to care for larger spaces, and even though my last place was only about an acre, it was becoming a challenge for me to maintain. Having a more contemporary sized city lot will be far easier to construct and maintain a new garden. Being adjacent to a city park and public green-space makes my small garden feel larger and I can utilize the neighboring open view as I plan my new garden space to make my small lot feel larger.

My back yard slopes away from the house toward the green-space and a large stand of native Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir) and Thuja plicata (western red cedar) and Acer circinatum (vine maple) so I have a wonderful background for my new space. Since I do love our native large trees, I will be planting a back corner with a few Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedar seedlings found growing in my dear auntie’s acreage. My uncle was so pleased that I wanted a few of the plants he had transplanted from their veggie garden space into pots a year ago. I am excited for these young trees to become established in a particularly challenging back corner which will help the transition from my garden to the surrounding, neighboring background native trees.

My overall goal is to reduce grassy lawn space and increase border beds with space for lots of dwarf conifers, Japanese maples and other exciting small trees and shrubs, perennials and herbs. I also need to install some raised beds for vegetables.

Possibly the biggest challenge will be the rock filled soil since this area is part of what was an ancient river bed. I have already dug a few bowling ball sized stones out of the way. I tend to see these rocks less as an annoyance and more as free landscape materials – to think, some people actually spend money to place these same kinds of stones into their gardens. I will be harvesting my own landscape ornaments while I make room for plants to stretch out their root systems.

As I begin clearing out brambles and other unwanted vines and weeds, I am beginning to imagine planting some of the very plants that I have been describing right here in the blog over the past several months. There is a lot of work ahead, and a lot of great exercise which will please my wife and health-care practitioners. Of course with the tremendous increase in calorie burning all this hard work will induce, I may also need to make a visit to my personal baker to ensure I have plenty of energy to burn.

Stay tuned, my gardening friends, more new gardening stories to come!

Ed
Conifer Lover

The finer details

This past Labor Day holiday weekend, my wife and I enjoyed visiting one of our favorite independent garden centers across town. Although our goal for the day was to find a few new house plants, we had a tremendous time strolling through the entire nursery, and I found some fantastic miniature and dwarf conifers to include in this segment of my ongoing series of Thriller, Filler and Spiller garden design.

As you know, over the past several posts I have been discussing my plans to create a great new garden space with a colorful assortment of conifers and other exciting garden plants. I began with a specific Thriller in mind and have been imagining what other plants I will use  to fill space around it.

Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’ is a fantastic little “mini-thriller” that can be used with other minis to fill smaller garden spaces.

Be sure to check out those past posts if you have not been following along. Today, I’ll be talking about some of my favorite slower growing dwarf and miniature conifers for filling in more detailed smaller spaces.

Once I have the larger plants in place, I like to get down and dirty as I create small, intimate spaces, filling in with very slow growing plants and other details like interesting rocks or other garden ornaments such as bird baths, etc. I am talking about plants today whose annual growth will be limited to less than an inch or two per year in my Pacific Northwest climate. I love these plants because they have so many great features. My favorites offer slow growth, interesting texture, unique form, great color and sturdy performance.

An all-time favorite, and perhaps one of the larger selections on today’s list is Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom’, which I chose because of its reliable, light blue color and slow growth. Rated at USDA Zone 2, it is far more winter hardy than I require in my climate, but with well-drained soil and a sunny location, it will perform very well and provide a solid blue color statement on a small scale in the garden.

Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom’ is a great choice for bringing year-round bright blue color to smaller garden spaces.

For a good dark green and unique texture, I’ll include Picea abies ‘Mikulasovice’. This dark green, mounding plant displays needles of a longer length than one might imagine on such a small, slow growing plant empowering it to add a unique texture to the garden. Another good, dark green plant is so slow growing, it might be confused with being a moss covered rock, in fact that is what inspired its name of Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Greenstone’. The tiny, fine textured foliage covers this small, rounded mound which is perfect in miniature container gardens as well as a small detail in the larger garden as I am including today.

Picea abies ‘Mikulasovice’ is a very slow grower with lots of character.

Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’ is a delightful golden yellow miniature conifer with tiny needles covering the small branches which form this slowly spreading, mounding plant. Speaking of bright yellow, I will have to include a Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Butter Ball’ to this list with its soft textured, lovely golden yellow foliage and slowly mounding and eventual broadly conical habit.

Bright yellow color and fine-textured foliage make the miniature Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Butter Ball’ a brilliant choice!

I find with all of the above broadly mounding, and spreading forms I will need to include a few more upright and narrow forms to break up the monotony and add more visual interest to the smaller details of this garden space. One of the first to come to mind is a very fine textured, narrow, compact form of the Dwarf Alberta Spruce called Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’® This rich, grass-green plant grows very slowly into a narrow, cone shape and will remain in perfect scale with the other miniatures on today’s list. Of course I must include one of my very favorite plants, Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’ at this time since it fits the specifications perfectly and adds a bright twinkle of color.

This list could go on and on, depending on how much space I end up with. Next time I will finalize this series with a list of some favorite Spillers which will spill along the ground, filling in and covering open space with year round color!

Ed-

Conifer Lover