Dear Santa…

It’s been a very long time since I have written a letter to Santa Claus. I remember one of the first times I wrote to Santa – it was a cold and rainy day, I was probably being fussy (as small children can get when the big holiday gets closer and the days are shorter, colder and wetter). I suppose I was five or six years old. I remember trying to write the letter, getting frustrated with my ability and going to Mom for help. She ended up doing most of the writing while I dictated my Christmas wishes to her, trusting that Santa would approve.

Picea omorika 'Kamenz'
Picea omorika 'Kamenz' is an excellent spreading specimen.

This year there are three conifers on my Christmas list that I am hoping Santa will find a way to deliver on that special morning. I’ve been admiring these three for a number of years during my visits to the display garden at Iseli Nursery. I love a good conifer hunt, and these three may still be rare out in the independent garden centers, I know I could make a special order through my favorite retailer, but I just haven’t done it yet. So, Santa, it’s up to you.

These are a few of my favorite things – all three are forms of Picea omorika, the Serbian spruce:

First on my list is a low, spreading, dwarf form named Picea omorika ‘Kamenz’. The one I’ve been admiring at Iseli is four or five feet across and about 10 inches tall. It has the typical two-toned needles of Picea omorika, with its green top and silver-coated underside. The needles radiate out from the branches in a way that they catch the light very well and seem to almost shimmer as the sun moves across the sky. This one looks to be a great choice for where a sturdy ground cover is desired as well as being a distinctive specimen in its own right.

Picea omorika 'Minima'
Picea omorika 'Minima' captivates my attention.

Number two is Picea omorika ‘Minima’. This enchanting little globe is covered with tiny, thin, two-toned needles giving ‘Minima’ a soft or delicate looking texture. Being the Serbian spruces are hardy to Zone 4, they are anything but delicate. Growth rate is still within the Dwarf range according to the chart published by The American Conifer Society, but it is on the slower growing end of the scale, creating a captivating, small globe-shaped plant that I have a difficult time taking my eyes off of when I am near.

Picea omorika 'Silberblue'
Picea omorika 'Silberblue' is a stunning beauty with silvery-blue needles and a perfectly symmetrical form.

Picea omorika ‘Silberblue’ is the third item on my wish list. This is a large growing tree with a perfectly symmetrical Christmas tree shape. It’s two-toned needles give the tree a silvery blue color that shines in the sun capturing the attention of anyone in its vicinity. Should Santa come through with this one, I’ll place it in a prominent place with room to grow and plan on it becoming a featured tree for future holiday decorations.

That’s it – my entire wish list for 2010. I’m hoping Santa reads my blog.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Waves of joy

This current surge of cold weather, and its resulting effect on my aching joints, has reminded me how important thick, dense groundcovers are in the garden. I’m aching just thinking about what a huge chore I would have to face every spring and summer if I didn’t utilize some of the all-natural, year-round, hardy and beautiful ground covering qualities of many exciting conifers. I have enough bare space in my garden that weeds still do manage to pose a challenge to me – but there is less of it every year, due in some part to my groundcovers.

When some folks think, coniferous groundcovers, they may envision low growing carpets of Juniper or Taxus – which are fine examples and can be very effective. Other great plants to cover your ground and ornament your space may include any of a great number of weeping conifers from, Pine and Spruce to Hemlocks and firs.

Pinus densiflora 'Pendula'
Like a waterfall, the foliage of Pinus densiflora ‘Pendula’ spills and flows over the ground creating a dense covering to help the fight against weeds.

Some great spreading and ground-covering conifers will, in and of themselves, make fantastic individual specimens, while happily covering bare ground and making less space available for weed seeds to germinate. Others may be much more subtle as they nonchalantly creep and crawl, filling in empty spaces, drape themselves over walls or around rocks, and generally provide a nice low addition of color and texture to the year-round interest of the conifer garden, all while reducing the gardener’s workload.

For example, one great choice is Pinus densiflora ‘Pendula’(Weeping Japanese Red Pine). This delicious bright green pine has long thin needles adorning reddish brown twigs and deeply textured mature bark. If allowed to simply grow naturally, it would build wave upon wave of undulating foliage that mounds and spreads covering as much space as the garden will allow. Most likely found in the independent garden center grafted at a couple feet off the ground or trained on a stake to three or more feet tall, ‘Pendula’ will quickly turn and begin it’s waterfall-like decent to the ground where it will spill and splash and fill in empty space with its lush foliar display. Staked to six or eight feet (or taller) the effect can be absolutely stunning. Keep in mind that the taller the plant is staked, the longer it will take many of the branches to reach the ground and begin to do their job.

Other great choices of ground covering conifers include:
Cedrus deodara ‘Prostrate Beauty’
Cepahalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’
Juniperus communis ‘Corielagan’
Juniperus conferta ‘Silver Mist’
Juniperus horizontalis ‘Golden Carpet’
Picea abies ‘Pendula’
Picea pungens ‘Procumbens’
Pinus strobus ‘Stony Brook’
Pinus sylvestris ‘Albyn Prostrata’
Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula’

Ed-
Conifer Lover

I struck gold!

Can you believe that Thanksgiving is just a week away? It’s nearing the end of November, and there is so much to do in my garden before winter really does set in. The leaves are very nearly all off of my trees and spread all over my driveway and in and around my garden. Then the pouring rain made sure to pound the leaves into clumps and mats on my smaller conifers – in some cases completely burying them in wet leaves. Thankfully today, though dark gray with clouds, is dryer than yesterday so I should be able to uncover my little treasures setting them free to breathe again.

 All it takes is a little time, energy and finesse to delicately remove the offending fallen leaves in such a way as not to break any little branches on my miniature conifers. I can usually pull the leaves off of my larger plants or even give them a brisk shake to set them free from the invading maple, birch, dogwood or other leaves that just days ago were providing a wondrous display of color. By next spring these leaves will be well on their way to becoming compost to spread in the garden next summer.

Juniperus horizontalis 'Gold Strike'
You can strike gold too with this hardy, colorful, groundcovering conifer.

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Gold Strike’ is one of my newer conifer additions this year. Like its parent, ‘Mother Lode,’ ‘Gold Strike’ is an absolutely striking, bright golden yellow color. This time of year I need all the bright sunny color I can get, and ‘Gold Strike’ is one of the best yellow groundcovers you will find for the garden. Pulling away the fallen leaves from this plant was like opening the draperies on a sunny summer morning – its bright golden tones warmed me right up. It won’t be too much longer though, and ‘Gold Strike’ will begin to change into its winter colors of pinkish plum, orange and gold.

 One of the beauties of conifers is their year-round appeal – the fact that they provide color and structure and texture in the garden all year long with very little fuss. I love my conifers. I hope you love yours too.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

The big city

The other day, I had an opportunity to spend some time in the big city. Now, first of all, let me just say that I prefer not to visit the big city, but sometimes life throws you a challenge or two just to keep you alert.

So, I’m sitting in a fairly nice waiting room with big windows overlooking one of the busy main streets through this part of town. I’m thinking about all the people I see milling about, trying not to listen to the conversations of the others waiting in the same room, when I hear a woman begin to talk about a blog that she’s been reading by some old guy that loves conifers!

Suddenly, I am listening very closely.

After a little while, I excuse myself for interrupting, and mention that I enjoy conifers too and I point out some huge old trees out the window. Both the young woman and her mother seemed impressed, so I continued the conversation trying not to reveal my identity.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Confucius'
Whether you are an experienced Conehead or a conifer gardening Newbie, you're sure to love Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Confucius'.

“My husband planted some very special trees in my garden years ago, I had no idea at the time what they were,” the older woman told me, “We always just called them evergreens. A few years ago a very nice young lady spoke at my garden club and she told story after story about her flowers and how beautiful the garden can become when you include dwarf conifers. I was intrigued.”

I smiled and nodded quite a lot as she shared another story that sounded very familiar to me. It was then that I realized that my friend, The Flower Girl, had been speaking publicly (at least once) about the value of conifers in the garden!

This was really all-too-funny, I could barely contain myself.

I asked the younger woman how she began reading a blog about conifers. Her mother quickly said that she had started reading it first and her daughter was a conifer “Newb” and was just starting out. I smiled when the younger woman blurted out that she couldn’t believe her own mother called her a newb!

“Well, we all start somewhere,” I said and thought this might be a good time to change the subject.

Just then my wife appeared and was ready to go. I introduced my wife to the ladies and mentioned that we had been talking about conifers. My wife rolled her eyes and apologized, thinking that I had been giving unsolicited advice. At this point I tried to hurry her along when the older woman mentioned that she hadn’t caught my name. I nudged my wife forward, opened the door, turned back to the ladies and said, “My name’s, Ed” as I tipped my hat and hurried out the door.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

My favorite cousin

I was looking through some very old pictures the other day and I was transported back in time. It must have been a combination of the scent of the old leather binding of the 60 plus year old photo album or the slightly faded and partially blurred look of the photographs themselves – whatever it was, I had returned to my childhood and was flooded with memories of the many visits to my grandmother’s small  two acre farm.

As I looked at pictures of the old barn I could smell the straw and feel the rough, splintery texture of the old wood. I could almost taste the tart-sweet juiciness of the plump, purple grapes growing on the arbor. I remembered the dreamy state as I swung slowly on my grandmother’s garden swing, the creaking, squeaking sound it made as it swung to and fro while the dappled shade created kaleidoscopic patterns of light on my closed eyelids. I remembered climbing the old oak tree and how proud I was when I was finally able to jump up to reach its lowest branch enabling me to climb up and into that grand old tree.

And then I saw it.

In the background of one of the family group shots – in the back corner of the yard – was one of the most graceful trees I had ever seen. Even as a young boy, I recognized the graceful beauty of Tsuga heterophylla, the Western Hemlock.

Back in the day, it was a huge tree – possibly the oldest at grandma’s house – it was a graceful giant. Tall and dark green with slightly down-turned branches full of lush, soft needles, this native forest tree is very possibly responsible for my initial interest in conifers.

Tsuga heterophylla 'Thorsen's Weeping'
‘Thorsen’s Weeping’ looks an awful lot like my favorite cousin.

Many years later, when I began to pursue the amazing world of conifers on a more scholarly level, I came across a book written by John Swartley titled, The Cultivated Hemlocks. This was a fantastic reference to many of the unique cultivated varieties of the Canadian or Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Most of the garden hemlocks that have been discovered are variants of Tsuga canadensis, but over the years, a few wonderful new forms of the Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) have been propagated and made their way to collector’s gardens and into the marketplace.

One of my favorite hemlocks just happens to be a cultivar of Tsuga heterophylla called, ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’. This completely prostrate growing conifer, if left to grow naturally, will be a ground-hugging spreader which will create a rich green carpet of conifer. Its natural form will flow between large garden rocks and spill over walls softening hard architectural edges and give the suggestion of water flowing in the garden. Most likely, you’ll find it in the independent garden center staked to a height of three or four feet. Once in your possession, you could continue to increase its height by staking it as tall as you like, confident that when it reaches the top of the stake, it will turn and flow right back to the ground.

A staked ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’ will grow in its weeping fashion, layer upon layer as it fills out to eventually look like Cousin Itt from the 1960s TV series, The Addams Family. You may then choose to allow its branches to trail along the ground, continuing to grow as a dense ground cover, or if you like the Cousin Itt look, you might prefer to keep the branches trimmed as they reach the ground. Either way, ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’ is sure to become one of your most treasured and talked about garden conifers.

Ed-
Conifer Lover