Creeping Creepers

I love autumn. After the very long, dry and warm spring and summer of 2018, I am very thankful and encouraged by the recent transition to our cooler, misty, gray days and intermittent rain showers. We may only receive a week or two of relief from the dry weather. While the local weather soothsayer ensures that our autumn will return to dry and sunny conditions, this native born Oregonian is enjoying the cool, gray mist and the ground-soaking rain showers that we have received the past several days.

Pinus banksiana 'Schoodic'
Pinus banksiana ‘Schoodic’

Certainly one of my favorite aspects of the autumn season is all the delightful colors that our gardens and native trees begin to exhibit. Not far from my home, the local community college planted a long row of deciduous trees that explode into a widely varying array of bright red, yellow, burgundy, purple and orange. I believe the trees must have been a horticultural school experiment and we are now enjoying this delightful array of color from a batch of American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) seedlings propagated 30 to 40 years ago. The resulting seedlings were planted along one of the main – once rural – hi-ways, moving traffic North and South through this, now, growing urban setting.

Pinus sylvestris 'Albyn Prostrata'
Pinus sylvestris ‘Albyn Prostrata’

Along with the inevitable change of season and its invigorating color-show, comes the season of spooks and creepy stories of ghosts and ghouls and the downright fun of Halloween with children dressed in their favorite spooky costumes. It won’t be long and we will see scores of creeping creepers in the neighborhood, laughing their way from door to door as participating folks greet the kids with handfuls of delectable Treats to ward off the chance of some unfortunate Trick being played on them.

Pinus sylvestris 'Hillside Creeper'
Pinus sylvestris ‘Hillside Creeper’

Some of my favorite conifers just happen to be creeping creepers themselves.

A few very rugged and hardy creepers for the garden include the pines: Pinus banksiana ‘Schoodic’, Pinus sylvestris ‘Albyn Prostrata’ and Pinus sylvestris ‘Hillside Creeper’. These pines are hardy to Zones 2, 3 and 4 respectively and vary in color from rich green to shades of bluish-green. All three of these creeping selections are vigorous growers while being easy to maintain in a small garden space if needed. Growing low to the ground, they will each, very slowly, begin to mound in layers upon themselves, slowly gaining in height. Each will spread in the garden, flowing around rocks, garden ornaments or other plants with only the occasional pruning needed to help guide them on their way. If the gardener desires increased height, each of these selections respond well to being raised a foot or two (or three) upon a bamboo stake and then allowed to continue on their way. The creative gardener may choose to create waves with their creeping conifers for increased interest.

Other choice selections for adding hardy and colorful, ground-covering waves of creeping fun in the garden are:

Of course, I could add a bounty of creeping Junipers to this list, but I think those might be best reserved to a future post. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the creepy creepers creeping their way through your neighborhood in the near future and for those special colorful creepers at your local independent garden centers!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Advertisements

Spring awakening

The calendar tells us that we are well into the spring season now. Our local Pacific Northwest weather has been hinting to us that summer is not far behind. Rather than an April filled with cold, gray, wet days, we have enjoyed some very refreshing downpours of rain followed by days of sunshine and temperatures up to the low 80s! After three days of having the windows open all day and working out in the garden in short pants and a tee shirt, it is easy to forget we are just in the month of April. Reality refreshes the memory the next day when temperatures drop 25 degrees, blustery winds bring in dark clouds and the rain returns. Back and forth it has been this month, giving me several good working days in the garden and confidence that everything is still being irrigated with our natural rain.

Fresh, colorful, new foliage begins to emerge as springtime awakens in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden with warmer temperatures and sunny, blue skies.

Clearing out the two spaces where I will grow fresh vegetables and herbs, and the back corner where the native, larger tree seedlings will be planted, I believe I am ready to begin delineating the new, enlarged bed spaces for planting my ornamental conifers and other exciting plants. Once we have more dry days in a row than wet ones, I think our soil will drain enough that I can bring out the rototiller and begin grinding up the old lawn grass to build new beds and expand upon those already there.

One of the first planting projects will be to create the privacy “hedges” on the borders of the property. I enclosed the word, hedges, with quotes because I do not intend to plant a single row of one plant type along the border to create privacy—what fun would that be? No, I’ll be planting a selection of plants that will serve the same purpose as a privacy hedge without the mono-culture monotony with will help prevent an insect or disease infestation as well as make the whole thing much more visually appealing.

Over the years of writing this blog I have discussed alternatives to traditional hedge-row planting, and I will be putting those ideas to work in my new garden. Since the new privacy screen will essentially run along the length of my property, I’ll be keeping in mind the “garden rooms” that will flow and change along the length of the screen and those changes will influence my choices in screening plants to use. I will need to keep in mind the movement of the sun and be careful not to place screening plants that will grow too tall and shade out adjacent space designed for full sun exposure. Likewise, I will certainly plan the right specimens that will provide needed summer, late afternoon/evening shade to outdoor seating spaces. Not all areas will require the same level of privacy, so I will very likely plan some smaller privacy plants in more localized spaces to provide that extra level of screening desired for sun-bathing or skinny-dipping in the grandchild’s wading pool.

Next time I will begin to describe my choices for different kinds of screening and how to mix plants for efficiency and aesthetic appeal. I hope you’ll join me!

The weather is teasing me

We have gone from heavy, down-pouring rain, to icy-cold, blue skies and strong east winds, to freezing rain and then calm, sunny, pleasant-feeling days. Every time the day is sunny and with just a breeze, I become very hopeful that more and more of these days will arrive soon. I have ordered and am waiting for my seed catalogs—ready to plan my new veggie garden. I have created lists of dwarf and miniature conifers (and other exciting plants) to begin to seek and acquire. The new property has been walked and measured, contemplated and sketched and I am ready for a string of nice weather to begin breaking ground!

I know, it’s only January—but I am excited to begin gardening in my new soil!

My new place is much smaller than where I came from, but large enough to plant a corner of the back, north-end of the property, with some large trees to help break up the wind, provide some privacy from the green-space and to visually blend in with the large stand of native trees just beyond.

Picea abies ‘Rubra Spicata’ dazzles the eyes in early spring.

I mentioned a couple of posts back that I have acquired a few, two to three year old seedlings of some native trees. Those largest growers will be planted near the edge of my property since they will grow very fast and become quite large. For the next layer of trees, in toward the house, I have been considering some large conifer cultivars which have been selected for their unique color characteristics. There are so many candidates for me to consider, and I have very limited space, so I will need to be satisfied with choosing just a few trees for this space.

Today, I have picked out two trees that will make a nice transition from the “wild” garden to the more refined space which will be dominated by generally slow growing conifers and other small trees, shrubs, flowering plants and herbs. Today’s trees are perfect for this transition space because they will be medium-large growers and characteristically be suited to grow in the background of the other specialized selections in the main part of the new garden.

Picea abies ‘Rubra Spicata’ is a fast, large growing cultivar of the Norway spruce. During most of the year, for most people, it will appear indistinguishable from the standard Norway spruce, but in springtime…..

A large tree with a stunning springtime surprise!

In Springtime, its strong flush of new foliage will push a bright, blood-red color. As the new growth extends, the color becomes less intense and will appear a reddish-brown color just before it becomes dark green. The dark green color will last through summer, autumn and winter, waiting to surprise us all again the following spring with its vibrant new growth. For much of the year, ‘Rubra Spicata’ will function as a size transition down from the larger Douglas fir, bringing the eye from the forest beyond, to my younger, smaller trees and ease the view to my dwarf garden plants. The added spring bonus color will be a delightful reminder that winter is official a season of the past, and exciting new life—and color—is just ahead!

Bright, butter-yellow new foliage on Picea glauca ‘Mac’s Gold’ is a dazzling sight in spring!

There are several conifer cultivars that, like ‘Rubra Spicata’ blast themselves into spring with bright color and then slowly fade to green for most of the year. I have mentioned others in past posts, such as Picea orientalis ‘Aureospicata’, which is a favorite large tree and will very likely find a home in my new garden. My next featured choice is a cultivar that is still very rare in the trade and will be so worth the wait to acquire. Picea glauca ‘Mac’s Gold’, may not be available for a couple of years, but it will make a dandy transition tree for my garden and will be such a thrill when I do find that it has become available at my favorite local independent garden center!

A beautiful spring-time surprise!

‘Mac’s Gold’ has small, grayish-green needles covering the branches of its tall, open-growing form. When its new growth emerges in early spring, it pushes forth in a bright, butter-yellow color. As the tree matures, small, bright purple-pink cones will also be displayed providing and additional dappling of color. Before long, as the new foliage begins to harden, it slowly becomes green and the tree may fade into its role in the background. Like ‘Rubra Spicata’, during the spring, it will add dazzling color to the background treeline, and then step out of the spotlight as other plants enjoy their own spotlights through the adjoining seasons.

While I wait for the weather (and season) to catch up to my enthusiasm, I will continue to make plans and spend some time cleaning and possibly repairing my garden tools and equipment. I want to be ready to go when spring-time truly does arrive!

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

Tasty dwarfs to fill some space

As I continue to explore ideas for designing a new garden space, I am looking at some of my favorite plants to use as Fillers – plants that will fill the space with year-round color, texture and interesting form. Last time I chose three dwarf conifers which might be considered fast growing as they will tend to grow larger in a 10-20 year span of time than the selections I will explore today.

‘Banderica’ is a neat, tidy, slow growing little kiss of a conifer that will add a dandy flavor to the conifer garden.

I began this design project with a great Thriller tree, then I selected a few Japanese Maple Filler plants to pick from depending on how large (or small) my actual future space may be. My next decision was to choose a few larger dwarf conifers that will scale nicely with the maples. Based on those choices, I am ready to scale down the expected size of this next group of dwarf conifers.

This time I will take a look at a few green colored choices, each with its own distinct shade of green and unique textural features. I’ll also include a dwarf blue and a dwarf yellow selection to spice up the color palette a bit.

‘Sea Urchin’ has soft, light green foliage (with a hint of blue) and fills in a small space with other dwarf conifers and other exciting plants.

I love the rich, very dark green color of Pinus leucodermis (heldreichi) ‘Banderica’ which, along with its perfect, slow growing, broadly conical form makes it an excellent, formal looking small tree. Pinus strobus ‘Sea Urchin’ adds a pleasing effect as its rounded, slow growing, soft textured form highlights its bright, light green hues. Picea abies ‘Hildburghausen’ begins the spring season with a flush of bright  green foliage which matures into the medium green color we enjoy most of the year. Its unique mounding, textural form stays neat in the garden while slowly filling in space and looks great with an artfully placed rock nearby.

‘Hildburghausen’ is a sculptural, low, mounding dwarf conifer that fills in space with reliable color and a pleasing form.

One of the slower growers in today’s selection may also have claim to the most interesting color of the group. Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Blue Moon’ has very soft foliage with responds well to a light trimming should one be inclined to encourage its globe shape. The color of this cultivar is more of a steel blue than other common selections of Sawara Cypress such as ‘Boulevard’, ‘Curly Tops’ or ‘True Blue’. It is also a slower grower than the others which helps it remain a great garden filler plant for many, many years.

‘Blue Moon’ is a delightful, globe shaped, soft textured, steel blue conifer that will provide a dandy color spot where there is a small space to fill.

Finally, I just have to include a Cryptomeria japonica ‘Twinkle Toes’ to this group for its reliably compact growth, its coarsely textured, bright yellow foliage and its informal, mounding, broadly pyramidal form. Plus, I just love to tell folks that I love my ‘Twinkle Toes’ and if they visit my garden, they’ll fall in love too!

The coarse textured, bright yellow foliage of ‘Twinkle Toes’ adds a touch of Zing to the garden!

My imagined garden space is beginning to fill in nicely! I have a few very slow growing dwarf to miniature conifers to add to the list which will complete the Fillers, and then I’ll post some definite selections to choose from for my Spillers, which will be very low growing to prostrate forms that crawl along the ground and fill space between larger plants.

Until next time…

Ed-
Conifer Lover