Cool little conifers make great holiday gifts

Even though I miss the long, bright, sunny and warm days of summer, I absolutely love this time of year. Our winter holidays always help me through the darker, colder and wetter months in the Pacific Northwest. Families tend to have traditions of coming together for the special winter holidays, and friends, whether old or new, make plans to enjoy each other’s company as well.

Container gardens are perfect for those folks with very small spaces.

One of the best traditions of the holiday season is gift-giving. Of course the kinds of gifts I love to give generally have something to do with gardening and most often, I must admit, my gifts tend to be dwarf or miniature conifers. Most everyone enjoys spending at least a little time in the garden. Even those who may not have the initial interest or confidence for gardening generally find that once they have a nice little conifer to care for, they become intrigued and their interest in gardening grows.

I have quite a number of friends that were once generally unaware of the joy of gardening and simply had no idea whatsoever how much fun gardening with dwarf and miniature conifers can be. Some of these friends have gone on to become quite interested in developing their gardens and in the conifer world, while others limit themselves to a much smaller scale with plants in containers on their deck or patio. Part of the fun for me is giving a gift of a small conifer or two and then seeing interest and passions grow over the years.

Miniature gardens can be created by adding miniature accessories to the container garden. Not all miniature gardens need to feature fairies, though they do seem to enjoy little gardens that are just their size.

Sometimes I’ll give a complete container garden already planted. Other folks have received a miniature garden kit with a selection of a few plants, a bag of potting soil and a nice ceramic pot so they may plant it up the way they like. I love to see young families become interested in gardening and one great way to encourage that behavior is the gift of a container garden that they may all plant together and enjoy.

Colorful little conifers add year-round interest to your favorite pots and they make great gifts and bring life to a cold and drear winter.

Container gardens are great for smaller spaces and most anyone has space for at least one. Some of my container gardens, which feature a few of my smallest miniature conifers, are placed strategically along the paths and among larger plants in the garden. I like to move some of my containers from the back patio to the front walk during the holidays so that I can decorate them with small lights and ornaments (which has the added benefit of making my wife very happy).

You might consider dwarf and miniature conifers for your gift-giving this holiday season. I have a few new friends that may be perfectly suited for a conifer surprise gift sometime in the next month or so—maybe you do too!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Mighty mini conifers!

After our unusually long, and beautifully warm and dry summer, the autumn season has turned on like as if someone flipped a switch. Temperatures have dropped twenty five degrees and the rains have begun. This past weekend saw record-breaking rain accumulation throughout the Pacific Northwest combined with strong wind. Something about this sudden change of weather has had an impact on my plant focus.

Throughout the past several months I have had many opportunities to work in my garden. Working outdoors, breathing in the fresh, summery air, listening to all of the local critters flutter and scurry about while under the protective shade of the large trees that surround my property influenced some of my gardening and new plant choices. Having the opportunity to spend so much time in the wide open space seemed to have widened my interest in adding a few larger, faster growing conifers to my garden (not that I have space for any more large trees). I also expanded upon my use of larger annual flowers and vegetables which I interspersed among the conifers and other ornamental plants.

Tiny, slow-growing conifers are perfect for containers. The are full of color, texture and character and play well with other cool miniature plants.

I planted a small forest of Sunflowers to provide shade for a few of my more light sensitive conifers, and that strategy worked very well at protecting them from the intense summer sun. We even enjoyed harvesting Nerf football-sized melons from long vines that covered the ground, filling in spaces between conifers. But, as the seasons have changed, and I have retreated back indoors with a more limited view of my garden, so too has my plant focus changed from larger plants to delightful, miniature conifers.

The primary view of my garden through the cooler, wetter, winter months, features many of  the containers on my patio. Dwarf and miniature conifers are perfect for containers gardens since the take many years to outgrow their space. One container in my garden comes to mind that I originally planted six years ago, and in that time only one conifer in that grouping has been removed and transplanted into the garden. The three minis that remain continue to enjoy their prominent place on my patio.

Small, colorful conifers and other exciting ornamental plants make excellent year-round fillers for your favorite containers.

As I was recently sitting in my favorite chair near the wood stove, gazing out into the rainy garden, my eyes naturally focused on my containers and I was instantly taken in by the tiny conifers that I have collected over the years. As I was sitting there, it struck me that many of the containers consisted of “conifer couples” — pairs of tiny conifers that shared a theme of one kind or another. For example, ‘Jana’ and ‘Jessy’ shared a container while, ‘Thumbelina’ and ‘Elf’ happily reside in another. This has inspired me to post a series featuring some of my favorite  tiny conifer couples.

Stay tuned, next time I’ll introduce you to two cute little conifers, that it you’re like me, you will find them irresistible and not be satisfied until you find them both for a special place in your own garden.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

If you fall off the horse…

Several years ago I became friends with a gentleman who’s gardening experience was limited to mowing the lawn. Over the years he has recognized that gardening is a passion of mine. He began to ask questions and once a year or so he and his son would help me with some of my larger gardening chores. More recently he has become interested and actively involved in taking care of the garden in his small city-lot. Happily, he is becoming conifer-curious!

Picea glauca 'Pendula'
This thirty-something year-old specimen of Picea glauca ‘Pendula’ is a little over 30 feet tall in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden. Perfect for smaller gardens where there is much more vertical space available than horizontal.

A few years back, he called me to let me know that he purchased one of those oak half-barrels folks use for container gardening. I had a small tree that he had admired for a few years and I offered to plant it in the pot for him. He and his wife planted a few flowers to fill out the container and soften the appearance of the old barrel. As it turned out, I didn’t explain watering practices sufficiently and he and his boy pretty much created a bog-in-a-barrel and eventually everything died.

That was three years ago. Earlier this week I asked my friend if he was ready to give his container garden another try (his previous difficulties set his container gardening enthusiasm back a bit). He had filled the container with a fresh batch of good, coarse, composted potting soil and was ready and waiting for advice as to which plants he should try this time.

Back in 2010 I grafted several conifers including a few Picea glauca ‘Pendula’ in my little hobby greenhouse. This year I’ve been planting some of those little cuties in open spaces around my garden. Of course I don’t need all of the new plants that I have propagated, so some of my friends and family have been the happy recipients of the extras. I thought that one of these ‘Pendula’s would be a perfect tree for my friend’s container.

This small tree (with proper watering and care) should thrive happily in its new home on my friend’s patio. My plan is to allow it to grow in this container for several years and by the time it requires more room for root growth, I will help my friend dig a proper hole and plant it in his landscape. This will be a fun way for him to regain confidence in his gardening ability and also provide a nice larger specimen for him to plant into the new garden I have designed for him (filled with conifers, of course).

I believe I may have a new convert.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Ps, Here are a few things to remember when growing conifers in containers. First, please do not make the same mistake my friends made by over watering. Plants need to breathe too. One good guideline that I use is to check the moisture level with my finger.

Push your index finger into the soil and if the soil is dry, give the container a good soak, if it is moist, don’t. Now, I consider dry as approximately the moisture content that most packaged potting soils are when you first cut open the bag. If the soil becomes too dry, you will have a difficult time re-hydrating. New out of the bag soils soak up water very well.

Frequency of watering will depend on your weather conditions and how full your containers are of plant roots. More plants = more roots + hot temperatures = more frequent watering. Again, please check your moisture content with a simple finger check. When it comes to conifers, smaller, slower growing plants use less water, larger plants that produce more annual growth, use more water.

Too much water = bog-like soil that most plants do not enjoy. Too little water = arid desert conditions, also not good for most plants. Don’t fret about it, you’ll get a feel for watering your containers before long.

The colorful winter garden

We have been enjoying a surprising number of mostly dry and partially sunny days the past several weeks with only the occasional instances of pouring rain. Along with these dryer winter days come colder temperatures, which I don’t mind since the colder the winter garden, the more intense the colors become in several of my conifers.

Anyone who has had the opportunity to acquire a Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’ as certainly by now seen the super-bright yellow of his winter glow. I’ve mentioned in the past that ‘Chief Joseph’ tends to sit quietly in the background through the growing season, when other plants are taking center stage. This is the time of year when the Chief quietly steps forward and commands full attention of anyone within view. The intensity of his bright yellow color seems to grow stronger as winter gets colder. He’s shining very brightly in my garden right now.

Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph'
Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph' may be enjoyed in containers or planted directly in garden.

Other fun conifers to put on a colorful winter show are Cryptomeria japonica ‘Mushroom’ and ‘Hino’.  I mention these two specifically because they are tremendously attractive dwarf conifers that not only perform brilliantly in the garden, but they also make delightful little specimens in the container garden on deck or patio. Both will grow into nice rounded little mounding forms, but they do have distinctly different characteristics. ‘Hino’ has a somewhat tighter growing habit that grows into a more globose looking form. Its short, thick, awl-like needles give this great little globe a coarse texture.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Hino' - winter color
Cryptomeria japonica 'Hino' - winter color

‘Mushroom’ on the other hand, has a very slightly more open habit and longer (though similarly succulent-looking) needles that are surprisingly soft to the touch. ‘Mushroom’ also has a little less of a globe-shaped form and rather looks like a very large (stemless) mushroom cap. Both cultivars are shades of rich green during the growing season and take on a special, bronze, orange, plum blush in winter.

Cryptomeria japonica Mushroom
Winter color of the succulent needles on Cryptomeria japonica 'Mushroom' make a delightful winter show in the conifer garden.
Cryptomeria japonica Mushroom
With a form like an extra-large, stemless, furry mushroom cap, 'Mushroom' is an interesting addition to the garden.

Planted near other conifers of complementary colors will ensure that your garden is as delightful through the winter months as it is through spring and summer.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Fairies and fighters

My wife and I recently had an opportunity to visit our favorite great-niece and great-nephew. They visited us nearly a year ago when they were five and seven years old. Both of them loved running around our garden, their active imaginations leading them in all kinds of adventures. I remember walking them down the initial paths, their eyes wide with curiosity, as they had their first experience in the conifer garden.

It took very little time for them to feel comfortable in exploring on their own, and in no time at all, as we sat on the patio sipping our iced tea, we could hear the sounds of their adventures. Our great-niece would tend to be the conversationalist, telling the story while interacting with the imaginary characters. Alternatively, our great-nephew would provide the sound effects. His jungle sounds and hurricane winds along with gunfire and explosions followed by the painful screams of fallen foes seemed out of place with her occasional words like, “magic rainbow,” “flying unicorn” and “queen of the fairies.”

Miniature Conifers
Miniature conifers are perfect for any mini theme garden whether it feature fairies or fighters.

Being that both of the children celebrate summer birthdays, we wanted to make sure to bring them each a gift so we could celebrate with them during our visit. I decided that the kids were old enough to begin to enjoy miniature container gardening, and my wife approved as long as I let her purchase some accessories to go along with the dwarf and miniature conifers I would select. Now, my wife, being of the feminine persuasion, opted for cute little Fairy Garden accessories; fanciful fences and furniture, little light-posts and lawn sculptures (including a miniature pink flamingo) and tiny paving stones.

The kids seemed just a little confused when we announced that we had brought them birthday presents, and then presented them with ceramic pots and miniature conifers. My wife, of course, wrapped her little accessories so that each child would open two or three small packages – looking a little like toys, their moods began to brighten. Once I explained that I was going to help them create their own miniature versions of my garden, they actually became very excited.

We began with the young girl. She delighted in helping to place the small plants in the pot and she began to tell a story of how the fairies planted the garden many years ago so that they would have a beautiful place for the Queen of the Fairies, should she ever happen to visit. Meanwhile, my great-nephew’s mood seemed to darken.

“I don’t want a fairy garden, those things are for girls” he said as he folded his arms, slumped down in his chair and made a classic pout-and-frown face.

His mother told him to straighten up and try not to hurt uncle Ed’s feelings. I began to think that perhaps he would have some small toys in his room that might be suitable to a miniature garden – in a theme that he would enjoy.

“Hey buddy, how about you show me your room?” I asked and he jumped out of his seat sparing no time to get away from all this fairy silliness. After showing me his collection of model fighter planes spanning about 50 years of military history, I noticed a bag of army-men on the shelf next to his bed. “Hey, I had army-men just like these when I was your age” I told him.

“Really?”

“Yeah, I used to take them out into my parents garden and play with them for hours out there.”

Before long, we decided that his miniature conifer garden would be really cool if, instead of fairies, we set some of his army-men in with the plants and rocks. He dug under his bed until he found an old shoebox filled with rocks he had collected and chose three that he thought would be perfect for his garden.

As we sat on the deck listening the children play with the characters in their own personalized miniature container gardens, I had a certain satisfaction that these two young family members would one day become confer lovers and go on to inspire another generation of Remsrola’s to do the same.

Ed-
Conifer Lover