We have been enjoying an amazing sneak peek into spring these past several days. Sunshine, blue sky and a view of Mt. Hood completely covered in a cloak of white snow – and temperatures mild enough to spend time in the conifer garden.
Where I live, we are on the outer edge of the east wind influence that jets westerly through the Columbia River Gorge. Although our winds are nothing when compared to what my Troutdale friends must endure, we can have some strong gusts that will bring weak branches down out of the towering Douglas Fir trees (Pseudotsuga menziesii) that enclose one corner of my property. I don’t mind the extra work it makes since I just cut the branches into lengths perfect for our little fire pit to be enjoyed this summer. My wife loves a campfire and simply cannot resist the temptation to roast a marshmallow or two.
As I was sorting out the fallen branches by size (small stuff for the chipper/shredder and larger for the campfire) I was happy to be outside spending time in my garden. I see signs of new life as bulbs and perennials begin to emerge from their winter resting place beneath the soil. I hear birds singing all around me and watch the family of squirrels, that have claimed my little acre as their own, scamper along doing whatever it is that keeps them so busy.
I am reminded of the hummingbird nest that I spotted nestled inside the long branches of my Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan’ as one of these fascinating creatures flies right up to me, hovers for a moment, looks at me eye-to-eye, and then buzzes away with lightning speed. I am pleased that the several species of birds, and the squirrels, the neighbor’s cat and my wife and I can all co-exist peacefully on this bit of property. Yes, it’s true, the squirrels and the scrub jays don’t get along very well, but I wonder how much of their arguing and chasing one another is primal instinct and how much is just something fun to do on a sunny and warm late winter’s morning.
My conifers provide a wonderful habitat for my wild little friends. The larger trees provide ample shelter for many birds and squirrels and all of the trees mature enough to produce cones, provide food. Even the smaller dwarf and miniature conifers provide useful perches for the hummers as they stake out and protect their territory when guarding the precious nectar produced by my wife’s flowers.
Gardening is truly a lifestyle that has many positive effects – not only for humans, but also for the many other creatures with whom we share our earthly home.
We recently had a hint of warm weather. I spent the day planting some new containers for the patio garden and planted a few flats of flower seeds for my wife. I was hoping that we were going to move out of our late winter weather pattern, but the latest word is that we can expect snow showers on the valley floor this weekend! We’ve been holding at temperatures 10 degrees or more below our average, so that one warm day last weekend was welcome indeed.
Many conifers will change colors from their normal greens to shades of plum and bronze during the winter. This is a nice additional feature to my conifer garden and its four seasons of color. I’ve been expecting those color changing specimens to return to their green color, and I am surprised to see so many of them refusing to turn. One that really stood out to me today is Cryptomeria japonica ‘Mushroom’.
‘Mushroom’ is a nice little Japanese Cedar with a compact habit that mounds into the shape of a large mushroom cap. During the growing season and until temperatures drop in late autumn, ‘Mushroom’ is a very lively green. With the drop in temperature, it takes on an orange bronze color that actually brightens our cold gray days here. Today as I was taking a stroll through my garden, I realized that I wasn’t the only one feeling the cold – my ‘Mushroom’ still had its winter color as if it was January!
I really am looking forward to the warmer days of spring and the color change that several of my conifers will make back to their lively green colors. C’mon spring!
I remember as a young boy growing up with the Sears® Wish Book as my most read publication for pretty much the entire month of December. I would pour over the pages looking and dreaming and strategizing how I would talk my parents into just the right gifts.
These days, I still have a wish list, but my catalogs of choice have changed from toys to garden plants! Of course I’m always interested in conifers, but almost any dwarf or miniature plant has a chance of getting on my list. I also have a wish project. I am hoping to take a small section of my garden and turn it into a miniature garden railway. That way, I can satisfy the wishes of my inner-boy as well as the conifer loving old man!
Creating a great railway garden will take a lot of research and planning. One inspirational publication I’ve found is Garden Railways Magazine. I’m inspired by the folks that create the most realistic scale railways you could imagine. Many of these gardens utilize dwarf conifers to create the natural looking forests and other trees to fit the right scale for their trains.
One conifer that I think will work great in my railway garden is Cryptomeria japonica ‘Tansu.’ Rated at Zone 6, it won’t do for every garden, but here in the PNW, it will thrive. When young, it can be pruned and trained into a very natural looking forest tree with its small scale-like leaves in perfect proportion with a miniature railway. Left to grow naturally, ‘Tansu’ has a very compact, irregular growth habit, forming a rounded globe shape to a very broad pryramid with age. With its neat and tidy habit, it can be useful in a broad spectrum of garden styles.
Whether your desire is a garden railway, container plants as part of a patio garden or a great specimen for a rock garden, ‘Tansu’ is a premium choice that you need to put on your wish list too!