Marching into the Holidays

We have survived the “creepy creepers” and were thankful for all of our many blessings and now winter is nigh upon us as we march into the holidays and prepare to begin a new year. This time of year is always fun (and at times, stressful). I am excited to collect some colorful foliage for my annual wreath and swag construction. Some of my favorite conifers are very well suited to provide colorful and delightfully scented foliage for these projects. If you are interested in growing lovely foliage for your own holiday decorating, then do read on.

Cupressus arizonica 'Aurea'
Cupressus arizonica ‘Aurea’

Nothing beats the rich dark green color and pleasant Christmassy scent of Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) for not only a Christmas tree, but also greens for decorating. I usually utilize our native Douglas Fir foliage as the base for my wreaths and swags. When I want something with similar foliar texture but with a little added zing, I’ll look to Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Blue’ and P. m. ‘Waggin Tails’.

Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Waggin Tails'
Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Waggin Tails’

P.m. ‘Waggin Tails’ has the same lovely scent as its parent, but its branchlets have a bit of a curve or twist which will add an interesting texture to holiday constructions. As its name implies, ‘Blue’ has bright blue foliage which complements the other colors in my wreaths. Both are tremendous additions to the garden when space allows.

Both Cupressus arizonica ‘Aurea’ and Cupressus arizonica ‘Blue Pyramid’ are amazing garden trees with brightly contrasting colors. The soft, and yet, intense yellow of ‘Aurea’ will add a brilliant focal point in your garden and a delightful color contrast to the greens and blues of other great conifers. ‘Blue Pyramid’ is a bright, light blue color, that again can make a remarkable garden focal point and a colorful contrast to darker greens in the typical holiday wreath. If your garden is large enough, I recommend both of these plants for year-round color in both your garden and your winter decorating.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Lutea'
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’

Several cultivars of Chamaecyparis obtusa are regulars on my wreath-making list. Two bright choices to add eye-catching color are Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’ and C.o. ‘Sunny Swirl’. ‘Nana Lutea’ is always a winner in my wreaths with its bright yellow, soft-textured foliage. It delights the eyes as it contrasts with the blues and green of other foliage choices. For a more subtle yellow color, but with the addition of a unique textural twist, I love to include C.o. ‘Sunny Swirl’ for its coarse, twisted and fasciated foliage.

Sometimes I will include Threadbranch Cypress as a filler for its wonderful contrast in foliar texture. Its coarse, wispy threads of foliage add a pleasing effect and, depending on cultivar choice, may also add contrasting color, as with the bright yellow of Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mop’ or C.p. ‘Boulevard’ for soft-textured, bluish foliage.

Pinus strobus 'Mini Twists'
Pinus strobus ‘Mini Twists’

I usually try to have the added, wintry scent of Pine in my holiday decorations, so I will include the bluish-green foliage of Pinus strobus (Eastern White Pine) or Pinus parviflora (Japanese White Pine) cultivars, both of which have 5-needle bundles so they add a definite softness to the design. From the longer needles of Pinus strobus ‘Macopin’ or ‘Pendula’ to the shorter needles of ‘Sea Urchin’ or ‘Mini Twists’, there is definitely an Eastern White Pine for the holidays. The Japanese White Pine offers generally shorter needle length, but a similar color and overall effect. P. parviflora ‘Bergman’ is an excellent choice for foliage density and a variegated form, such as, ‘Goldilocks’ or ‘Ogon Janome’ add softness and a splash of color.

Alright, it seems I have put together my list, now I need to get to work! I hope you will have some time to enjoy the relaxing art of holiday wreath-making or decorating in whatever style you desire.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

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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

Santa and the Sester Dwarf

I know it seems early, but really, we are into the 2nd week of November. Thanksgiving is just two weeks away and Christmas – well, it’s coming quickly – and chances are, your family enjoys doing some kind of festive decorating for the holiday season. I know mine does.

A few posts back I mentioned that I was making an attempt to encourage my wife to miniaturize our holiday decorating to some degree. I talked about creating some winter themed container plantings which featured dwarf and miniature conifers. As I began to work on some of those new plantings, I realized how perfect these kinds of decorations would be for my urban friends living in apartments or condos. Most all of them have at least a small patio or balcony where they enjoy potted plants throughout the warmer season. Why not utilize those same pots that are now filled with spent annuals and perennials and fill them with holiday themed plants featuring conifers?

Picea pungens 'Sester Dwarf'
An ideal living Christmas tree, Picea pungens ‘Sester Dwarf’ looks great in a premium clay pot.

Some plantings could be larger and remain just outside the sliding glass door that leads out to the patio or balcony. Other smaller (and therefore more portable) containers could be brought indoors during the day to be enjoyed by the family and guests, and then be set back outside to prevent the plants from thinking spring had arrived early and begin to break dormancy. This same technique could be modified for folks desiring to enjoy a living Christmas tree this year.

In a past post I discussed methods of keeping a living Christmas tree in good health so that it can be planted in the garden following the holidays. Another option is to simply leave your featured tree for the holidays in a container and enjoy it on the patio or deck all year long. This seems to make great sense for the urban dwellers with limited space, both indoors or out.

Picea pungens ‘Sester Dwarf’ is an ideal selection for holiday decorating. This compact, symmetrical, Christmas-tree-shaped dwarf conifer has a pleasant, soft blue color to its foliage and looks good from sizes, small to large. It is definitely one dwarf conifer that I will be using this year for some of the new containers I am planting for our front walkway. Being a slow-growing conifer, ‘Sester Dwarf’ will be very well behaved in a quality container for a number of years. Then, one might either plant it in the garden or simply move it into a larger container to be enjoyed as your decorating heart desires.

Some additional great choices for containerized, living Christmas trees include:

Picea pungens ‘Fat Albert’
Picea glauca ‘Conica’
Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’
Pinus mugo ‘Tannenbaum’
Pinus helrichi leucodermis ‘Compact Gem’
Pinus helrichi leucodermis ‘Irish Bell’

It’s not too early to begin to make your plans for a successful season of holiday decorating!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Invasion of conifers

I had a great time working with the folks at Iseli in the creation of their new display garden. It was quite a luxury to see a garden come together from 40,000 square feet of flat open space. But even though we had room to plant just about anything in our heart’s desire, we did try to limit ourselves during plant placement to allow for at least five years of growth.

That luxury was lost in my own garden years ago, but it hasn’t stopped me from adding great new conifers to my garden. I’ve always been more of a “find a place for the plant and move it later if needed” kind of gardener. Over the years I’ve designed several gardens for people that wanted a plan they could follow. I even tried that a few times in my own gardens, but once I get out and begin the planting process, I’ll change my mind and things go where it feels right at the time. Now, years later, I have limited places that I can fit new plants.

Dwarf conifers and companions fill a small space in the garden
Dwarf conifers and companions fill a small space in the garden

Like this past weekend, my wife and I stopped at our local garden center to pick up a couple of pumpkins for carving – they always have the best products in town. We left with a cart full of new plants. Now, most of the little treasures we found are planned for a new container I’ll be planting this week, but we did come home with a couple things that we’ll need to find a home for in the garden. I chuckled to myself as I pulled out the end of season annuals in just the right spot for my new Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Baldwin Varigated.’ My wife didn’t mind at all when I pulled out a couple of other poorly performing plants for her new Rhus typhina (Staghorn Sumac) that she had been wanting for years (another great plant for fall color).

My point is simply that I prefer to allow my garden space to help me decide where to plant something new. After all, it’s not all that difficult to dig and move most conifers if needed. In fact, my neighbors first thought I was a little crazy spending so much time out in my garden moving things around. Now though, they are quite pleased when I dig a few nice things out of my garden and offer them the opportunity to plant them in theirs. It’s almost like my garden is expanding out into the neighborhood like an invasion of conifers.

I know I love it, and my neighbors seem to as well.

Ed-
Conifer Lover