The finer details

This past Labor Day holiday weekend, my wife and I enjoyed visiting one of our favorite independent garden centers across town. Although our goal for the day was to find a few new house plants, we had a tremendous time strolling through the entire nursery, and I found some fantastic miniature and dwarf conifers to include in this segment of my ongoing series of Thriller, Filler and Spiller garden design.

As you know, over the past several posts I have been discussing my plans to create a great new garden space with a colorful assortment of conifers and other exciting garden plants. I began with a specific Thriller in mind and have been imagining what other plants I will use  to fill space around it.

Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’ is a fantastic little “mini-thriller” that can be used with other minis to fill smaller garden spaces.

Be sure to check out those past posts if you have not been following along. Today, I’ll be talking about some of my favorite slower growing dwarf and miniature conifers for filling in more detailed smaller spaces.

Once I have the larger plants in place, I like to get down and dirty as I create small, intimate spaces, filling in with very slow growing plants and other details like interesting rocks or other garden ornaments such as bird baths, etc. I am talking about plants today whose annual growth will be limited to less than an inch or two per year in my Pacific Northwest climate. I love these plants because they have so many great features. My favorites offer slow growth, interesting texture, unique form, great color and sturdy performance.

An all-time favorite, and perhaps one of the larger selections on today’s list is Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom’, which I chose because of its reliable, light blue color and slow growth. Rated at USDA Zone 2, it is far more winter hardy than I require in my climate, but with well-drained soil and a sunny location, it will perform very well and provide a solid blue color statement on a small scale in the garden.

Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom’ is a great choice for bringing year-round bright blue color to smaller garden spaces.

For a good dark green and unique texture, I’ll include Picea abies ‘Mikulasovice’. This dark green, mounding plant displays needles of a longer length than one might imagine on such a small, slow growing plant empowering it to add a unique texture to the garden. Another good, dark green plant is so slow growing, it might be confused with being a moss covered rock, in fact that is what inspired its name of Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Greenstone’. The tiny, fine textured foliage covers this small, rounded mound which is perfect in miniature container gardens as well as a small detail in the larger garden as I am including today.

Picea abies ‘Mikulasovice’ is a very slow grower with lots of character.

Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’ is a delightful golden yellow miniature conifer with tiny needles covering the small branches which form this slowly spreading, mounding plant. Speaking of bright yellow, I will have to include a Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Butter Ball’ to this list with its soft textured, lovely golden yellow foliage and slowly mounding and eventual broadly conical habit.

Bright yellow color and fine-textured foliage make the miniature Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Butter Ball’ a brilliant choice!

I find with all of the above broadly mounding, and spreading forms I will need to include a few more upright and narrow forms to break up the monotony and add more visual interest to the smaller details of this garden space. One of the first to come to mind is a very fine textured, narrow, compact form of the Dwarf Alberta Spruce called Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’® This rich, grass-green plant grows very slowly into a narrow, cone shape and will remain in perfect scale with the other miniatures on today’s list. Of course I must include one of my very favorite plants, Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’ at this time since it fits the specifications perfectly and adds a bright twinkle of color.

This list could go on and on, depending on how much space I end up with. Next time I will finalize this series with a list of some favorite Spillers which will spill along the ground, filling in and covering open space with year round color!

Ed-

Conifer Lover

 

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Who doesn’t love a firefly?

Six years ago I had an opportunity to spend a few weeks in the midwest. This was my first extended visit to that region of the country, and it was the first time I had seen fireflies in action. I remember it was sunset and we were walking along a path which followed the Mississippi river. All of a sudden we began to see soft little lights blinking on and off. There were only a few at first but as we continued along the path, and the light became more dim, the little blinking lights became greater in number. The seven year old girl who was the most excited of our guides that evening caught one of the little critters so that we could get a closer look. Fascinating.

A year later I wrote a blog post about a fascinating new plant that my friends at Iseli had been observing for many years. In that post, I described how a large tree had developed seeds, those seeds were collected and germinated and the resulting seedlings were observed for many years. One of those exciting seedlings has been selected by Iseli Nursery and is ready to find its way into gardens all across the USA and Canada.

Picea orientalis ‘Firefly’ is an exciting new dwarf version of the Skylands spruce. Great color, hardy, slow growing and just darned cute!

Picea orientalis ‘Firefly’ has been under evaluation at Iseli Nursery for over twenty years. A few years ago it was selected out of a batch of seedlings and the propagation process began. First only a few small pieces of scion wood were available to graft and make new trees. As time went on, each new propagation would grow and yield scions of its own. Eventually, enough cuttings could be taken across all of the crops to produce a reliable number of new trees per year. The time has now come for Iseli to begin marketing this exciting new tree and ship it to independent garden centers all across the continent.

Growing at approximately one third the rate of its mother tree (Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’), ‘Firefly’ will become a stunning, bright yellow, small specimen tree – perfect in today’s smaller gardens. A garden featuring a ‘Firefly’ and other colorful dwarf conifers will be filled with interesting color, form and texture all year long.

Who wouldn’t love to have a Firefly in their own garden?

Ed-
Conifer Lover

A dazzling beauty

A few years back I mentioned my Christmas list for that year, on it were three exciting conifers. All three were forms of the Serbian Spruce, a tree once quite widespread throughout Europe. Now native stands of Picea omorika are limited to a mountainous region in western Serbia and eastern Bosnia. One of the cultivars I was hoping for, I found in my local independent garden center, one I was able to obtain some scion wood to graft my own new trees, and one remains on my wish list. 

The silvery white side of the needles catch every bit a daylight and shine brightly against the contrasting green side for a dazzling effect.

I grafted four specimens of Picea omorika ‘Kamenz’ back in 2011. I am growing one of those grafted plants in a container,  two I planted in my garden and one I gave to a good friend. When young, ‘Kamenz’ is a low growing bun-shaped plant that begins to spread wider than tall, but in time, it looks like it may want to send a shoot or two in a more upward growing fashion. I suppose one might choose to allow their specimen to grow taller, but it is easy enough to prune out any upward growing shoots to encourage the low, spreading form.

Along with its great form, I love the silvery effect of the waxy coating which covers the undersides of the needles. Common to the species, ‘Kamenz’ has bi-colored needles with a glossy green top and the silvery-white underside. The natural angle of branching and the way the needles are held on each branch allow for a great view of the silvery color which make this stunning specimen literally shine in the garden.

Great low-growing, compact and spreading form is just part of the appeal with ‘Kamenz’.

As I mentioned, I am growing one of my own grafted plants in a container on my patio. For some reason, this particular graft is showing a tendency to grow with a single leader. I may give it a little encouragement with a plant stake and some pruning to see if I might be able to influence its form into more of a compact Christmas tree shape. If successful, I think it will make a delightful little holiday decoration for the front walkway someday.

Keep an eye out at your favorite independent garden center, I have a feeling this one is becoming more popular and it should become easier to find. Of course you could always ask your favorite IGC to make a special order for you!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Return to the pond

It’s been a few weeks, but I am finally ready to share with you my selections for my young friend’s garden pond. You might remember that my friends had recently purchased a home that was built in 1999 and landscaped primarily with very large, fast growing forest trees. Since that time, my young and energetic friend has cleared much of his backyard of the unwanted trees and shrubs, dug out stumps, collected rocks to build a new waterfall for the pond, plus completed an assortment of other chores in the garden and their new home all while continuing his medical school studies and working at his job. (Ahhh… the days of youthful energy.)

Tsuga canadensis 'Cole's Prostrate'
Tsuga canadensis 'Cole's Prostrate' is a versatile conifer that can be staked and shaped or simply allowed to crawl and fall over and around rocks or other garden plants.

The pond itself is approximately fifteen feet long by eight or nine feet wide at its widest point and has the typical kidney shape of small garden ponds. To the side of one end, is where the water cycles into the pond and where we will build a new, small waterfall. Surrounding the pond is a nice selection of flat stones. Overall, we’ll be planting in a space of approximately 25′ by 20′ minus the area taken up by the pond.

The water fall with be small, perhaps just two to three feet tall and three to four feet wide at its base. It will be a fairly simple tier of flat stones to drop the water from one to the other providing visual and audio interest. Since it will not be large enough to plant much amongst its rockwork, we’ll plant a nice Tsuga canadensis ‘Cole’s Prostrate’ on the back side of the waterfall. Over the next few years, my friend will stake the growth to attain some height and eventually, the weeping branches will spill over much of the outer face of the waterfall rocks, softening their harshness while growing into a soft green mound.

Currently, the pond is partially surrounded by a few ornamental grasses which look very nice in this setting. We’ll plant a few dwarf and miniature conifers to add some color and year-round interest. Along one side of the pond is a rock path to allow close access to the pond so that the fish may be observed. The path leads from a very nice, covered patio complete with a small fireplace. between the pathway and the house, we’ll build a small mounded space, utilizing some rocks that will tie in with the pond, and then we’ll plant with a few more dwarf and miniature conifers.

Here is the list of dwarf and miniature conifers that we have selected to include in this pond project:

Name Growth Zone
Abies balsamea ‘Piccolo’ Dwarf

3

Abies koreana ‘Cis’ Dwarf

4

Abies koreana ‘Silberperle’ Miniature

4

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Butter Ball’ Dwarf

5

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Ellie B.’ Miniature

5

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Golden Fern’ Dwarf

5

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Just Dandy’ Dwarf

5

Chamaecyparis thyoides ‘Top Point’ dwarf

5

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Tensan’ Miniature

7

Juniperus communis ‘Corielagen’ Intermediate

3

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Golden Carpet’ Intermediate

3

Picea abies ‘Thumbelina’ Miniature

3

Picea glauca ‘Humpty Dumpty’ Dwarf

4

Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’ Miniature

4

Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’ Miniature

4

Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom’ Dwarf

2

Tsuga canadensis ‘Betty Rose’ Miniature

4

Tsuga canadensis ‘Cole’s Prostrate’ Dwarf

4

Until next time,

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Spring makes a morning visit

The day began like any other with the cat deciding my chest required kneading before 5:00 AM. Once he was convinced that neither my wife nor I had passed away overnight, he snuggled in close while I lay awake far earlier than I had planned. Just as I began to drift back to sleep, my alarm – always eager to satisfy its working expectations – began to play Pietro Nardini’s Violin Concerto in G (which I must admit is a rather pleasant way to be coaxed into beginning the day).

The cat, realizing that breakfast was about to be served, jumped off of the bed just as I was beginning my less than fully awakened walk toward the kitchen to get the tea kettle going and in his usual manner managed to run directly under my left foot which caused him to howl, me to stumble and my wife to shout a near-sleeping command to “settle down out there you two!”

Once the cat was fed and my tea sufficiently steeped – that first sip bringing a hint a jasmine and peach to my senses – I opened the curtains to discover that it had stopped raining! Not only that, but I could see a hint of blue color mottled in amongst the varying shades of white and gray that were the pallet of the morning sky. Excitement growing, I grabbed my robe and teacup and quickly slipped into my rubber garden boots, making my way out into the garden.

Larix decidua 'Pendula'
Remnants of the previous night’s rain collect as shimmering pearls of water on the fresh spring-green foliage of Larix decidua ‘Pendula’.

It was an amazing morning. The sky quickly began to brighten causing the lightest gray clouds to become white with more and more blue color beginning to show through. The air smelled fresh and the birds were singing with great enthusiasm as a small flock of Canadian Geese squawked in their overhead flight. The ground was completely saturated and all the plants in the garden were dripping with beads of water that sparkled in the light of the sun just beginning to show itself through a small hole in the clouds.

The brisk morning air was making it clear that my robe was not quite enough protection to ward off a small chill that wisped up, but I was determined not to miss this beautiful morning stroll – after all, with all the recent rain, and my busy schedule last week, this was the first opportunity I had to give my garden a brief inspection to see if spring were truly upon us. Last week I had noticed that buds on my Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’ were noticeably swelling giving them an almost iridescent glow. As I briskly walked my garden paths, I noticed tiny bright red pollen cones beginning to develop on my Abies koreana ‘Blauer Pfiff’ and my Larix decidua ‘Pendula’ had definitely pushed the very beginnings of its new, fresh spring-green growth. I also discovered that my Picea glauca ‘Pixie’ was at least as developed as the ‘Pixie Dust’ with its tiny, swollen, pearl-shaped buds glowing in anticipation of slightly warmer temperatures which would encourage them to pop. I was surprised to see that even a few cultivars of Pine were ever-so-slightly beginning to extend their candles in their spring ritual of new life.

By now the sun was most assuredly up, my legs were definitely cold, and I was ready for another cup of tea. I hope that you are also beginning to see some signs of life in your gardens. Until next time – happy gardening!

Ed-
Conifer Lover