My coniferous valentine

My wife really knows how to tickle my love button on Valentine’s day. She announced this morning over breakfast that my special gift this year would be going to the Portland Yard, Garden and Patio show on opening day!

Oh baby!

It’s been a few years since I’ve been to a garden show so this is a real treat. I really do love going to these winter garden shows. We’re expecting a long week of cold, dark gray rain, so spending a day wandering around the great landscape displays and garden ideas, pots, books and all those wonderful plants will be a special delight. I can almost smell the flowers and hear the water features just thinking about it.

Just to make sure that the show will be complete, I called one of my friends active in the local chapter of  the American Conifer Society to confirm that they will be there. Sure enough! Not only will they be there, but they will have on hand, for sale, hundreds of conifers in those cute little 4″ pots. I tried to get him to tell me exactly what they would have available, but he steadfastly held his tongue.

Dwarf and miniature conifers
Dwarf and miniature conifers combined with other amazing companions make a beautiful garden scene.

“C’mon, you can tell me… I can keep a secret.” I assured him.

“Nope, I’m not going to spill the beans! You just need to get down there early and see for yourself.”

“Hey we’ll be there when they open the doors on Friday – just give me a hint, will ya?”

“Well… we’ve got some Fanciful Gardens packages coming in.”

“Ok, that’s a start. Can you be a little more specific?”

“Oh, all right, I think we’ll have some of the Garden Gems, Miniatures, Railway, and Fairy Garden packages. Satisfied?”

Yes. That is very satisfying news and I think it will make our special Valentine’s Day adventure even more exciting. It’s a good thing that we are planning to arrive early – I expect that these little guys will sell quickly. This is a great way to buy a few great little conifers while benefiting the American Conifer Society at the same time. Maybe I can find a good deal on a couple high quality containers too – I wonder if my local Pot Lady will be there?

I don’t know if there are any garden shows coming up where you live, but if so, with all the cold weather and snow in much of the country, I hope you have a chance to get an early glimpse of spring in your area. Maybe your local American Conifer Society chapter will be available with special treats for you too!

I hope I’ll see you there.

Conifer Lover

Federal coneheads

“Hey Ed! Did you see that one of the largest and most popular branches of the federal government have become coneheads?”

“Pardon me?”

“Yeah Ed, apparently the United States government has gone conehead!” laughed my friend. “You’ve got to check out their website.”

The conversation continued like this for a little while before I was able to get my friend to tell me exactly what he was talking about. As it turns out (and maybe many of you are already aware of this) one of the new Holiday designs for the United States Postal Service this year is a collection of four artist’s renderings featuring conifers.

I checked out the USPS website and found that they have holiday conifer stamps and other products available. The stamps feature nicely drawn details of the foliage and cones (or in the case of the Juniper, its berry-like structures). They also have very nicely produced postcards prestamped and with information about each conifer. I was very excited and impressed when I saw what they had to offer.

My wife and I were just talking a few days ago about our need to purchase more stamps for our holiday greeting cards this year. I hope she sees these great conifer stamps. Since they are Forever stamps, I think we should stock up now – then we’ll have plenty of conifer themed stamps to last us a very long time.

Check out the link above and you’ll find four conifers featured in the set including; Abies balsamea (Balsam Fir), Juniperus virginiana (Eastern Red Cedar), Picea pungens (Colorado Spruce) and Pinus ponderosa (Ponderosa Pine).

Happy Holidays!

Conifer Lover

I struck gold!

Can you believe that Thanksgiving is just a week away? It’s nearing the end of November, and there is so much to do in my garden before winter really does set in. The leaves are very nearly all off of my trees and spread all over my driveway and in and around my garden. Then the pouring rain made sure to pound the leaves into clumps and mats on my smaller conifers – in some cases completely burying them in wet leaves. Thankfully today, though dark gray with clouds, is dryer than yesterday so I should be able to uncover my little treasures setting them free to breathe again.

 All it takes is a little time, energy and finesse to delicately remove the offending fallen leaves in such a way as not to break any little branches on my miniature conifers. I can usually pull the leaves off of my larger plants or even give them a brisk shake to set them free from the invading maple, birch, dogwood or other leaves that just days ago were providing a wondrous display of color. By next spring these leaves will be well on their way to becoming compost to spread in the garden next summer.

Juniperus horizontalis 'Gold Strike'
You can strike gold too with this hardy, colorful, groundcovering conifer.

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Gold Strike’ is one of my newer conifer additions this year. Like its parent, ‘Mother Lode,’ ‘Gold Strike’ is an absolutely striking, bright golden yellow color. This time of year I need all the bright sunny color I can get, and ‘Gold Strike’ is one of the best yellow groundcovers you will find for the garden. Pulling away the fallen leaves from this plant was like opening the draperies on a sunny summer morning – its bright golden tones warmed me right up. It won’t be too much longer though, and ‘Gold Strike’ will begin to change into its winter colors of pinkish plum, orange and gold.

 One of the beauties of conifers is their year-round appeal – the fact that they provide color and structure and texture in the garden all year long with very little fuss. I love my conifers. I hope you love yours too.

Conifer Lover

My favorite cousin

I was looking through some very old pictures the other day and I was transported back in time. It must have been a combination of the scent of the old leather binding of the 60 plus year old photo album or the slightly faded and partially blurred look of the photographs themselves – whatever it was, I had returned to my childhood and was flooded with memories of the many visits to my grandmother’s small  two acre farm.

As I looked at pictures of the old barn I could smell the straw and feel the rough, splintery texture of the old wood. I could almost taste the tart-sweet juiciness of the plump, purple grapes growing on the arbor. I remembered the dreamy state as I swung slowly on my grandmother’s garden swing, the creaking, squeaking sound it made as it swung to and fro while the dappled shade created kaleidoscopic patterns of light on my closed eyelids. I remembered climbing the old oak tree and how proud I was when I was finally able to jump up to reach its lowest branch enabling me to climb up and into that grand old tree.

And then I saw it.

In the background of one of the family group shots – in the back corner of the yard – was one of the most graceful trees I had ever seen. Even as a young boy, I recognized the graceful beauty of Tsuga heterophylla, the Western Hemlock.

Back in the day, it was a huge tree – possibly the oldest at grandma’s house – it was a graceful giant. Tall and dark green with slightly down-turned branches full of lush, soft needles, this native forest tree is very possibly responsible for my initial interest in conifers.

Tsuga heterophylla 'Thorsen's Weeping'
‘Thorsen’s Weeping’ looks an awful lot like my favorite cousin.

Many years later, when I began to pursue the amazing world of conifers on a more scholarly level, I came across a book written by John Swartley titled, The Cultivated Hemlocks. This was a fantastic reference to many of the unique cultivated varieties of the Canadian or Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). Most of the garden hemlocks that have been discovered are variants of Tsuga canadensis, but over the years, a few wonderful new forms of the Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) have been propagated and made their way to collector’s gardens and into the marketplace.

One of my favorite hemlocks just happens to be a cultivar of Tsuga heterophylla called, ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’. This completely prostrate growing conifer, if left to grow naturally, will be a ground-hugging spreader which will create a rich green carpet of conifer. Its natural form will flow between large garden rocks and spill over walls softening hard architectural edges and give the suggestion of water flowing in the garden. Most likely, you’ll find it in the independent garden center staked to a height of three or four feet. Once in your possession, you could continue to increase its height by staking it as tall as you like, confident that when it reaches the top of the stake, it will turn and flow right back to the ground.

A staked ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’ will grow in its weeping fashion, layer upon layer as it fills out to eventually look like Cousin Itt from the 1960s TV series, The Addams Family. You may then choose to allow its branches to trail along the ground, continuing to grow as a dense ground cover, or if you like the Cousin Itt look, you might prefer to keep the branches trimmed as they reach the ground. Either way, ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’ is sure to become one of your most treasured and talked about garden conifers.

Conifer Lover

I’m craving a Cream Ball

Some people have personal trainers or personal bankers. Me, I’ve got a personal baker. All I have to do is call with a special request an in no time, I can have, in my possession, any of a number of delicious treats that would cause my personal health care specialist great alarm if she knew what I was eating. Sometimes I think my wife and my doctor are in a conspiracy to make my culinary life dull and tasteless. Fortunately, my personal baker has a very high ethical standard so I can trust that any of our transactions are kept on the strictest code of confidentiality.

My wife was beginning to become suspicious the other day when she walked in on a conversation I was having with my personal baker. Honest, I was innocently talking with her about a great conifer for her front garden called, ‘Cream Ball.’ With a name like that, you can understand my wife’s suspicion.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Cream Ball'
Great for the patio or deck in a container or featured in the garden, Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Cream Ball' is sure to add good taste to the garden.

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Cream Ball’ is a fantastic little conifer. This creamy colored little puff has very finely textured foliage that, depending on its environment, will have light green foliage tipped with light yellow or if grown in partial shade, it will appear more of a bluish-green with near white tips. Either way, this slow-growing Japanese False Cypress is a real delicacy for the garden, large or small.

‘Cream Ball’ is also a great choice for the container garden. When young, its slow growth rate and fine, brightly colored foliage will make a great accent when planted with other dwarf and miniature conifers and companions. As it gains some size, ‘Cream Ball’ will make a grand specimen on the deck or patio. Keeping it small is quite easy though, simply lightly shear the foliage in May or June with a good sharp set of grass shears. ‘Cream Ball’ looks great maintained in a ball shape, but since it sports fine textured foliage, it has potential to be used to create topiary for either garden or patio. ‘Cream Ball’ is great frozen too, rated at USDA Zone 4 hardiness, it can survive temperatures to -30°F.

Perhaps I can trade a nice ‘Cream Ball’ for some of my personal baker’s famous mini-cheesecakes. Then we both can benefit from growing this great little conifer.

Conifer Lover