In my corner of the Pacific Northwest, we have enjoyed some of the most pleasing spring-like weather for several days in a row – which seems terribly unfair since I know many of my friends are in a wintry deep-freeze right now. Today I thought I would share some beautiful spring-time garden photos hopefully easing the winter blues some of you may be struggling with and to inspire all of us to get out into our gardens as soon as weather permits. In my case, the weather forecasters see an end to our pleasant, sunny days and a return to our cold, gray rain – which suits me just fine, it is only February after all. Who knows, we may even see snow showers mixed with our rain in the local area throughout the month of March keeping us in winter dormancy a little longer!
Hang on folks – especially my friends in the current deep freeze which is covering so much of the North American continent – spring really is coming!
Ordinarily this time of year, when the cold east wind blows or the cold gray rains fall in a steady flow from the sky, I find myself in my favorite chair near the woodstove, enjoying my garden from the view of the large picture window. This year, I have been busily moving to a new temporary home which has also forced me to spend some time with my containers, carefully transporting them to a new location. As I am moving and loading and unloading these many coniferous friends, I find myself thinking about what has been, and more importantly, what is to come. I have been making a mental list of what dwarf conifers I currently have to begin my new garden, and I am making a list of those conifers I will definitely want to replace one day when I have a place to begin to dig in the soil again.
Over the years I have had an opportunity to select a number of very unique dwarf and miniature conifer seedlings which are coming with me. These are real treasures to me since I selected them many years ago and have nurtured them along the way, carefully monitoring their needs and evaluating their unique traits. Other plants in my collection of containers are less rare but still of great value to me. The past several years I was able to increase my conifer collection through the propagation process of winter grafting. My small hobby greenhouse was perfectly suited for the task and I had great success adding to my collection and making new plants to give away to friends.
Taking mental inventory of my containerized conifer collection, I realize that I will have a good beginning when I find a place to create a garden once again. Some of my favorites are conifers that I think everyone should have in their garden. For example, most any garden has space for Picea glauca ‘Pendula’. This very tall growing conifer remains very narrow and even after thirty years or more in the garden, it may attain 30 feet in height, but will have a diameter of only about six feet where it meets the ground. I absolutely love the way it looks like a giant tapered candle with wax dribbling down its sides. I would love to plant three to five of these spaced with about 15 to 20 feet between them in a hedge row. I would then fill in the spaces with other conifers to create a multi-level, multi-colored and textured garden wall.
On the other end of the scale, Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’ is a very slow growing conifer of equal favor. This small, mounding spruce has tiny golden-yellow needles covering its short, stiff, twiggy branches. This one I will want to protect from the intense afternoon summer sun, but for its best color I will want to place it where it will receive many hours of sunlight. I will plan to place this with other miniature conifers in a special location where I can prominently display the appealing features of these small-scale plants.
One last spruce to mention this time is Picea pungens ‘Niemetz’. This one begins somewhat slowly, but once established, it can grow into a full-sized Colorado spruce tree. Its amazing feature is its stunning color. When it begins to push its new growth in spring, the color is bright butter-cream which shines brightly against its older gray-blue foliage. Over the months, as spring transitions into summer, the creamy color fades to a very soft blue and eventually hardens to the light gray-blue of autumn and winter. I will want to place this tree where it can be a showpiece in the spring and summer while keeping in mind that it will probably need to be a background tree due to its ultimate size.
As the perspiration runs down the side of my face, and with memories of a garden gone by, I have exciting times to ponder with the possibility of new gardens yet to grow.
The cold east wind has returned to my corner of the Pacific Northwest and although it does bring a break from the rain, bright sunshine and deep blue skies, it also brings wind gusts of 25 to 35 miles per hour. Travel a few miles to the south and the wind is but a breeze, a few miles farther and the windless sunshine feels warm through the crisp, cold ambient temperature.
Today’s walk through my garden is bittersweet. I am bundled and warm enough, but this will be one of my last walks through this garden. Life does not always march in step with the plans we make, and I find myself nearing the end of my stewardship of this little acre. It has been great transforming this once ordinary yard of some older trees and a lot of lawn to mow, into a garden which not only filled hearts with joy in all who strolled the paths, but also became home to an assortment of critters from birds and squirrels to a small lizard with the occasional passing raccoon and opossum (and of course, the neighbor’s cat who enjoyed this sanctuary away from the large dog in his own yard). Fortunately, I know that I will have gardening opportunities in the future and I look forward to sharing those adventures with you all here.
Of course, I will continue to have the pleasure and honor of strolling through the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden and I am confident that I will continue to learn a great deal from my friends at Iseli and apply that knowledge to my own future garden and new conifer collection.
This time of year, with the deciduous trees nearly bare from our recent cold wind storm, crisp, cold temperatures and the winter holidays on their way, I can’t help but begin to become excited. In the USA, our Thanksgiving holiday is just around the corner, and for me, that means spending time surrounded by some of the people I love. It also means that it is time to begin outdoor winter decorating, which includes displaying little lights on many of my “Christmas tree shaped” conifers. I am not sure how or when Christmas trees were determined to be perfectly conically shaped, or how the tradition of decorating trees and houses with lights came about, but I sure do enjoy it!
Some folks seem to think that more is better when it comes to decorating their space with lights. Some even go to the extreme with computer controlled lighting that is in sync with music, and some even broadcast the music over a low-power FM signal so drivers may enjoy the show in their cars. I, on the other hand, am perhaps a bit more of a traditionalist and I like a more subtle approach to my lighting technique. Several of my dwarf conifers are just the right size and shape for that traditional look of conically shaped trees strung with lights. You may recall my experience stringing a non-traditionally shaped tree some years ago, if not you can check it out here.
Some of my favorite small trees to decorate with lights this time of year include Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ and ‘Sester Dwarf’. Both of these dwarf forms of Colorado Blue Spruce have very nice blue needles that really shine when I string them with either colored or plain white lights, plus they stand out all year long with their great color.
A few choice pines to decorate include Pinus leucodermis (heldreichii) ‘Banderica’, ‘Irish Bell’ and ‘Compact Gem’. ‘Banderica’ has taken some time to become sizable enough to decorate, but now that it has matured, this very slow grower is a short, chubby tree that complements the other two in this section. ‘Irish Bell’ is a faster grower, but provides the same kind of broadly conical shape in a more open form. ‘Compact Gem’ is very nice with its taller and more narrow stature. I love planting these three in a group that shows off their varying forms and sizes while providing a great effect when they are all lit up for the holidays!
But hey, I am certainly not going to limit myself to the traditional conical shapes when deciding on where to place lights in my garden. I like to cover the larger globe shaped conifers as well and turn them into giant, glowing snowballs! One in my garden is Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’, which lights up brightly and gives off a wonderfully therapeutic scent during the decorating process. Another great rounded conifer to decorate is, Pinus strobus ‘Coney Island’ which comes pre-decorated with an abundance of delightfully dangling small cone ornaments – just add lights. One final plant to list this time is Picea abies ‘Fat Cat’. I just love this one with its nice, tidy, compact, rounded form – it’s perfect for those net lights which can simply be laid over the plant for easy installation and removal.
Okay, my fingers are warmed up from all this typing, I think I had better get into the garage and start going through my boxes of lights. Let the holidays begin!
In my corner of the Pacific Northwest, 2014 will be remembered as one of the exceptionally great weather years. I simply do not remember a better stretch of pleasant, mild, warm and sunny days. Even during the heat of our summer hot days, we rarely saw the thermometer rise above the mid-90s with most days peaking in the mid to low-80s – just perfect!
Now as we slide into the end of October, the rain has been with us for several days in a row with no real end in sight. I think for many of us native born Oregonians, this is a welcome change. As tired as we may become of the rain after five or six months of it on a daily basis, most of us do tend to welcome its return after a hot and dry summer.
This year our fall foliage color has been delayed when compared with years in recent memory. My photographer friend keeps an accurate photo record of the gardens at Iseli Nursery, by cataloging his photos by date. It is fairly easy for him to look back over the past decade and a half and report just when the deciduous trees began their autumn color changes, when they peaked and which trees were among the last to finally drop their leaves. For example, he has photos from early October of 2013 showing many Japanese Maples in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden in a blaze of orange and red, while this year those very same trees have just started to show their seasonal color over the past week or so – non being near their peak of color as compared with previous years.
I am sure that weather conditions, precipitation amounts, daily temperature range and early or late frost all play a role in how and when a tree may display its autumn color. Fortunately, seasonal color in the garden is not limited to deciduous trees and shrubs.
One of the greatest advantages of using conifers in the garden is that they have the potential to provide fantastic color all year long, and some of them even change color through the seasons. One of the most colorful and most exciting conifers in my garden is a dwarf Japanese Cedar called ‘Golden Promise’. Cryptomeria japonica ‘Golden Promise’ is one of the brightest yellow conifers from spring through summer and only begins to darken a bit as it takes on a slight golden-bronze hue with the onset of colder weather in autumn or winter.
Once the temperature begins to rise again in spring, new growth will emerge with a hint of bronze to the tips which quickly brightens to lemon-yellow, creating one of the brightest color spots in the garden. The slow growing plant has a very tidy globe shape and never needs shearing to maintain its attractive form. Tiny, succulent needles give the bright golden globe a coarse texture.
For a promise of gold in your garden that you may rely upon year after year, ‘Golden Promise’ is rated at Zone 6 cold hardiness and is perfect for all kinds of container gardens, rock gardens, or any small space where a beautifully bright blast of color will be seen and enjoyed.
I talk quite a bit about how dwarf and miniature conifers are perfect for year-round color and interest in the garden. There simply is no better way to have a fantastically enjoyable garden, all year long, without incorporating at least some of these amazing plants into the garden design. That being said, there may be no better time to fully enjoy the amazing beauty of conifers (or any garden plant) than in the spring and summer months… well, unless you count autumn, which also has its definite advantages.
Spring brings on the fresh new growth of most all landscape plants, but climatic conditions may prevent some from fully enjoying all their garden has to offer. By the time summer arrives (at least in the Pacific Northwest) rain has become far less frequent and temperatures are very enjoyable, drawing most folks outdoors to enjoy all kinds of activities. One of the activities I love is simply strolling through my garden; or honestly, anyone’s garden!
Today I decided to share some inspirational views of the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden located on the grounds of Iseli Nursery in Boring, Oregon. I have spent a great many years associated with these folks, and their plants and gardens are always an inspiration.
Many folks will never have an opportunity to visit the beautiful private gardens at this wholesale nursery, but I am very happy to share some of the views I have enjoyed over the years. I hope you are inspired by these gardens as much as I have been.
There may be more individually named cultivars of the Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) than any other conifer. I have seen thousands of seedlings, and a multitude of mutations within this species over the years. Most of which were being evaluated for unique characteristics, resistance to pests, hardiness and overall aesthetics. Of course many other horticulturists have done the same over the years, and hundreds of cultivars have been named and distributed either through collectors or the commercial marketplace.
Back in the early 1980s, a group of very mature Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’ at Iseli Nursery produced a proliferation of viable seed. Thousands and thousands of seeds were planted, many of which germinated and the evaluation process began. The gene pool was vast that contributed to the pollination of the tiny cones that produced all of those seeds. Iseli Nursery had an extensive collection of mature cultivars which contributed to that pollination process. As a result, a very wide assortment of characteristics became visible rather quickly in the evaluation process. Some seedlings grew very quickly and appeared very much like the species, Chamaecyparis obtusa. Some were more vigorous, some less. The slower growing seedlings were given great consideration – as were those with unusual coloration or different foliage types. Eventually those plants that were considered to have the least chance of commercial appeal were culled and the remaining plants were planted in the ground, sorted by growth rate, foliage type and foliage color.
Many years went by with regular evaluation. Some of these seedlings began to show great promise. Extremely slow growth rates, unusually dark green foliage, bright yellow foliage, fine textured foliage, sculptural growth forms – whatever made an individual plant stand out from the crowd and appear different than other known cultivars already named, either in collections or being marketed. Some of those seedlings were then selected and the propagation process began, spanning 15 to 20 years in the process. Some of those exciting new plants have started to become available to garden consumers through independent garden centers over the past few years.
‘Gemstone’ is a very slow growing Hinoki Cypress with a narrow, upright form. When young, it reminds me of a small, pointed wizard’s hat. As it matures, occasional side branches will develop adding aesthetic interest to the already pleasing, casual movement to its upward growing form. The largest plant I have seen is in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden and is pictured above. This specimen is one of the early propagations off of the original mother tree which is growing in an undisclosed, secret location.