There’s a whole lotta pollinatin’ goin’ on!

My cat likes to begin his day almost exactly an hour and a half before I do. Most mornings he is patient and waits until 15 or 20 minutes before my alarm goes off to jump onto the bed and begin his purring. This morning he couldn’t wait and he began to massage my chest with the kneading motion of his paws, which incidentally made me very aware that it is time for his claws to be trimmed as a few of their needle sharp tips found their way to my bare flesh.

“OUCH!”

“Purrrrpurrrrrpurrrrr”

Now that I was awake, I could hear the birds singing and smell the fresh scent of early summer drifting in through the partially open window. It was definitely lighter than nighttime, but surely it wasn’t time to get up yet, was it? I checked my clock. Nope, the alarm would not begin to chime for over an hour yet! I went ahead and crawled out of bed, ran through my morning routine and realized that even though it had rained a little overnight and the sky was full of clouds, the temperature was not too bad, so I proceeded to enjoy my granola and fresh fruit out on my patio.

I love the lower viewing perspective when I am on my hands and knees, pulling weeds or digging in the soil and adding new plants in the garden.

Some birds were continuing to sing, but not the full choir that I had heard earlier. A pair of squirrels were already busily prancing around on the thick carpet in the Douglas fir grove while a Stellar Jay dropped by the birdbath, took a quick drink and flew up into one of the tall Western Red cedars. The morning air was cool, but quite humid and I was comfortable in just a t-shirt and vest. I breathed in the sweet scent of an Azalea on my neighbor’s side of the fence, which mixed nicely with the woodsy scent of my conifers and the natural mulch created by years of old needles being shed from the small grove of giant Douglas firs nearby. The distant soft roar of morning traffic reminded me of the sound of the ocean, or perhaps a river, not too far off.

Having spent much of the past weekend catching up on weeding the front garden, I realized that a fair amount of work remained in the back and a pleasant morning like this one was the perfect time to dive in. I finished my breakfast, poured a large ice tea to carry with me in the garden, donned my gloves and in moments I was on my hands and knees digging around the soil, removing weeds and discovering new volunteer seedlings popping up here and there.

Many exciting new garden plants begin their lives as chance seedlings that are spotted by a watchful eye, nurtured and grown for years, before finding their way into commercial production. Others begin as growth mutations that are propagated and again, observed for years, before becoming marketable plants.

I love it when my garden plants drop seeds and they manage to germinate in my garden. Most often, the seedlings grow very much like the species trees. Once in a while, a seedling will exhibit dwarf or other interesting features and is worth growing and further observation. With the great selection of unique and unusual cultivars of conifers and Japanese maples in my garden, there is bound to be a lot of cross-pollination going on, opening the door to the possibility of some new and exciting plants to be found in these many naturally occurring seedlings.

Last spring one very unique looking Japanese maple seedling germinated among the 12 or 15 that came to life in my garden. I was happy to see that it had survived the winter and still looks like a unique new cultivar with its new growth this year. Time will tell if it actually becomes something worth propagating and sharing with others, but for now, it is fun to watch it grow and I will need to decide on a place to move it since it sprouted up right next to one of my blueberry plants.

Keep an eye out as you are weeding your gardens, you never know what exciting new plants you may discover!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Springtime blues

I can remember way back when I was a young lad, just beginning to learn about the amazing beauty of conifers, and specifically blue conifers. When I think of blue conifers, I immediately think of different cultivars of the Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens). Although there are other groups of conifers that do have a few blue colored members, I think the most common and most prolific producers of stunning blue plants are the Colorado Blue Spruce. There are incredible full-sized trees such as, Picea pungens ‘Hoopsii’, ‘Fat Albert’, ‘Bonny Blue’ and ‘Avatar’ to name a handful, but there are stunning dwarf forms as well. One of the most popular is ‘Montgomery’, but other great dwarf forms are, ‘Sester Dwarf’, ‘Lundeby’s Dwarf’, ‘St. Mary’s Broom’ and ‘Procumbens’ which actually has a fairly vigorous growth rate, but it sprawls along the ground creating a bright blue ground cover.

A new dwarf, globe-shaped blue spruce in the foreground is being evaluated while Picea pungens ‘Avatar’ grows nearby. Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ can be seen in the distance in another section of the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden.

Since the vast majority of plants available for our gardens have foliage which is essentially some shade of green, the inclusion of additional color creates a lot of interest and helps draw the eye (and feet) into and through a garden—which really is the point of having a garden anyway, right? Even yellow, gold and variegated plants can appear as just different shades of green and adding a stunning, bright blue conifer can break the monotony, add a wonderful contrast and increase the feelings of well-being that gardens naturally tend to induce.

Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ is a stunning blue addition to a garden filled with green and yellow conifers and other colorful plants.

A few blue conifers placed some distance apart along a visual plane can draw the eye, and the viewer’s interest, deeper into the garden. With a well thought out design, this technique can also give a deeper sense of depth to the garden while providing several focal points to a vista view. Interspersed with other conifers of dark and light greens, yellows and golds, and the red foliage of Japanese Maples, Beech, or other ornamental plants, the blue conifers are a perfect complement to the well-planned, colorful garden.

This detail shot of the lush, soft, fresh blue foliage of Picea pungens ‘The Blues’ shows off the delicious color of the springtime blues.

This time of year, as the many cultivars of Colorado Blue Spruce push their fresh, colorful new foliage, is perhaps when the blues are at their peak, before the harsh summer sun hardens the foliage and autumn and winter rains slowly erode away some of the white waxy coating which gives these amazing plants their intensely beautiful blue color. The springtime blues are a happy blues!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Something extraordinary

Back in the day—the late 1970s and through the mid-80s—Jean Iseli encouraged his employees to stay alert, no matter what nursery chore they may be involved in, and be on the watch for unusual mutations growing on the hundreds of thousands of conifers being grown at any given time. That is precisely how many plants, which have come into the marketplace over the past 25 years were discovered, by the watchful eyes of the workers. Well known examples are Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’ which was observed as a single oddity growing among thousands of young J.h. ‘Wiltoni’ plants. Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’ was discovered as a sport growing on Picea glauca ‘Pixie’ while P.g. ‘Rainbow’s End’ and P.g. ‘Jean’s Dilly’ were both discovered as mutations growing on Picea glauca ‘Conica’.

Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’ is truly something extraordinary!

One of those plants, Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’ had been spotted as a witches’ broom growing on a small plant in a #1 container and, as was the tradition, was brought up to the sliding glass door just outside of Jean Iseli’s office. New discoveries were brought to this location for further observation where Jean could keep an eye on them and show them off to any visitor who showed an interest. This mutation had been brought to the observation deck and caught the attention of the chief propagator, Paul Halladin, who began to propagate the mutation because of its desirably unique characteristics. After the death of his brother, André Iseli wanted to name a great new plant after Jean. During its years of observation ‘Jean’s Dilly’ was proving itself to be an extraordinary new, improved form of the old Alberta. Being grown under the name of ‘Paul’s Dwarf’ for the first years of its propagation, it was decided that the name would be changed to ‘Jean’s Dilly’ and the nursery would begin to market the plant.

‘Jean’s Dilly’ is overall a much smaller version of the Dwarf Alberta Spruce, with its annual growth of about one third that of its parent. It also has distinctively shorter, thinner needles which give the plant a finer texture and smoother appearance. ‘Jean’s Dilly’ begins its spring flush of new growth three to four weeks after ‘Conica’ which can be a handy natural protection against early frost damage. With only a couple of inches of annual growth, it remains a small plant for a great number of years and makes it a perfect candidate for growing in a mixed container with other miniature conifers or flowering plants.

Both, this great little conifer, and the memory of the man it was named for, are truly something extraordinary.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

They’re coming, and there is nothing we can do about it

Get ready.

Spring is less than a month away. I know, you are looking out your window and think I am out of my mind, spring feels more like a  year away rather than a month, but, it’s true. Spring officially begins March 20th this year. No matter what the weather might be doing in your part of the world right now, the days are definitely longer and signs of spring are beginning to show themselves. One of the sights that ensure spring is officially here in the Pacific Northwest is when Cone Hunting Season officially begins.

Now, I can generally count on a few early cone sightings in the month of April, and the cones are reliably emerging through the month of May. I love the spring cone season! So many colors. So many details. So many tiny surprises begin to emerge on my conifers that every walk through the garden I observe something new. I am very excited about spring!

Here are a few pictures of the exciting cones I look forward to seeing this coming spring! I almost always wander my garden during springtime with my trusty magnifying glass in hand – I don’t want to miss the beautiful details as captured in these pictures.

Enjoy!

I can always count on a terrific show from Picea abies ‘Acrocona’. Its clusters of brightly colored cones cover the tree and demand attention!

Always a favorite, Pinus contorta ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ is very pretty as tiny yellow needles and bright pink, sea-urchin like cones emerge on new extending candles.

Very pretty, lavender colored pollen cones fill out the extending candles of new growth on Pinus parviflora ‘Glauca Brevifolia’.

Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’ is known for its beautiful silvery foliage highlights, but for me, the show begins in spring with the massive clusters of purple and pink cones!

Another favorite exciting springtime sight are the emerging purple cones against the yellowish foliage of Abies koreana ‘Aurea’.

They are coming soon!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

A burst of sunshine!

The dark and dreary winter days are beginning to brighten! I have noticed that our daylight hours are definitely increasing and I feel the brightness in my spirit as well as see it with my eyes. This morning I decided that I would spend a little time catching up with some of my favorite garden blogs. One of them, written from her home on the opposite side of the continent, A Garden of Possibilities, had posted a picture of one of my very favorite golden conifers. Imagine my excitement to not only find one of my favorite bloggers highlighting a conifer, but one of my favorite conifers at that!

Pinus contorta ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ bursts forth its proclamation of spring-time.

Pinus contorta ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ is one of those conifers that burst forth their new growth in bright colors and then slowly fade to green as the season progresses. Beginning with the warmth of spring, this Lodgepole Pine will begin to extend its new foliage. These new “candles” will be covered with tiny, emerging, soft-yellow needles. As the candles continue to extend, longer and longer, the tiny needles also burst forth in their butter-yellow and then slowly become more and more golden in color. Eventually as summer arrives the golden color of the needles begins to fade to the nice medium green color that the small garden tree enjoys until the follow spring. This color burst is a lot like the bloom of some flowers, except that it lasts for months instead of weeks.

Bright, rich golden needles emerge from the new candles while both the new, bright pink and the older green cones add interest and color highlights.

But wait, there is an added color bonus with ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’. When one looks closely, there are tiny, bright pink cones here and there among the newly extending golden candles. These cones slowly develop through the spring and summer, becoming larger and darker pink and then gradually they turn a bright green color. I enjoy finding both the bright pink new cones and last season’s green cones on the tree at the same time. The green cones will mature through the summer and fall, dry, and then open up to disperse their seeds and eventually fall from the tree.

The tiny pink cones emerging between the small needles are a thrill for me to discover every spring!

There really is nothing quite like the burst of color that ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ provides in the garden, and its bright color in spring lifts my spirits very much like the increasing hours of sunlight we are experiencing right now!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

A lighthouse in the morning fog

This morning I awoke to discover one of the thickest fogs in memory. Only once, back in the early 1970s, do I remember a fog more thick than this one. A friend and I had been given charge of a mutual friend’s 1969 Camaro. I do not remember the series of events that lead us to have this responsibility, but I do remember that we were supposed to drive his pride and joy to his girlfriend’s house by a specific time. The fog, that evening, was so thick and the country roads were so dark that it took us well over an hour for what was ordinarily a 20 minute trip. We could not see the yellow lines of the road! We tried a number of techniques in attempts to increase our visibility, but nothing really helped much. I do not remember how we eventually made it to our destination, but we did arrive, albeit much later than instructed. We all had a laugh about the density of the fog and decided to hang out at the girl’s house for an hour or two. Eventually another friend arrived and his car was equipped with fog lights, so we all decided that he could lead the way out of the muck and back home to our side of town. This morning’s fog was not near as bad as that, but it was a close second.

The magnificent ‘Chief Joseph’ showing off his stunning winter color on a dark, foggy morning at the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden.

By the time I motivated myself to really begin my day, the fog had thinned out some and I took a stroll around my garden. I always enjoy my garden walks in the fog. There is just some measure of magic and mystery that the low light and reduced visibility gives to the garden. Weeping plants seem more alive as they take on creature features in the fog. Background distractions faded from view and the fog accumulated on the foliage and bare branches creating millions of tiny dewdrops, which in the light freeze, added a special sparkle to the garden as the sun brightened and burned a brighter spot into the fog.

Tiny, quick-frozen dew drops created a wonderful effect in the foggy morning garden.

As I wandered around the foggy garden, I thought back to that harrowing drive 40 years ago with my friend. As I turned and approached a curve in my path, I couldn’t see what was lying in wait and my imagination conjured all kinds of fantastic possibilities inspired by years of reading tales of hobbits, elves, gnomes, and dragons. What I did see as I made my way ’round the curve caught me just a little by surprise. It was my old friend, The Chief! Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’ was standing tall and glowing his very bright golden yellow color. Nothing in the immediate vicinity was as bright and noble looking as The Chief. I was reminded of one very foggy visit to the Yaquina Head lighthouse on the central Oregon coast. It was so foggy that day that we could barely see the lighthouse, even up close, but its light shined brightly and was visible miles away! So too, ‘Chief Joseph’ was a bright light in my dark and foggy garden, lighting my way, and guiding me to the next bend in the path.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Making the fun meter hit high

I have so much fun during the Christmas holiday season. Sure enough, Thanksgiving weekend is usually when I dust off the old Christmas songs and begin to fill the house with a festive mood. As I’ve mentioned before, my wife loves to decorate for the holidays and I love to supply her with fresh foliage from the conifer garden for all her decorating desires. The day after Thanksgiving, I created a pair of colorful wreaths and a few days later, I was back in the elves workshop creating a pair of colorful swags. There is nothing like nice fresh-smelling greenery collected right outside my door in my very own festive evergreen factory!

Next, I had a request to harvest some more traditional greens from the large Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedars to surround a table centerpiece that my wife was planning. After I discovered what she had planned, I realized that this particular centerpiece would not be complete without a few of those cute little conifers in the festive red pots that I see this time of year at my favorite independent garden center. Being it was still the end of November, I was fairly confident that they would have in stock exactly what I was looking for. My quick trip (okay, when have I ever had a quick trip to my favorite garden center?) to the store proved a success and I returned with several little conifers that would add a touch of life to the already whimsical table display.

Cute little conifers in festive red pots are just the thing to make my wife’s already whimsical display a whole lot more fun! Harvested greens are one thing, but adding live plants in an assortment of colors and textures brings the display to life and kicks the fun meter all the way to high!

What I like to do is keep my potted conifers outdoors until needed. My wife’s display is very nice most of the time, but when guests arrive for a meal and on that special holiday, I will bring in my festive red potted plants to give the display just a little added zing! After the holidays, since my new plants will only be indoors for short periods of time, I can either just keep my new dwarf and miniature conifers in their red pots, plant them in other containers or find a place for them in the garden. By living in the Pacific Northwest, I may have the luxury of potting or planting my new plants right away since we often have mild enough temperatures in January and February to do so. If the weather does take a turn for the worse and I find that I need to delay finding these new additions a more permanent home, no problem! I can just tuck them away with my other potted conifers on my patio and take care of them through the remaining winter months as I do the others in my collection. Folks in far colder regions than my own will likely want to overwinter their cute little potted conifers in a protected cold frame or unheated garage until their ground thaws in spring.

I love these cute little potted miniature and dwarf conifers for winter decorating, and I really love that I end up with some new conifers to plant in my garden or enjoy on my patio all year long, for many years to come!

Happy Holidays to you all!

Ed-
Conifer Lover