Four more dwarfs

Last time I began a story about my good friend and his desire to transform his dog-worn backyard into a beautiful garden. Of course, I’ve been extolling the wonderful attributes of dwarf and miniature conifers and my friend is convinced that he and his wife would love a low maintenance garden filled with the year-round color and interest that conifers will provide. I began this topic by discussing some of the plants which will become the larger specimens in this first section of the new garden. Those plants put on more annual growth so they grow to a larger size more quickly over the span of years than the more dwarf and miniature plants that are on today’s list.

Picea glauca 'Pixie Dust'
As if magically sprinkled with pixie dust, this miniature form of the Dwarf Alberta spruce is a delight in the garden.

One of my favorite conifers, whether planted in the ground, in a container as a single specimen, or with a combination of other plants is a delightful dwarf with multi-season appeal. Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust,‘ is very similar in shape to its granddaddy, the Dwarf Alberta spruce, but is much slower growing. With just a couple of inches of new growth per year, it will take its time reaching three feet tall and a couple of feet wide by its twentieth birthday. One of the fun features of ‘Pixie Dust’ is that its new growth doesn’t come in one big push in the spring. Just about the time that first spring push begins to harden off, a second push begins to emerge—not as vigorous as the first, but more slowly, over a period of several weeks, different buds will swell and pop with emerging new buttery-yellow foliage. These magical sparkles of color, dusting the plant through summer, are the inspiration behind the name of this adorable little tree.

Picea abies 'Thumbelina'
The tiny ‘Thumbelina’ miniature Norway spruce is nestled in comfortably with companion flowers in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden.

Another delightful fairy-tale spruce for this garden is the miniature, Picea abies ‘Thumbelina’, also growing just a couple of inches per year, this low-growing, globe-shaped mound is covered with tiny, dark green needles. The oldest specimen that I have seen of this cutie is a little over two feet wide and perhaps 18 inches tall—it must be at least 25 years old. Never needing pruning to keep it small and shapely, ‘Thumbelina’ is also ideal for container gardens—and with a name like that, who wouldn’t want to plant it in their very own Fairy Garden?

Cryptomeria japonica 'Tenzan'
Very tight and compact growing, ‘Tenzan’ is a true miniature conifer that is perfect for containers, rock gardens and might make the perfect home for your own garden fairies and gnomes.

Possibly the slowest growing miniature conifer on the list is Cryptomeria japonica ‘Tenzan’. With just about an inch of new growth per year, this is one small, tight little mound of succulent, light-green needles. The needles look sharp, but are actually soft to the touch, though because ‘Tenzan’  is so dense, it has a very coarse texture and is one of those plants that I can’t help but want to touch when I am near it. This miniature conifer is ideal for combining with other plants in a container since it will take many years to outgrow its space. In fact, the three conifers mentioned so far would be perfect in a nice sized patio bowl combined with some alpine Sedums or Sempervivums—but that’s a topic for another post!

As cute as a seven month old kitten, ‘Golden Sprite’ on a stick is a fun addition to the garden either planted in the ground or featured in a prized container on the patio.

The fourth conifer in this design truly is fun! My wife and I attended a couple weddings recently, and it seems one of the latest things to have at the reception are cake-pops. These little balls of frosted cake are on a stick like a lollipop. Besides being delicious, they’re just darn cute. So is Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Golden Sprite’ grafted onto a small 12″ standard! This miniature, globe-shaped, golden-yellow Hinoki cypress is already a favorite for container or garden, but put it on a stick, and it is just about as cute as a seven-week-old kitten. Adding a pop of color and interest to this garden space, ‘Golden Sprite’ will grow into a perfect little ball of color which may seem to float above companion flowers or ground covers.

So, Golden Wilma and the seven dwarfs will be the foundation to this new garden space. Once we prepare the ground and properly plant these eight new conifers, we’ll discuss what companion plants will work well in the design—that means a fun trip to the garden center with my friends, which is like a trip to Santa’s workshop – and it won’t cost me a dime!

Conifer Lover

Fairies and fighters

My wife and I recently had an opportunity to visit our favorite great-niece and great-nephew. They visited us nearly a year ago when they were five and seven years old. Both of them loved running around our garden, their active imaginations leading them in all kinds of adventures. I remember walking them down the initial paths, their eyes wide with curiosity, as they had their first experience in the conifer garden.

It took very little time for them to feel comfortable in exploring on their own, and in no time at all, as we sat on the patio sipping our iced tea, we could hear the sounds of their adventures. Our great-niece would tend to be the conversationalist, telling the story while interacting with the imaginary characters. Alternatively, our great-nephew would provide the sound effects. His jungle sounds and hurricane winds along with gunfire and explosions followed by the painful screams of fallen foes seemed out of place with her occasional words like, “magic rainbow,” “flying unicorn” and “queen of the fairies.”

Miniature Conifers
Miniature conifers are perfect for any mini theme garden whether it feature fairies or fighters.

Being that both of the children celebrate summer birthdays, we wanted to make sure to bring them each a gift so we could celebrate with them during our visit. I decided that the kids were old enough to begin to enjoy miniature container gardening, and my wife approved as long as I let her purchase some accessories to go along with the dwarf and miniature conifers I would select. Now, my wife, being of the feminine persuasion, opted for cute little Fairy Garden accessories; fanciful fences and furniture, little light-posts and lawn sculptures (including a miniature pink flamingo) and tiny paving stones.

The kids seemed just a little confused when we announced that we had brought them birthday presents, and then presented them with ceramic pots and miniature conifers. My wife, of course, wrapped her little accessories so that each child would open two or three small packages – looking a little like toys, their moods began to brighten. Once I explained that I was going to help them create their own miniature versions of my garden, they actually became very excited.

We began with the young girl. She delighted in helping to place the small plants in the pot and she began to tell a story of how the fairies planted the garden many years ago so that they would have a beautiful place for the Queen of the Fairies, should she ever happen to visit. Meanwhile, my great-nephew’s mood seemed to darken.

“I don’t want a fairy garden, those things are for girls” he said as he folded his arms, slumped down in his chair and made a classic pout-and-frown face.

His mother told him to straighten up and try not to hurt uncle Ed’s feelings. I began to think that perhaps he would have some small toys in his room that might be suitable to a miniature garden – in a theme that he would enjoy.

“Hey buddy, how about you show me your room?” I asked and he jumped out of his seat sparing no time to get away from all this fairy silliness. After showing me his collection of model fighter planes spanning about 50 years of military history, I noticed a bag of army-men on the shelf next to his bed. “Hey, I had army-men just like these when I was your age” I told him.


“Yeah, I used to take them out into my parents garden and play with them for hours out there.”

Before long, we decided that his miniature conifer garden would be really cool if, instead of fairies, we set some of his army-men in with the plants and rocks. He dug under his bed until he found an old shoebox filled with rocks he had collected and chose three that he thought would be perfect for his garden.

As we sat on the deck listening the children play with the characters in their own personalized miniature container gardens, I had a certain satisfaction that these two young family members would one day become confer lovers and go on to inspire another generation of Remsrola’s to do the same.

Conifer Lover

A fluffy puff for your fairies

A while back I mentioned a little boy that behaved as if he was playing with fairies in my garden. Now, I’m not one to judge one way or the other on this kind of topic – just because I have not personally seen or experienced something, does not mean that it doesn’t exist. After all, there are quite a few people making miniature gardens these days, specifically for the fairies in their gardens. If one were to search the WEB, one would discover a surprising number of sites devoted to the existence of the whimsical little creatures. So, I suppose I should not have been surprised when I dropped in on my friends at Iseli Nursery earlier this week, and discovered that they had just decided on an interesting name for a delightful new little conifer with fluffy white foliage and a puffy growing habit.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Fairy Puff'

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Fairy Puff’ looks like it would be perfectly suited to entice the fairies into any small garden. This new cultivar was discovered growing as a sport on Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘White Pygmy’ (which is a wonderful miniature conifer itself). ‘White Pygmy’ grows very slowly in a mounding shape with tiny, adult, scale-like foliage, of light green that is tipped with buttery yellow-white. When grown in shade, the light colored variegation is almost pure white, but in more sun, it tends to move toward a yellowish color.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'White Pygmy'
Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘White Pygmy’ has tiny, tight, scale-like foliage which is typically called, “adult foliage.”

‘Fairy Puff’ is a fluffy puff of white tipped, very light green juvenile foliage giving the plant a very soft texture, both visually and to the touch. This tiny plant is reported to prefer a light shearing to promote a tighter form as it does seem to grow a little more open than ‘White Pygmy’. The light shearing will also encourage lots of new juvenile foliage since, as ‘Fairy Puff’ matures, it will begin to make a transition into adult foliage, yet it will retain its near pure white variegation.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Fairy Puff'
Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Fairy Puff’ has soft, fluffy, juvenile foliage. Notice how its tiny scales are turning outward and resemble miniature blades.

I’m fairly confident that this cute little puff of fluffy foliage will draw the fairies in your garden to visit and take a rest on its inviting, clean, soft foliage. Watch for this new temptation to begin to make its presence known at your favorite miniature garden supplier and premium independently owned garden centers.

Conifer Lover

Magical miniature conifers

Speaking of fairies, have you ever thought about planting a garden specifically for them? I really hadn’t given it a thought before, but many people have. Fairy Gardens have become increasingly popular over the past few years. Since they are often filled with dwarf and miniature conifers, I certainly do understand the appeal!

I have given thought to a different type of miniature fantasy garden. You may recall my interest in creating a Railway Garden. After seeing the huge display in the Chicago Botanic Gardens are few years ago, I think I became overwhelmed with the amount of work a quality railway garden would entail. I may be more suited to inviting the fairies to come to my garden.

First contact
Kids love to discover new things in the garden. Why not create a garden specifically to attract the magical beings of an active imagination?

I’ve done a little research on the internet and have discovered quite a number of miniature accessories to include in a fairy garden. From little houses to fences, walkways, benches – just about anything you might think the fairies might enjoy in their own special garden. For me though, the most important factor would be the choice of miniature conifers to ornament their space.

From what I have seen, a fairy garden may be just about any size – from a small container garden to a larger trough or box to a small section of the landscape. The important thing is to include plants that the little people are drawn to. (And who wouldn’t be drawn to dwarf and miniature conifers?)

I’ve put together a list of little conifers that you are sure to find in small containers that are perfectly scaled to a fairy garden. Depending on their rate of growth in your climate, some may require a little pruning to encourage them to remain in the proper scale, but that is half the fun of a whimsical garden like this. (I’ll even include a couple non-conifers on this list.)

Abies balsamea ‘Piccolo’
Abies koreana ‘Cis’
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gemstone’
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gnome’
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Butter Ball’
Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Pin Cushion’
Cotoneaster microphyllus ‘Cooperi’
Ilex crenata ‘Dwarf Pagoda’
Juniperus communis ‘Miniature’
Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Pygmy’
Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’
Picea abies ‘Jessy’
Picea abies ‘Thumbelina’
Picea glauca ‘Elf’
Picea glauca ‘Hobbit’
Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’
Picea glauca ‘Pixie’
Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’
Pinus mugo ‘Michelle’
Pinus mugo ‘Short Needle’
Tsuga canadensis ‘Cole’s Prostrate’
Tsuga canadensis ‘Jervis’
Tsuga canadensis ‘Moon Frost’

Come to think of it, my entire garden may be a giant-sized fairy garden! That might explain the behavior of my young friend as described last time.

Conifer Lover

Gnomes and fairies: clap your hands if you believe

I believe that there is a very fine line between a vivid imagination and reality. As we get older, that fine line broadens until we get to a certain stage in life when it seems to dissolve away completely.

For example, the conifer kids came by for a visit the other day. They are a very nice young couple with a six-year-old son. You may remember that I mentioned this little fella in a post a while back – he wondered where the gnomes lived in my garden. They have visited a few times since that initial visit and every time they are here, their little boy wanders off on his own in the garden. One time we found him laying down on his stomach, knees bent and feet bobbing about in the air, talking with my miniature Picea glauca ‘Elf’. When I asked if he was talking to my plants he laughed, called me silly, and said that plants don’t talk. Then he jumped up and ran off as if he were chasing a butterfly. His parents and I exchanged glances and continued our conversation. Kids have vivid imaginations, right?

Picea glauca 'Elf'
With a name like, Picea glauca ‘Elf’, it’s no wonder some folks have vivid imaginations while visiting the conifer garden.

Several years ago my wife and I traveled 45 miles south to where my grandmother had lived most of her life – well, most of mine anyway. She was nearly 100 years old at the time and we had almost convinced her that it was time to sell her home and move into a very nice place that could provide her the additional care she needed. We were sitting out on her back patio, in the shade of her giant oak tree one summer’s afternoon. I knew that convincing her that moving away from her home and garden would be very difficult. We had been gently hinting at this for several years and she was a very strong-willed and independent woman. After listening to some of the wonderful stories of her past, we were sitting quietly and her attention seemed to be focused on something in the direction of the old Tsuga canadensis ‘Jervis’I had planted as a birthday gift for her many years ago.

She nodded her head and then turned to me and said, “I’ll go anywhere you think is best so long as my friends can come too.”

Thinking that she was referring to some of her favorite plants, I told her that they were too large to dig but we could plant some new containers for her to keep on the small deck of her new place.

She looked at me as if I was crazy and said, “Not the plants, silly, the fairies.”

My wife and I looked at each other, smiled and told her that of course they would be welcome to go with her.

My conifer garden has always seemed to attract all kinds of small critters. We share this home with quite an assortment of  birds, squirrels, assorted insects, the neighbor’s cat and… well… I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Conifer Lover