Great color for the cold days of winter

After several days of spring-like temperatures, our Pacific Northwest weather has made a u-turn back to winter. Well, around here that means the east wind is howling, bringing low temps to near freezing. But, when you factor in the 15 to 30 mph winds, that makes us feel considerably colder. With our friends in the mid-west and back east enduring much lower temperatures and a fresh onslaught of snow, all I can think about are cold hardy conifers!

Three of my favorite hardy conifers make a beautifully colorful vignette when grouped together in the landscape or in containers. This time of year when many other plants are taking a beating from the bitter cold, these three provide enough color to make anyone smile.

'Curley Tops'
The foliage of Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Curley Tops' has a unique curly habit as can be seen in this close up photo.

My first selection is the bright, silvery blue, Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Curley Tops’. This vigorous grower rates within the Intermediate growth range as charted by the American Conifer Society, putting on 6″ to 10″ of new growth per year in my area. ‘Curley Tops’ has a very nice compact form with soft, dense, curly blue foliage. If you would like to slow its growth, it does respond very well to a nice light annual shearing. Naturally growing in a cone shape, if one desired, it could be shaped to the heart’s content.

'Golden Mop'
'Golden Mop' is a slow grower suitable for small spaces in the garden or in containers when young.

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mop’ is listed as a dwarf, but keep in mind that it can become large in time. As a young plant, ‘Golden Mop’ will form a broad roundish mound of bright yellow, coarse, tread-like foliage. In time it becomes broadly pyramidal in form and is quite stunning in the garden planted near dark green or blue conifers. Its color takes on a rich golden hue as winter becomes more intense.

Like the fluffy clouds it is named for, 'Cumulus' is a perfect miniature puff for any small space in the garden or in containers.

Finally, Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Cumulus’ is a great little miniature with tight coarse green foliage and a form that is reminiscent of those wonderful, fluffy, puff-ball clouds on a warm spring or summer day. Since this one is a true miniature conifer growing close to an inch per year, it is perfect for the container garden too. In fact, if acquired as young plants, all three selections are suitable to be grown in containers for a number of years. Then, as they put on some size, you could place them near each other in the garden for a spectacularly colorful corner. Add more colorful conifers or other companion plants for a display worthy of the finest gardens.

Until next time, stay warm!

Conifer Lover

The conifers are blooming!

This is a great time of year in the garden. There is new growth and excitement everywhere I look. Of course the bulbs have been putting on a show for a few weeks, and some of my perennials have been showing signs of spring-time vigor. Many of my Japanese Maples have leafed out in their glorious spring color adding a freshness to the garden. Every morning, the birds are working hard to pull the sun up by the sound of their brilliant  singing. And, for the conifer lover, THE CONIFERS ARE BLOOMING!

Abies koreana 'Blauer Pfiff'
Young female cone of Abies koreana 'Blauer Pfiff'

I get very excited every spring as I stroll around my garden looking to see which of my conifers have begun to set new cones. Unlike the big, showy flowers of the typical plants specifically grown for the color, size and/or scent of their flowers, conifers tend to keep their flowers just a little bit hidden.

“Wait just a minute, Ed – you’re telling me conifers have flowers?

Abies cephalonica 'Meyers Dwarf'
Brightly colored male cones of Abies cephalonica 'Meyers Dwarf'

That’s right. The flowering parts on conifers are different than what we traditionally think of, but the reproductive organs on conifers work very much the same way. Conifers have both male (pollen bearing) and female (seed) flowers, or cones. Often the male cones will appear first. The most apparent are very brightly colored in reds, orange or purple. Though small, they can be very showy and a real delight when you spot them. Once they fully open and disperse their pollen, they will begin to dry and turn brown, eventually falling off of the tree.

Abies koreana 'Aurea'
Young female cone of Abies koreana 'Aurea'

The female cones will emerge shortly after the males do and may also be in any of quite an assortment of colors. A keen eye will spot them even when they are young and quite small. As they grow and swell, they will receive pollen from the local males, their tiny seeds become fertilized and they continue to grow and mature often turning brown and oozing resin. For several weeks to a few months, the female cones may retain their vibrant color and add real interest to the garden.

I love the flowers of springtime, especially the conifer flowers because they last from early spring until they eventually disperse their seed late in the year. I hope you will take some time to hunt for the flowers on your conifers this year and be amazed by the amazing world of conifers too.

Conifer Lover