I have been bit hard

The Garden Bug has bit me early this year and I am very anxious and excited to get going on the new garden! I must admit, though, having to wait to begin breaking the soil and getting serious about working in my new garden is good… or bad, depending on one’s perspective. Although I do have some definite ideas and plans about how I will design my new garden spaces – both the strictly ornamental area and the productive, food producing area – the longer I wait to begin, the more opportunity I have to make changes. Which, as I said, can be good or bad.

“Hey Ed!” He greeted, “What do a dwarf and a miniature conifer have in common?”

From my perspective, allowing my imagination to flow is always a good thing, so changing my plan as new ideas form is quite fun. On the other hand, if I do not stick to a definite plan, I’ll never make any progress when I can finally break ground. One of the great things about the way I approach gardening is that nothing is forever. I can always move things around if I need to as the garden grows and matures. At this stage in my life, I think it would be best to have a good plan to begin with since I don’t have as many years in my future to make changes as I did 40, 30, 20, even 10 years ago. I am inclined to be more content with my garden layout so that I can spend my time enjoying the space rather than continually changing and re-working it.

Beautiful blue foliage of the perfectly symmetrical Fritsche Engelmann spruce make this tree worth waiting for.

So, although I do have some definite plans for the general layout of my new garden, I remain open to be flexible regarding many of the exact plants I will use in the design. For example, I took advantage of the amazingly spring-like weather in Boring, Oregon today and decided I would absorb some inspiration from my friends at Iseli Nursery by strolling through the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden. Thankfully, my long-time association with the folks there, I can pop in to get updates on what is new in the nursery trade.

As I arrived at the front desk to check in, I was stopped by one of the enthusiastic CSRs who happened to be walking by on his way to… well, wherever.

“Hey Ed!” He greeted, “What do a dwarf and a miniature conifer have in common?”

My eyes rolled up a bit as I began to think about some specific characteristics of common dwarf and miniature conifers. Growth rate was the first thing to come to mind, but also often times they may share smaller needles size and certainly more compact growth…

Not really wanting an answer he said, “Very little.” and continued on his way around the corner with his “hehehehe” fading the further he proceeded.

I thought for sure I heard the typical thump of a drum and cymbal crash (ba-dum, crash) often associated with comedic one-liners.

I smiled, and as I turned, there was Mr. Smith waiting for me.

“Hey Ed, follow me, I want to show you something.”

Out the door I followed my old friend and associate to the north-west section of the Memorial garden. We chatted as we strolled in the warm, late-winter sunshine and as we arrived at the destination of our little tour, standing before me was a beautiful blue spruce. I thought for a moment or two about this tree. I remembered it being much smaller (when this section of the garden was planted in 2008) and tried to think of how I had missed giving it much notice since that time.

The tree was gorgeous! I looked at my host and simply said, “Wow.”

“I know” he replied.

We both stood there for a minute or two and I finally mentioned how I hadn’t realized what a pretty form this new cultivar would mature into when it was first planted those eight years ago.

“Me too” he said with a big smile. “We don’t have a whole lot of these sold, or even available yet, but I think we need to let people know about this one!”

He assured me that there will be some plants landing in independent garden centers all across the country this spring, but it will be a few years before they have a large inventory. My thoughts went immediately to whether or not they might have one available to spare for an old friend of the nursery since this beautiful tree would fit perfectly into my new garden!

Picea engelmannii ‘Fritsche’ is a very lovely cultivar of the Engelmann Spruce. Its blue foliage rivals the color of many other Colorado Blue spruce selections. With its symmetrical, broad upright habit, its full, attractive form, great color and superb cold hardiness, it will be a winning choice for many areas of the USA and Europe.

I really love the way its lateral branchlets fall downward from the main branches creating a fully-clothed effect. I especially look forward to seeing the tree mature in the decades to come.

Now, how am I going to talk them out of a small one for my new garden?….

Ed-
Conifer Lover

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Autumn—So much life to live!

I love autumn.

More than any other time of year, I believe that autumn fills me with a consistent flow of peace, joy, happiness and anticipation. Even after having given this phenomenon a great deal of thought over many years, I still cannot explain it. Best just to accept and enjoy it, I think.

The other morning, just before sunrise, I stepped out onto my second story deck to breathe in the air of the new day and allow my mind to become stimulated by the sights, sounds and smells of that autumn morning. The deck was damp from the overnight rain, but I could see enough hint of light from the dissipating clouds in the sky above me that it appeared we would, at least for a little while, enjoy a break from the recent refreshing showers. The garden space, but a place of dreams at this time, was ensconced in a misty fog where I imagined maturing conifers filling beds, yet to be dug.

‘Chief Joseph’ begins his colorful show as daylight hours become shorter – usually, by mid to late October here in my corner of the PNW. As temperatures drop, his color becomes more and more intense through the winter months.

I breathed in very deeply, the misty air, and enjoyed the faint smoky-sweet scent of a neighbor’s wood-stove, while the hum of another neighbor’s heat pump reminded me that summer was truly, finally over. Sounds of far off traffic purred as commuters were busy about their morning routines and children talking and laughing at the nearby bus-stop reminded me of the special appointment I had that morning.

By the time I arrived at the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden, the sun had made its way above the neighboring stand of tall Douglas fir trees and gave the garden a very special morning glow. Light glistened off of the remaining rain drops which still clung to branches creating a spectacular sparkle to the garden as I made my approach up the long driveway which leads to this very special place.

Thankful for my long association with the folks at Iseli, allowing me my treasured visits to the display gardens; I climbed out of my truck and made my way in to the office to check in. Once I was welcomed, and set on my way to stroll the garden paths, I quickly began the inspiration absorption process.

Thankful for my long association with the folks at Iseli, which allows me my treasured visits to the display gardens…

So much to see there—I do believe I see something new with each visit. Being that I have had some input on the garden design over the years, it is particularly encouraging to see how specific trees and viewing vistas have matured over the 30 years since the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden was first planted. Seeing changes through the years and making note of what design and plant combinations worked and which ones didn’t has always been very helpful to me in making planting choices in my own gardens over those same 30 years. Now that I am in the early planning stage of creating a new garden, I am excited to draw on all those lessons.

One tree that consistently gives me a charge this time of year is Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’. I have mentioned this delightful, slow-growing tree over the years and it never fails to inspire admiration from most all who see it. Although photos of the tree are very nice, there is something very special about seeing this exciting tree, in person, in a beautiful garden setting.

As I stood, admiring the beauty of the large specimen planted at Iseli, my mind took me immediately back to that morning as I stood upon my deck, overlooking the small, foggy garden space. I imagined where I might place the good Chief in my new garden so that it would stand out through the autumn and winter months and yet be able to fade into the background during the spring and summer when it takes its rest and re-energizes itself during its light green color-stage.

Autumn, a season with so much to experience, so much life to live, I love it!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

A new garden and a new perspective

For those of you who have been following my gardening adventures for some time, you will be pleased to learn that I officially have a new bit of soil in which to dig my spade, enrich with compost and transform from rather dull to a garden full of life. This new place, although a fairly blank canvas to work with, is not without its challenges and its blessings!

Looking to the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden for inspiration in creating my own new garden space.

First of all, it is a much smaller plot to work with – the smallest I believe I have ever had the pleasure to be a caretaker. Being a small space is actually very good since as I age I am finding it is becoming more difficult to care for larger spaces, and even though my last place was only about an acre, it was becoming a challenge for me to maintain. Having a more contemporary sized city lot will be far easier to construct and maintain a new garden. Being adjacent to a city park and public green-space makes my small garden feel larger and I can utilize the neighboring open view as I plan my new garden space to make my small lot feel larger.

My back yard slopes away from the house toward the green-space and a large stand of native Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir) and Thuja plicata (western red cedar) and Acer circinatum (vine maple) so I have a wonderful background for my new space. Since I do love our native large trees, I will be planting a back corner with a few Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedar seedlings found growing in my dear auntie’s acreage. My uncle was so pleased that I wanted a few of the plants he had transplanted from their veggie garden space into pots a year ago. I am excited for these young trees to become established in a particularly challenging back corner which will help the transition from my garden to the surrounding, neighboring background native trees.

My overall goal is to reduce grassy lawn space and increase border beds with space for lots of dwarf conifers, Japanese maples and other exciting small trees and shrubs, perennials and herbs. I also need to install some raised beds for vegetables.

Possibly the biggest challenge will be the rock filled soil since this area is part of what was an ancient river bed. I have already dug a few bowling ball sized stones out of the way. I tend to see these rocks less as an annoyance and more as free landscape materials – to think, some people actually spend money to place these same kinds of stones into their gardens. I will be harvesting my own landscape ornaments while I make room for plants to stretch out their root systems.

As I begin clearing out brambles and other unwanted vines and weeds, I am beginning to imagine planting some of the very plants that I have been describing right here in the blog over the past several months. There is a lot of work ahead, and a lot of great exercise which will please my wife and health-care practitioners. Of course with the tremendous increase in calorie burning all this hard work will induce, I may also need to make a visit to my personal baker to ensure I have plenty of energy to burn.

Stay tuned, my gardening friends, more new gardening stories to come!

Ed
Conifer Lover

The finer details

This past Labor Day holiday weekend, my wife and I enjoyed visiting one of our favorite independent garden centers across town. Although our goal for the day was to find a few new house plants, we had a tremendous time strolling through the entire nursery, and I found some fantastic miniature and dwarf conifers to include in this segment of my ongoing series of Thriller, Filler and Spiller garden design.

As you know, over the past several posts I have been discussing my plans to create a great new garden space with a colorful assortment of conifers and other exciting garden plants. I began with a specific Thriller in mind and have been imagining what other plants I will use  to fill space around it.

Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’ is a fantastic little “mini-thriller” that can be used with other minis to fill smaller garden spaces.

Be sure to check out those past posts if you have not been following along. Today, I’ll be talking about some of my favorite slower growing dwarf and miniature conifers for filling in more detailed smaller spaces.

Once I have the larger plants in place, I like to get down and dirty as I create small, intimate spaces, filling in with very slow growing plants and other details like interesting rocks or other garden ornaments such as bird baths, etc. I am talking about plants today whose annual growth will be limited to less than an inch or two per year in my Pacific Northwest climate. I love these plants because they have so many great features. My favorites offer slow growth, interesting texture, unique form, great color and sturdy performance.

An all-time favorite, and perhaps one of the larger selections on today’s list is Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom’, which I chose because of its reliable, light blue color and slow growth. Rated at USDA Zone 2, it is far more winter hardy than I require in my climate, but with well-drained soil and a sunny location, it will perform very well and provide a solid blue color statement on a small scale in the garden.

Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom’ is a great choice for bringing year-round bright blue color to smaller garden spaces.

For a good dark green and unique texture, I’ll include Picea abies ‘Mikulasovice’. This dark green, mounding plant displays needles of a longer length than one might imagine on such a small, slow growing plant empowering it to add a unique texture to the garden. Another good, dark green plant is so slow growing, it might be confused with being a moss covered rock, in fact that is what inspired its name of Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Greenstone’. The tiny, fine textured foliage covers this small, rounded mound which is perfect in miniature container gardens as well as a small detail in the larger garden as I am including today.

Picea abies ‘Mikulasovice’ is a very slow grower with lots of character.

Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’ is a delightful golden yellow miniature conifer with tiny needles covering the small branches which form this slowly spreading, mounding plant. Speaking of bright yellow, I will have to include a Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Butter Ball’ to this list with its soft textured, lovely golden yellow foliage and slowly mounding and eventual broadly conical habit.

Bright yellow color and fine-textured foliage make the miniature Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Butter Ball’ a brilliant choice!

I find with all of the above broadly mounding, and spreading forms I will need to include a few more upright and narrow forms to break up the monotony and add more visual interest to the smaller details of this garden space. One of the first to come to mind is a very fine textured, narrow, compact form of the Dwarf Alberta Spruce called Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’® This rich, grass-green plant grows very slowly into a narrow, cone shape and will remain in perfect scale with the other miniatures on today’s list. Of course I must include one of my very favorite plants, Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’ at this time since it fits the specifications perfectly and adds a bright twinkle of color.

This list could go on and on, depending on how much space I end up with. Next time I will finalize this series with a list of some favorite Spillers which will spill along the ground, filling in and covering open space with year round color!

Ed-

Conifer Lover

 

Tasty dwarfs to fill some space

As I continue to explore ideas for designing a new garden space, I am looking at some of my favorite plants to use as Fillers – plants that will fill the space with year-round color, texture and interesting form. Last time I chose three dwarf conifers which might be considered fast growing as they will tend to grow larger in a 10-20 year span of time than the selections I will explore today.

‘Banderica’ is a neat, tidy, slow growing little kiss of a conifer that will add a dandy flavor to the conifer garden.

I began this design project with a great Thriller tree, then I selected a few Japanese Maple Filler plants to pick from depending on how large (or small) my actual future space may be. My next decision was to choose a few larger dwarf conifers that will scale nicely with the maples. Based on those choices, I am ready to scale down the expected size of this next group of dwarf conifers.

This time I will take a look at a few green colored choices, each with its own distinct shade of green and unique textural features. I’ll also include a dwarf blue and a dwarf yellow selection to spice up the color palette a bit.

‘Sea Urchin’ has soft, light green foliage (with a hint of blue) and fills in a small space with other dwarf conifers and other exciting plants.

I love the rich, very dark green color of Pinus leucodermis (heldreichi) ‘Banderica’ which, along with its perfect, slow growing, broadly conical form makes it an excellent, formal looking small tree. Pinus strobus ‘Sea Urchin’ adds a pleasing effect as its rounded, slow growing, soft textured form highlights its bright, light green hues. Picea abies ‘Hildburghausen’ begins the spring season with a flush of bright  green foliage which matures into the medium green color we enjoy most of the year. Its unique mounding, textural form stays neat in the garden while slowly filling in space and looks great with an artfully placed rock nearby.

‘Hildburghausen’ is a sculptural, low, mounding dwarf conifer that fills in space with reliable color and a pleasing form.

One of the slower growers in today’s selection may also have claim to the most interesting color of the group. Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Blue Moon’ has very soft foliage with responds well to a light trimming should one be inclined to encourage its globe shape. The color of this cultivar is more of a steel blue than other common selections of Sawara Cypress such as ‘Boulevard’, ‘Curly Tops’ or ‘True Blue’. It is also a slower grower than the others which helps it remain a great garden filler plant for many, many years.

‘Blue Moon’ is a delightful, globe shaped, soft textured, steel blue conifer that will provide a dandy color spot where there is a small space to fill.

Finally, I just have to include a Cryptomeria japonica ‘Twinkle Toes’ to this group for its reliably compact growth, its coarsely textured, bright yellow foliage and its informal, mounding, broadly pyramidal form. Plus, I just love to tell folks that I love my ‘Twinkle Toes’ and if they visit my garden, they’ll fall in love too!

The coarse textured, bright yellow foliage of ‘Twinkle Toes’ adds a touch of Zing to the garden!

My imagined garden space is beginning to fill in nicely! I have a few very slow growing dwarf to miniature conifers to add to the list which will complete the Fillers, and then I’ll post some definite selections to choose from for my Spillers, which will be very low growing to prostrate forms that crawl along the ground and fill space between larger plants.

Until next time…

Ed-
Conifer Lover