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

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The thrill of spring!

After our unusually dry and mild winter, we have entered into the spring season with cooler temperatures, more clouds, more cold rain and even brief, scattered hail showers. We seem to be back to our “normal” now and many plants are beginning  to push a bit of their new growth. Most of the early Japanese Maples have flushed their first push of fresh colorful new growth. Along with this first push of foliage, we also see tiny, delicate looking flowers, many with bright red or burgundy bracts that are very showy in the green foliage types and almost invisible in the cultivars pushing red new growth.

Bright, fresh, new foliage may be observed to be accompanied by tiny, delicate looking flowers, by those who look closely.

The Ginkgos have pushed some new foliar growth as well, although not near as much as many of the maples. Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’ is a very nice dwarf selection and its very tiny, new, bright yellow-green leaves are just beginning to emerge from buds along golden-tan branches.

Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’ holds stray water droplets captive in its tiny, emerging spring foliage.

Picea bicolor (alcoquiana) ‘Howell’s Dwarf’ is in beautiful color right now as both the male and female cones are rich purple-pink in color and look gorgeous against the bi-colored foliage of this very attractive small tree. Growing as a wide spreading shrub when young, the small garden tree will eventually set a leader and grow into an upright form. Light green needles with their waxy striations give the plant its distinctive bi-colored look.

The amazing spring color display of Picea bicolor (alcoquiana) ‘Howell’s Dwarf’.

Another exciting selection with bi-colored foliage just beginning to emerge is the low, wide spreading Abies veitchii ‘Heddergott’. Like ‘Howell’s Dwarf’ this slow growing dwarf conifer will eventually begin to grow into a broad upright shape. Its light yellow-green foliage is coated on one side with a thick white wax which is very effective at reflecting light and makes this dwarf fir shine bright in the garden.

Swelling buds are just beginning to break with the emerging new foliage of Abies veitchii ‘Heddergott’.

Intense color that cannot be missed this time of year is when the Abies pinsapo ‘Aurea’ is clustered full of bright purple-pink male pollen cones against the yellow, short, thick, succulent needles on this large garden tree.

Clusters of richly colored pollen cones adorn the short, succulent, yellow-green needles of Abies pinsapo ‘Area’.

I also particularly enjoy the mature, dry cones of Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Waggin Tails’. This tree seems to set cone at a fairly young age and displays many cone clusters creating a delightful ornamentation to this already unique and appealing, slow growing form of Douglas fir.

Making me nostalgic for Christmas-time, the mature cones and foliage of Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Waggin Tails’ ornament the garden beautifully.

What description of spring in the conifer garden would be complete without the reddish-pink new candle growth of Pinus parviflora ‘Tanima no yuki’? The newly extending candles of future foliage are always a pleasing sight against the mature, creamy white and green variegated, fine textured foliage of this stunning dwarf Japanese White pine.

Always a favorite sight in the spring are the pink extending candles of Pinus parviflora ‘Tanima no yuki’.

Last on my list of early spring garden stunners are the nearly pure white, bottle-brush flowers of Fothergilla gardenii. This pleasing, small, broad-leaved plant begins its spring season covered with sweet smelling, delicate looking flower spikes. During the summer, its green foliage reminds me of Clark Kent, unassumingly doing their job before the Superman of autumn color explodes onto the scene with mighty shades of red, orange and purple.

The thrilling, white, bottle-brush flowers of Fothergilla gardenii are the first exciting feature of this multi-season plant.

Springtime is a refreshing time of renewal. I hope you have time to stroll through your gardens and be enthralled and energized by all of the activity going on there, wherever you are.

Ed-
Conifer lover

The garden of my dreams – in my dreams

I have been thinking about plant combinations. Now that I have the clean slate of my imagination without the constraints of an actual garden space, I have been enjoying creating the garden of my dreams – in my dreams. With all my years growing conifers of all types, sizes, shapes, colors and textures, I am drawing upon that experience in an attempt to design small garden vignettes which I will be able to utilize in my new garden – wherever it may be.

Pulling from my mind’s database of somewhat commonly available garden conifers (and other exciting garden plants) and utilizing the vast amount of information available through the internet, my goal is to create versatile combinations of plants that will work together well in an assortment of planting space sizes and shapes. The emphasis of my designs will be pleasing combinations of characteristics and growth rates, so that the plants will complement and flow together whether in a longer, linear bed or a wider, rounder space. Of course once I decide on the most important plants that I want to ensure I include in these garden vignettes, I can explore the many possibilities for filler plants, ground covers and even <gasp> flowering perennials, trees and shrubs.

 

‘Confucius’ is a beacon of bright, beautiful, year-round color in the garden.

I like to design with bold colors so that my gardens are filled with interest and excitement all year long. Dwarf and miniature conifers are available in a vast assortment of vibrant yellows, golds and blues with shades of green from very dark to very bright and some even exhibit a variegated combination of color. Along with the wide range of color choices are also variations in texture that affect the garden nearly as much as strong color statements. Compact, small-needled plants with many small branches held tightly can provide a dense, fine texture. Plants with longer, wispy needles covering long branches obviously give on open, airy feel to the garden.

There are literally thousands of conifer cultivars which supply my garden design dreams and imagination with all kinds of excitement. My goal is to begin by limiting myself to readily available cultivars. Once I actually have a new place to grow a garden, I can become more serious about tracking down some of the more rare conifers that have limited availability, and those that may only be available through other conifer enthusiasts and collectors.

One tree I believe will be a very wise choice to include in my future garden is Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Confucius’. I may have described this premium, golden yellow Hinoki Cypress in the past, but it is well worth mentioning again today. As an intermediate grower ‘Confucius’ puts out an average of 6 to 10 inches of new terminal growth per year. Lush, bright yellow foliage covers irregular branches and darkens to golden hues as it matures. Interior foliage, with less sun exposure, is lighter yellow green graduating to darker green the farther into the interior of the tree one looks. The gardener may choose to allow its irregular branching to dominate or, with a little pruning, a more symmetrical habit can be encouraged. In time, ‘Confucius’ will become a very prominent specimen and should be placed where its bright color will draw attention to, and complement other garden plants.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Enter the Cobra

Sometimes I crack myself up. Seriously. Sometimes my first impression of a new plant is so poor that I roll my eyes and wonder why anyone would propagate the darned thing, let alone in large enough numbers to market it across the continent. What makes me laugh at myself, is that more often than not, those plants that I initially had such a strong negative reaction to, later become among my favorite of all plants. Several years ago I mentioned Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ as being a plant just like this. My initial response was not one of jubilation, but as I wrote in that blog post, ‘Acrocona’ has become one of my all-time favorite conifers!

Enter the Cobra.

This Picea abies ‘Cobra’ began its life as an odd looking, long single stick covered in green needles. Today it is full of lush foliage, and because of its culture, makes a unique focal point and an excellent ground cover.

The first time I cast my eyes upon this plant, Picea abies ‘Cobra’, it was a fairly young graft. It appeared to be essentially a fat stick covered with dark green needles and a few brownish-tan buds—absent of any side branches at all. It had been trained to grow up a bamboo stake to a height of almost five feet (in just 3 or 4 years). I simply could not imagine the appeal of such an oddity. I am definitely a fan of many unusual looking conifers, but this one, trained straight up the stake, without any side branches, just seemed to be past my point of appreciation.

A few years later I happened upon this very same conifer, in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden and it had been transformed. Once its terminal growth reached the top of its supporting stake, it curved and then headed right down to the ground. I also noticed that those few lateral buds I had seen on my initial observation had sprouted new, vigorous lateral branches, which followed the example of the terminal, and swept outward and down, weeping to the ground. Many other new buds had formed and the plant had begun to fill out in a most spectacular way.

Today, some 15 years later, the plant has filled out with loads of sweeping, weeping branches, flopping and flowing to the ground where they lay prostrate and layer themselves into a most excellent ground cover. Overall the effect is quite stunning and this particular conifer has become one of my very favorite of the Weeping Norway spruce cultivars available today from independent garden centers around the world.

If your initial encounter with ‘Cobra’ reminds you of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, go ahead and take it home to your garden, in just a few years I think it will become one of your all-time favorites too!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Dreaming of spring

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!

This Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’ is an early one to leaf out and is among the first to announce that spring is here! I expect to see a site like this by early April.
Even before their new growth in the spring, the dwarf conifers in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden are vibrant and full of life. You can see leaves just beginning to emerge on the tall Laceleaf Japanese Maples in the background.
By late April or early May, the garden is really coming to life! Conifers are showing new growth, maples have leafed out, flowers are full of color – the spring air smells so goooood!
Lush new growth on the spring-time conifers is so fresh and colorful – The Jean Iseli Memorial Garden is inspirational!
By early June, all the plants in the garden are lush, and just being in their presence evokes feelings of peace and happiness.
Ahhhh… spring-time, with all its warmth and new life – it really is something to look forward to this time of year!

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!

Ed-
Conifer Lover