Filling with foliage

Last time I briefly discussed the Thriller, Filler and Spiller concept of garden design and how I plan to use this basic technique to pre-design some spaces for whatever new garden I may have in the future. I am expecting to have a garden space very typical of today’s smaller gardens. By pre-designing some garden spaces, I will be able to mix and match as needed when I do find my new place. Being a gardening addict, I need to stay hooked up any way I can!

I chose Picea omorika ‘Gotelli’s Weeping’ as my Thriller plant for this first space. I love its tall, majestic form, its sweeping, weeping branches and its shimmering bluish green foliage.  This time I will discuss a few candidates to use as fillers in the imaginary garden space. One thing is for sure, I will be using a Red Japanese Maple as a filler with this tree. Whether I choose a weeping type with finely dissected leaves or a more tree-like form with broader leaves, I will love space being filled with red foliage as a very nice complement to the color of ‘Gotelli’s Weeping’ plus, being deciduous, it will open up the space during the winter for a different view altogether. Choosing just the right cultivar may be the greatest challenge so far.

Richly colored foliage persists all season long on this popular Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’.

There are several factors that I will consider about the space when I do make my final decision and plant the trees. The size of the space will play a big role in determining which cultivar will be the best fit. I will also need to consider the existing light and how it might change over time with nearby trees already in place or on neighboring property.

One of the most popular red Japanese maples, ‘Bloodgood’ provides great color and fills in space very nicely.

If I have the space for a larger tree, then Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ is at the top of my list. It is an old standard these days and is hard to beat for fantastic, rich, dark purple/red color that lasts all season long. During the winter, when the leaves have been shed, its dark purple branches add interest to the colder landscape.

This deep red filler keeps itself in nice form with its compact, oval shape.

Another favorite red foliage specimen is Acer palmatum ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’. This very well-mannered, small tree has a unique, compact habit that grows into a very nice oval shaped form. Like ‘Bloodgood’ its rich red foliage lasts all season. In autumn the red brightens to an intense scarlet. I may choose this one if space is somewhat limited.

Beautiful, softly colored leaves of Acer palmatum ‘Ukigumo’ can fill your space with floating clouds of foliage.

If the space is a little shady, I may choose the uniquely colored Acer palmatum ‘Ukigumo’.  With near white, pink and green variegated leaves it could be a Thriller itself. The softer color will complement the foliage of the Thriller nicely and will add a lot of interest because of its unusual variegation. Any shade it receives will help protect its more delicate foliage from sunburn during the summer.

The North Wind® Maple is a very hardy choice and a great looking tree!

One more Filler possibility should be a thrill for my friends in the colder regions. Acer x pseudosieboldianum North Wind® is an extremely hardy hybrid of Japanese and Korean maples that has been proven to thrive in some pretty nasty Zone 4 conditions! Fortunately for me, we do not get anywhere near that cold where I live, but this selection is more than just a tough guy, it’s gorgeous too! Soft reddish orange spring foliage turns green through the summer. Colorful red seed clusters and intense red and orange autumn foliage make for a long and exciting season of color and interest.

The autumn foliage of North Wind® is worth waiting for each year!

As I have been writing my thoughts, I have come to realize that there is no reason why I couldn’t choose both an upright tree form and a weeping lace-leaf form to use in this space. In fact, I suspect by the time I begin to consider plants for the Spillers, a nice lace-leaf Japanese maple will make it on the list. For now, I will need to contemplate other filler plants to use with the above maples in each of their unique, possible situations.

Stay tuned!

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

Leaving the past, pondering the future

An amazing single specimen, I’d like to plant several Picea glauca ‘Pendula’ in a mixed plant hedgerow.

Ordinarily this time of year, when the cold east wind blows or the cold gray rains fall in a steady flow from the sky, I find myself in my favorite chair near the woodstove, enjoying my garden from the view of the large picture window. This year, I have been busily moving to a new temporary home which has also forced me to spend some time with my containers, carefully transporting them to a new location. As I am moving and loading and unloading these many coniferous friends, I find myself thinking about what has been, and more importantly, what is to come. I have been making a mental list of what dwarf conifers I currently have to begin my new garden, and I am making a list of those conifers I will definitely want to replace one day when I have a place to begin to dig in the soil again.

Over the years I have had an opportunity to select a number of very unique dwarf and miniature conifer seedlings which are coming with me. These are real treasures to me since I selected them many years ago and have nurtured them along the way, carefully monitoring their needs and evaluating their unique traits. Other plants in my collection of containers are less rare but still of great value to me. The past several years I was able to increase my conifer collection through the propagation process of winter grafting. My small hobby greenhouse was perfectly suited for the task and I had great success adding to my collection and making new plants to give away to friends.

Taking mental inventory of my containerized conifer collection, I realize that I will have a good beginning when I find a place to create a garden once again. Some of my favorites are conifers that I think everyone should have in their garden. For example, most any garden has space for Picea glauca ‘Pendula’. This very tall growing conifer remains very narrow and even after thirty years or more in the garden, it may attain 30 feet in height, but will have a diameter of only about six feet where it meets the ground. I absolutely love the way it looks like a giant tapered candle with wax dribbling down its sides. I would love to plant three to five of these spaced with about 15 to 20 feet between them in a hedge row. I would then fill in the spaces with other conifers to create a multi-level, multi-colored and textured garden wall.

Very slow growing, Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’ is a colorful miniature conifer for small spaces.

On the other end of the scale, Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’ is a very slow growing conifer of equal favor. This small, mounding spruce has tiny golden-yellow needles covering its short, stiff, twiggy branches. This one I will want to protect from the intense afternoon summer sun, but for its best color I will want to place it where it will receive many hours of sunlight. I will plan to place this with other miniature conifers in a special location where I can prominently display the appealing features of these small-scale plants.

The spring flush of new grow on Picea pungens ‘Niemetz’ is a real attention grabber!

One last spruce to mention this time is Picea pungens ‘Niemetz’. This one begins somewhat slowly, but once established, it can grow into a full-sized Colorado spruce tree. Its amazing feature is its stunning color. When it begins to push its new growth in spring, the color is bright butter-cream which shines brightly against its older gray-blue foliage. Over the months, as spring transitions into summer, the creamy color fades to a very soft blue and eventually hardens to the light gray-blue of autumn and winter. I will want to place this tree where it can be a showpiece in the spring and summer while keeping in mind that it will probably need to be a background tree due to its ultimate size.

As the perspiration runs down the side of my face, and with memories of a garden gone by, I have exciting times to ponder with the possibility of new gardens yet to grow.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

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

Hooray! Hooray! It’s a coney day!

Hooray, they’re here! The first of the colorful little spring-time treasures have begun to show themselves. I caught my first glimpse of new developing cones just about two weeks ago. If you have been reading my blog for a few years, you will know that I always look forward to spring when the conifers begin to “flower” and their colorful little cones emerge on last year’s stems. Both male and female cones will show up along stems and upper branches on many conifers – some at a very young age, others after they have aged some years. And this treasure hunt is not limited to early spring, some conifers develop their new cones on the current seasons new flush of growth, so cone hunting season can last into summer.

Clusters of cones add interest to the garden every spring.

The first cones I spotted this season were on a few different cultivars of Abies (fir) that I have in my garden. Abies balsamea ‘Tyler Blue’ is a blue foliage form of the Balsam fir and is a very attractive tree. I was doubly pleased when I first noticed that my young specimen began to develop cones last year. These cones are not as showy as some others with their brighter colors, but the light green new cones do stand out against the bluish foliage of this great tree. Over a period of weeks, as the cones mature, the main core of the cone begins to turn light lavender-purple while the light green “wings” remain. In a month or so, the cones will have swollen and become a more solid light purple color, eventually drying to brown over the summer and into autumn.

Colorful cones create quite a spring-time show on Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’.

Another spring-time show stopper is Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’. This beautiful cultivar has very showy curved needles which are rich green on one side, and have a silvery white coating on the other. Due to the curve of the needle, its white side is exposed making the tree shimmer in any light at all – even in our gray Pacific Northwest weather. A big part of the show for me is the massive amount of purple cones that develop, in well-numbered clusters all over the upper side of the branches. My small tree had cones on it when I planted it several years ago, and it was just a young plant at the time. The skinny purple cones will fatten up and become a much deeper purple than the ‘Tyler Blue’ mentioned above.

‘Mac’s Gold’ has pretty new foliage and colorful cones to add an exciting zing to your spring garden!

One of the first spruce to show off its cones in my garden is Picea glauca ‘Mac’s Gold’. Not only do its bright pink cones emerge and begin to develop, but at the same time it begins to push its bright butter-yellow new foliage. This color combination is the cause of many a second look whenever my spring-time guests make their way to the back garden. As summer arrives, the golden foliage darkens to a light green and the cones become darker and dry to a tan and brown with warmer temperatures and longer days.

There is so much happening in the garden right now and everyday I try to make time to take a stroll, seeking out whatever tiny treasures may be emerging in the splendor of spring!

Ed-
Conifer Lover