The weather is teasing me

We have gone from heavy, down-pouring rain, to icy-cold, blue skies and strong east winds, to freezing rain and then calm, sunny, pleasant-feeling days. Every time the day is sunny and with just a breeze, I become very hopeful that more and more of these days will arrive soon. I have ordered and am waiting for my seed catalogs—ready to plan my new veggie garden. I have created lists of dwarf and miniature conifers (and other exciting plants) to begin to seek and acquire. The new property has been walked and measured, contemplated and sketched and I am ready for a string of nice weather to begin breaking ground!

I know, it’s only January—but I am excited to begin gardening in my new soil!

My new place is much smaller than where I came from, but large enough to plant a corner of the back, north-end of the property, with some large trees to help break up the wind, provide some privacy from the green-space and to visually blend in with the large stand of native trees just beyond.

Picea abies ‘Rubra Spicata’ dazzles the eyes in early spring.

I mentioned a couple of posts back that I have acquired a few, two to three year old seedlings of some native trees. Those largest growers will be planted near the edge of my property since they will grow very fast and become quite large. For the next layer of trees, in toward the house, I have been considering some large conifer cultivars which have been selected for their unique color characteristics. There are so many candidates for me to consider, and I have very limited space, so I will need to be satisfied with choosing just a few trees for this space.

Today, I have picked out two trees that will make a nice transition from the “wild” garden to the more refined space which will be dominated by generally slow growing conifers and other small trees, shrubs, flowering plants and herbs. Today’s trees are perfect for this transition space because they will be medium-large growers and characteristically be suited to grow in the background of the other specialized selections in the main part of the new garden.

Picea abies ‘Rubra Spicata’ is a fast, large growing cultivar of the Norway spruce. During most of the year, for most people, it will appear indistinguishable from the standard Norway spruce, but in springtime…..

A large tree with a stunning springtime surprise!

In Springtime, its strong flush of new foliage will push a bright, blood-red color. As the new growth extends, the color becomes less intense and will appear a reddish-brown color just before it becomes dark green. The dark green color will last through summer, autumn and winter, waiting to surprise us all again the following spring with its vibrant new growth. For much of the year, ‘Rubra Spicata’ will function as a size transition down from the larger Douglas fir, bringing the eye from the forest beyond, to my younger, smaller trees and ease the view to my dwarf garden plants. The added spring bonus color will be a delightful reminder that winter is official a season of the past, and exciting new life—and color—is just ahead!

Bright, butter-yellow new foliage on Picea glauca ‘Mac’s Gold’ is a dazzling sight in spring!

There are several conifer cultivars that, like ‘Rubra Spicata’ blast themselves into spring with bright color and then slowly fade to green for most of the year. I have mentioned others in past posts, such as Picea orientalis ‘Aureospicata’, which is a favorite large tree and will very likely find a home in my new garden. My next featured choice is a cultivar that is still very rare in the trade and will be so worth the wait to acquire. Picea glauca ‘Mac’s Gold’, may not be available for a couple of years, but it will make a dandy transition tree for my garden and will be such a thrill when I do find that it has become available at my favorite local independent garden center!

A beautiful spring-time surprise!

‘Mac’s Gold’ has small, grayish-green needles covering the branches of its tall, open-growing form. When its new growth emerges in early spring, it pushes forth in a bright, butter-yellow color. As the tree matures, small, bright purple-pink cones will also be displayed providing and additional dappling of color. Before long, as the new foliage begins to harden, it slowly becomes green and the tree may fade into its role in the background. Like ‘Rubra Spicata’, during the spring, it will add dazzling color to the background treeline, and then step out of the spotlight as other plants enjoy their own spotlights through the adjoining seasons.

While I wait for the weather (and season) to catch up to my enthusiasm, I will continue to make plans and spend some time cleaning and possibly repairing my garden tools and equipment. I want to be ready to go when spring-time truly does arrive!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Filling up space with great color, texture and form

Last time I focused on some of my favorite broad-leaved foliage Fillers. As you may recall, I am pre-planning some ideas for a new garden space without actually having that space. A couple of posts back I chose a great Thriller plant to work with in this potential design and then I added to the plan a few different colors and forms of Japanese maple that I think will fill in nicely with their multi-seasons of colorful foliage. But, I certainly cannot fill the space with broadleaves alone – I also need to add an assortment of colorful and interesting dwarf conifers. This time I will mention some plants that I think will work well together based on their sizes, shapes and their growth rates.

Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’ adds good color and a lot of great texture to fill garden space.

Beginning with a large, silvery, bluish-green Thriller specimen (Picea omorika ‘Gotelli Weeping’) and then adding a deep red Filler (Acer palmatum ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’) I can continue to fill space with some very nice color and texture. One plant that will add both a unique texture and a pleasing green color is Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’. This very popular dwarf conifer will slowly fill space with its coarse cords of light green foliage. Growing into a mounding form with branches which arch upward, out and droop toward the ground creates a very nice complement to the upward growing branches and red foliage of the ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’. It will also make a nice background plant to smaller fill-plants and other dwarf and miniatures that I will discuss later.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’ is a slow-growing filler that adds a thrill of its own with its great color and superbly graceful form.

The next two dwarf conifers that I want to consider for my imaginary space, yet-to-be are Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’ and Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’. Although both are plants with yellow foliage, they are quite different shades of yellow and each has its own unique foliage and growth habit. ‘Nana Lutea’ is the classic Dwarf Golden Hinoki and had been very popularly used in gardens for the past 50 years. It grows very slowly into a pyramidal shape with tightly held sprays of golden yellow foliage that become more intensely colored with increased hours of sunlight. It may need some protection from the hot afternoon sun in some locations to prevent its near white portions of foliage from scalding. A mix of sun and shade should provide beautiful color.

Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’ is a filler with pleasing form, bright color and a lovely scent.

‘Golden Globe’ on the other hand, is a more vigorous grower with more muted yellow tones. It responds very well to light shearing, and I prefer to keep mine in a neat globe shape by running the shears over the new foliage once per year. This practice not only helps keep the plant in tip-top form, but releases its magnificent perfume and makes shearing less a task and more of a real pleasure. Depending on the overall space, I may use one or both of these in my future design.

Ahhh… my imaginary new garden space is beginning to fill in nicely. Be sure to come back next time for more of my dreamy Fillers!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

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