Spring awakening

The calendar tells us that we are well into the spring season now. Our local Pacific Northwest weather has been hinting to us that summer is not far behind. Rather than an April filled with cold, gray, wet days, we have enjoyed some very refreshing downpours of rain followed by days of sunshine and temperatures up to the low 80s! After three days of having the windows open all day and working out in the garden in short pants and a tee shirt, it is easy to forget we are just in the month of April. Reality refreshes the memory the next day when temperatures drop 25 degrees, blustery winds bring in dark clouds and the rain returns. Back and forth it has been this month, giving me several good working days in the garden and confidence that everything is still being irrigated with our natural rain.

Fresh, colorful, new foliage begins to emerge as springtime awakens in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden with warmer temperatures and sunny, blue skies.

Clearing out the two spaces where I will grow fresh vegetables and herbs, and the back corner where the native, larger tree seedlings will be planted, I believe I am ready to begin delineating the new, enlarged bed spaces for planting my ornamental conifers and other exciting plants. Once we have more dry days in a row than wet ones, I think our soil will drain enough that I can bring out the rototiller and begin grinding up the old lawn grass to build new beds and expand upon those already there.

One of the first planting projects will be to create the privacy “hedges” on the borders of the property. I enclosed the word, hedges, with quotes because I do not intend to plant a single row of one plant type along the border to create privacy—what fun would that be? No, I’ll be planting a selection of plants that will serve the same purpose as a privacy hedge without the mono-culture monotony with will help prevent an insect or disease infestation as well as make the whole thing much more visually appealing.

Over the years of writing this blog I have discussed alternatives to traditional hedge-row planting, and I will be putting those ideas to work in my new garden. Since the new privacy screen will essentially run along the length of my property, I’ll be keeping in mind the “garden rooms” that will flow and change along the length of the screen and those changes will influence my choices in screening plants to use. I will need to keep in mind the movement of the sun and be careful not to place screening plants that will grow too tall and shade out adjacent space designed for full sun exposure. Likewise, I will certainly plan the right specimens that will provide needed summer, late afternoon/evening shade to outdoor seating spaces. Not all areas will require the same level of privacy, so I will very likely plan some smaller privacy plants in more localized spaces to provide that extra level of screening desired for sun-bathing or skinny-dipping in the grandchild’s wading pool.

Next time I will begin to describe my choices for different kinds of screening and how to mix plants for efficiency and aesthetic appeal. I hope you’ll join me!

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A surprise encounter

Since moving into our new neighborhood, my wife and I have enjoyed taking regular walks. Not only is the activity very heart-healthy (and insisted upon by my wife) but it is actually quite enjoyable. Our neighborhood includes two city parks within its borders and is tucked away between two major creeks that feed the local river.

StageOnePruning
I’ll bet this was a cute little tree, 27 years ago when the house was built. The big tree was planted in the wrong place. At over 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide, it was simply planted too close to the sidewalk.

Since moving here, I have noticed that most folks walking through the neighborhood tend to walk out in the street, which is fine since there isn’t a lot of traffic, but being a safety conscious citizen, I have always believed the miles of sidewalks installed in our city were put in place for a reason. Now that I am an avid pedestrian in our neighborhood, I understand why so many folks prefer the street: Poor landscape design planning and/or maintenance.

Our neighborhood is about 30 years old, so I suspect that most of the landscapes are close to that age here as well. That means all those nice little plants that looked so cute in the front yard, along the sidewalk, are largely overgrown and many of them obstruct the way for comfortable pedestrian travel. You might imagine my narrative (which my wife patiently endured) as we walked those first view adventures through the neighborhood, was filled with my expert opinion regarding well-designed landscaping and the intelligent use of dwarf conifers.

Much to my surprise and frustration, on the return trip to our home, I discovered that the large Colorado Blue Spruce planted in the front corner of our property was partially obscuring our freedom to pass by on the sidewalk. I couldn’t help but to think of several, slower growing alternatives that would have been far greater choices to plant in this location (see below*).

The following day, I gathered my three-legged orchard ladder and a collection of pruning tools; my hand pruners held at my hip by a holster on my belt, my large loppers, two sizes of pruning saws and my electric chainsaw on a stick (which has proved to be one of the handiest tools I have ever used) and I made my way out to the large tree.

Ordinarily, I would shudder at the thought of disfiguring a beautiful conifer in this fashion…

Looking the tree over, I could see that the previous caregiver of the landscape had been shearing the sidewalk side of this tree for a number of years as it was a very compact congestion of branches and foliage from  ground level to just above my head. As I circled the tree, its natural, more open habit was evident, and it was in this loose branching that I made my approach to begin the job of limbing the tree up above my head, all around its trunk. Ordinarily, I would shudder at the thought of disfiguring a beautiful conifer in this fashion, but frankly, it is just the first step in the eventual total removal of the tree that is overgrown for the space in which it was planted.

Several hours later, I stood in the street, sweat pouring down my face, needles, pitch and other tree debris decorating my work clothes as I inspected the job I had just completed. I noticed a neighbor, walking his three dogs, strolling on the sidewalk in my direction. I became pleased with myself that I had done the good deed of clearing the way for them so that they could walk, safely, and without obstruction on the sidewalk in front of my house.

I walked closer to my front yard, which was now 80% covered with piles of the branches that I had removed from the tree, thinking that the fun part of my job was over. I was looking for my large insulated bottle of iced tea and was planning to sit on the front steps and rest. As I sat, looking through the piles of branches and seeing the opened up front yard, I began to imagine the transformation that would take place. I visualized widening and lengthening the two planting beds that now exist.

Imagining the expanded planting space, my mind became occupied with the incredibly large number of choices available to me in designing this new front yard space. I became excited at the thought of dusting off the rototiller to begin turning old lawn grass into lush mounds of soil for planting all kinds of exciting colorful conifers…

But first, I need to properly dispose of these huge piles of spruce branches…

Ed-
Conifer Lover

PS. *Here are some better choices for this same garden space. All of these conifers are slower growing and/or have a smaller footprint than the seedling spruce I will be replacing. Which would be your choice for this prime corner spot in the front garden? Let me know in the comments.

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

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