Garden lollipops

One thing I love about the end of January is the nursery and seed catalogs begin to arrive in my mailbox. This always launches the debate in our family about how much of our garden budget will go to conifers and how much will be designated to new flower seed. My wife and I immediately agreed that this year we would devote a little more space and time to growing fresh vegetables. There is nothing like a fresh tomato or ear of corn right out of the garden.

Then I had a fun idea – I suggested we start a lollipop garden.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Sprite'
The miniature growing 'Golden Sprite' makes a dandy golden "lollipop" in the garden and in containers.

I’m certain you have seen them – those little lollipop looking topiaries sculpted out of everything from ivy to herbs, and yes, conifers. One advantage with conifers is that if you choose a good dwarf or miniature that has been grafted on an 18 to 30 inch “standard,” you will have a very minimum amount of care to keep it small and manageable for many years.

For example, imagine planting a silvery blue Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’ that appears as a blue ball floating above the soil and then filling the space under it with an assortment of colorful flowers. Or, if you prefer container gardening and your desire is to brighten up your patio or deck, you could choose from green, orange, yellow or blue low-maintenance conifers grafted on standards. Then, plant your new lollipop in the center of a well-made ceramic pot and fill in around it with flowers of varying colors and heights. Better yet, replace the flowers with other colorful conifers for a low maintenance year-round color display.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gnome'
Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gnome' is another miniature conifer well suited to be grown in the lollipop garden.

Don’t let the cold and dreary days of winter stop you from planning your spring gardening adventures and imagine a crop of colorful conifer lollipops brightening your own special place.

Conifer Lover

The fantastic four

This is the third morning that I’ve been able to spend time in my garden while enjoying the late winter sun. Yes, it’s been mostly sunny for three days in a row!

Sunny mornings can fill an old heart with joy. As I work to get the garden cleaned up and ready to come alive again, I hear birds singing and squirrels chasing each other through the trees that surround my property. We had some strong winds blow quite a lot of debris into my garden from those same large trees. As my wife and I pick up fallen boughs, I am finding very little damage to my conifers. I was most concerned about some of my miniature Chamaecyparis since they can be a little finicky in the best of conditions. I am happy to report that they are all doing very well.

There are four of these mini-Chams that look particularly good in my garden right now. All four would be considered miniature (except perhaps, ‘Just Dandy’ which would be on the slower growing end of the dwarf scale) as listed by the American Conifer Society. All four are rich dark green in color and each has its own unique growth habit or form.

Chamaecyparis obtusa Ellie B.
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Ellie B.’

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Ellie B.’ is a wonderful little plant with an upright growth habit. Its tightly held, shiny dark green foliage and slightly irregular form make it a nice miniature sculpture in the rock garden or containers.

Chamaecyparis obtusa Gnome - grafted on standard
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gnome’ – grafted on standard

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gnome’ like its name suggests is a very slow growing miniature conifer. Grown from cuttings, ‘Gnome’ is a very compact plant with tiny, dark green foliage which forms a small globe-shaped mound. Again, excellent in containers and the alpine or rock garden.

Chamaecyparis obtusa Just Dandy
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Just Dandy’

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Just Dandy’ is just that, “dandy.” The fastest of the four mini-Chams on the list today, but still remains a small green mound in the garden. Slow growing with small foliage and a slightly open habit which can help it “breathe” a little better than some other extremely compact conifers, this one is great in containers for a few years and then transplants well into the garden.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana’ is one of my first conifer loves. Rich dark green foliage on a slow growing mounding plant that is slightly faster than ‘Ellie B,’ make this older selection a worthy addition to your garden.

Keep an eye out for these little beauties coming to a garden center near you!

Conifer Lover

A giant gnome’s hat

There is just something about gardening that inspires in me visions of whimsical creatures like fairies, gnomes and the like. Perhaps it’s my love for the dwarf and miniature conifers. As I work with delightfully small versions of our giant forest trees, I am often reminded of the stories from my youth about the magical and often mischievous sprites of ancient folklore.

Picea omorika 'Nana'

Last week I was introducing a new friend to my conifer garden and his young son asked me where the gnomes live. My friend and I laughed a little about this inquiry, and then I asked the young lad why he thought gnomes were living in my garden. Pointing down the path about 60 feet or so toward my Picea omorika ‘Nana’, he said, “Cuz one of ’em left his hat over there.” Sure enough, my specimen of about 18 years looks very much like a gnome’s hat – a really big gnome that is.

The Dwarf Serbian spruce makes a great garden tree with its classic conical shape, blue-green foliage and low maintenance tidy habit. ‘Nana’ is also hardy to Zone 4, so I know it would be popular with the folks in those very cold winter regions around the USA and other parts of the world. Growing at a rate of three or four inches per year in my climate, it is definitely a dwarf compared to its parent tree. But if it survives for 300 years, it could potentially be quite a giant itself.

Conifer lover

Thanks again to the good folks at Iseli for the photo links.