Who doesn’t love a firefly?

Six years ago I had an opportunity to spend a few weeks in the midwest. This was my first extended visit to that region of the country, and it was the first time I had seen fireflies in action. I remember it was sunset and we were walking along a path which followed the Mississippi river. All of a sudden we began to see soft little lights blinking on and off. There were only a few at first but as we continued along the path, and the light became more dim, the little blinking lights became greater in number. The seven year old girl who was the most excited of our guides that evening caught one of the little critters so that we could get a closer look. Fascinating.

A year later I wrote a blog post about a fascinating new plant that my friends at Iseli had been observing for many years. In that post, I described how a large tree had developed seeds, those seeds were collected and germinated and the resulting seedlings were observed for many years. One of those exciting seedlings has been selected by Iseli Nursery and is ready to find its way into gardens all across the USA and Canada.

Picea orientalis ‘Firefly’ is an exciting new dwarf version of the Skylands spruce. Great color, hardy, slow growing and just darned cute!

Picea orientalis ‘Firefly’ has been under evaluation at Iseli Nursery for over twenty years. A few years ago it was selected out of a batch of seedlings and the propagation process began. First only a few small pieces of scion wood were available to graft and make new trees. As time went on, each new propagation would grow and yield scions of its own. Eventually, enough cuttings could be taken across all of the crops to produce a reliable number of new trees per year. The time has now come for Iseli to begin marketing this exciting new tree and ship it to independent garden centers all across the continent.

Growing at approximately one third the rate of its mother tree (Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’), ‘Firefly’ will become a stunning, bright yellow, small specimen tree – perfect in today’s smaller gardens. A garden featuring a ‘Firefly’ and other colorful dwarf conifers will be filled with interesting color, form and texture all year long.

Who wouldn’t love to have a Firefly in their own garden?

Conifer Lover

Moments of gardening ecstasy

The morning had begun like many other autumn mornings in the Pacific Northwest, with the sound of a heavy shower pounding the roof as I laid in my warm bed, with no real desire to climb out and begin my day. Before long, I noticed that the deep pounding tones, like thousands of soft-tipped drumsticks being played on my roof with no discernible rhythm, had come to an abrupt end. “That’s my cue” I thought to myself and finally forced myself to start the day.

Upon opening the curtains to assess the damage of the heavy wind and rainstorm, and much to my surprise, I witnessed not a debris strewn garden, but instead, the very beginnings of a beautiful sunrise. Admittedly, this was not one of those magnificent sunrises which paint the sky in glorious swirls of brightly colored orange, gold, red, pink and purple clouds. No, not at all. But, it was the sun revealing itself here and there through the clouds that were beginning to dissipate after dumping the last of this storm’s autumn rain.

Thuja occidentalis 'Golden Globe'
Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’ glows in autumn’s early morning light.

I looked out across the garden to thousands of tiny, shining droplets of water clinging to the foliage of every plant, which caused the entire garden to sparkle as the emerging rays of sunlight glistened off of these miniature shimmering orbs. I stood in somewhat of a state of awe as I witnessed more of the clouds evaporating away and the sun becoming prominent in its low position in the sky. It had risen just enough to begin to cast light on some of my conifers, lighting them up one by one as it moved slowly higher and steadily toward the south.

One plant stood out more brightly than all the others, and honestly it took me a little by surprise. My Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’ was suddenly standing in a spotlight of the early morning rays of the sun. It was spectacular! Much of the garden all around this golden-colored, globe shaped, hardy American Arborvitae remained in shade which accentuated the effect of the light on this small tree.

‘Golden Globe’ is not the brightest yellow in the pallet of conifer colors, but generally more of a subtle statement. Its yellow color is best when growing in full sun and does intensify through the growing season. As winter arrives, its yellow color becomes more golden as the foliage begins to include a hint of bronze during the coldest months. As spring brings new life and warmer temperatures, new growth begins to emerge and the whole plant brightens. A hardy, small, rounded conifer, ‘Golden Globe’ can be used as a single specimen, part of a wide border, or, since it responds well to shearing, it could be grown in containers on either side of a walkway in a formal garden.

Just about the time that the sun was climbing high enough to cast light upon more of my garden, the next wave of clouds blew in, filled the sky while hiding the sun, and it was not long before our familiar autumn showers returned. Sometimes, all it takes is a few moments of gardening ecstasy to turn what may have otherwise been a dreary day, into one filled with joy!

Conifer Lover

Kick it up… with color!

We had quite a little stretch of sunny and warm weather here in the Pacific Northwest, but for now we have returned to our normal May showers – thankfully, the temperatures have remained mild, so I believe the spring push of new growth will carry on without further delay. We did have almost two full weeks of very pleasant weather which encouraged my conifers (and the large Rhododendrons that border on edge of my property) to push their respective colorful new growth (and flowers in the case of the Rhodo’s).

The greens, blues and yellows are all fresher and brighter and cleaner looking as they become covered with a new coat of foliage. I’m not sure how it is, but this time of year, when the clouds fill the sky and the rain flows from a constant drizzle to a scattered light shower to a drenching downpour, all the colors in the conifer garden seem more alive. the blues of my assorted Picea pungens cultivars look vibrant alongside the deep reds of my Japanese maples and complement the intense color of my golden Juniperus and Chamaecyparis cultivars which are all dressed up in their bright yellow new foliage. Even the more common green conifers are brighter and happier looking while clothed in their new spring foliage.

Juniperus horizontalis 'Mother Lode'
Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’ is a very low growing, spreading and flowing ground cover which will trail along the ground, over rocks and around hardscape features like a flowing river of gold.

One great feature of many conifers is that they push new growth a few times through the growing season giving waves of fresh new growth all season long. Others put their energy into one big push of new foliage and then slowly harden off through the summer months. Some become brighter or darker as the season progresses, others change color completely, beginning the new season with bright yellow growth that changes to dark green over a period of weeks or months. Right now, on this dark gray, rainy day, the most vibrant color in my garden is coming from three different spreading junipers.

Juniperus horizontalis 'Gold Strike'
Juniperus horizontalis ‘Gold Strike’ has brightly colored, soft textured foliage that mounds and spreads in the garden – a real color spot!

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’ is one of the brightest yellow, fine textured, flat to the ground growing conifers you may find. It has become a favorite in many gardens due to its cold hardiness and amazing, bright yellow foliage through spring and summer. As colder weather arrives during the autumn months, ‘Mother Lode’ will begin to exhibit tones of pink and orange as it remains a colorful feature all winter long.

Juniperus conferta 'All Gold'
Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’ has an amazing bright color that I suggest you be wearing sunglasses when you first encounter it in a garden!

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Gold Strike’ is a seedling selection from ‘Mother Lode’ and to my eye has a slightly deeper golden-yellow tone compared with the brighter lemon-yellow of ‘Mother Lode’. Although ‘Gold Strike’ is a low spreading form, it does tend to mound a little higher than its mother.

Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’ is a coarse textured ground cover with what may be the brightest and most intense yellow color I have ever seen in a plant growing in the full, hot summer sun. Of course, I cannot speak to how it may perform in your micro-climate, here in my garden, it is simply stunning!

By placing a few strategically placed bright color spots like the above mentioned plants, along with other assorted blue and green (and other yellow) conifers of various shapes and sizes, you could have the brightest and most colorful, low maintenance and easy-care garden in the neighborhood.

Conifer Lover

Golden autumn glow

If I were to wager a guess as to what color is the most striking  – the most eye-catching color of autumn, I would have to say it would be the bright scarlet, oranges and reds of the majority of trees in my local area. Having said that, today I want to point out some extraordinary fall-foliage plants whose primary color is yellow.

Cerciciphyllum japonicum 'Morioka Weeping'
This Cerciciphyllum japonicum 'Morioka Weeping' begins to glow in the early morning sun.

One of the first plants to catch my eye this morning, just as the sun was beginning to peak up over the distant hills was Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Morioka Weeping’. This deciduous, broad-leaved tree is covered with roundish, almost heart-shaped leaves. Right now, these normally green leaves are turning a deliciously warm shade of yellow with a hint of orange. I noticed yesterday how nicely the tree was coloring up, but this morning, as it was hit with that low sunrise, the tree began to glow in a spectacular way. Most of the garden remained in the darkness of early morning, hint of frost on the edges of my conifers, but this wonderful pendulous tree was lit up and beckoning to the other plants, “Wake up, it’s a beautiful day!”

Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Gold Rush'
Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Gold Rush' provides a stunning golden-yellow color from spring through fall

I finished my breakfast and continued to watch the show outside my picture window as the bright autumn sunrise steadily climbed and shot its spotlight on another golden deciduous tree – this time, a conifer. Metasequoia glyptostroboides ‘Gold Rush’ is a dazzling golden conifer all year-round. It’s new growth emerges a soft yet very bright yellow and seems to become more intensely bright as the season progresses. Finally, with the cooler temperatures that autumn bring, the bright yellow foliage begins to exhibit a hint of red which gives the long branchlets and overall golden hue. Again, this color continues to intensify until all of the foliage drops to the ground, creating quite a colorful carpet of gold beneath the then, bare framework of the Golden Dawn Redwood.

Soon, my Larix, Taxodium and  Pseudolarix will also turn their assorted shades of golden-yellow and drop their needles in anticipation of our coming winter months. I look forward to the intense shots of color those deciduous conifers will provide while making way for more late season sunlight to fall into my garden with the absence of their foliar screens.

Conifer Lover

Snow in the summer garden?

I know, that last thing many of you want is more snow this year! For those of us in my corner of the Pacific Northwest, with our daily morning drizzle, a little snow would at least be a change of pace. But, that’s not the kind of snow I want to talk about today.

With all the shades of green, blue, and even bright golden-yellow in the conifer garden, I also love the conifers with a more subtle approach to their color scheme. There are two conifers that immediately come to mind that should be useful in just about every region of the country. Some folks will be able to grow both of these plants in their gardens, while others, depending on their location might be better off choosing one over the other.

Cedrus deodara 'Snow Sprite'
Cedrus deodara 'Snow Sprite' is a bright spot in the garden all year long.

Cedrus deodara ‘Snow Sprite’ is definitely one of my favorites. This is rated as an intermediate grower by the ACS growth rate standards, but its growth is on the slower end of that scale and in my garden it seems to grow five to six inches per year. I do like to prune my plant to encourage a more fuller, more formal shape, so that can have some influence on its annual growth. What is truly exciting about this conifer is its color. As its name suggests, it is a very light-colored plant with its new growth emerging an almost white, buttery-yellow color. As the foliage matures through the season it does darken a little, but ‘Snow Sprite’ will always be a bright spot in the garden – even in the dead of winter. This Zone 7 tree won’t survive those harsh mid-west winters, but it does quite well along the Pacific and Atlantic seaboards where marine air moderates the winter cold. In the south, cultivars of Cedrus deodara are known to do quite well. I even have a report of ‘Snow Sprite’ surviving happily as far south as Austin, Texas.

Tsuga canadensis 'Summer Snow'
Cool off this summer with a Tsuga canadensis 'Summer Snow' planted in the garden.

For folks in those colder winter areas, Tsuga canadensis ‘Summer Snow’ is a fantastic intermediate sized tree that is hardy into Zone 4. Again, it thrives in other moderate areas, but struggles in southern regions. ‘Summer Snow’ flushes its near pure white new foliage every spring which contrasts nicely against the older foliage that has matured to a medium green. Naturally growing into a fairly large tree, it does respond very well to annual shearing which will encourage a fuller form thereby intensifying the effect of its white foliage. Planted against a backdrop of dark green conifers and it will really stand out. Grouping with other colorful conifers and exciting companion plants will give your garden a multi-season appeal with a full pallet of color.

May your garden flourish with all the colors of the rainbow, and may the winter snow truly be many months away!

Conifer Lover

Losing touch with normality

I had an opportunity to sit down with a long-lost friend at the local coffee shop the other day. Don’t you love it when you haven’t seen an old friend in quite a long time, but when you do finally get together it is as if no time has passed at all. That was how this meeting went.

We talked about all the usual things; family, jobs, religion, politics and gardening. Rest assured, we pretty much solved all of the world problems in just that one visit. Of course my favorite part of the conversation was when we began to talk about gardening – and specifically, conifers!

“Ed,” my friend began in a very serious tone, “I believe I’m beginning to lose touch with normality.”


“Really – and I think I have you to blame for it.” He continued very seriously.

“I don’t understand. I’m a pretty normal guy.” I said with a straight face. “They don’t come much more normal than me.”

“HA! Ed, you are absolutely NUTS about conifers, how can you claim to be normal!” My friend said, now laughing out loud. “And you’re the reason I’m a conifer nut now too!”

Picea abies 'Pendula'
This Picea abies 'Pendula' living fence partially encircles a section of the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden at Iseli Nursery. Planted in 1986, it was staked to a height of approximately eight feet and trained horizontally at about four feet.

We laughed over that as my friend and I shared our experiences with growing more and more conifers in our gardens. Conifers, with their grand assortment of colors, from multiple shades of green and blue and yellow (some a mixture of all three), along with their many forms, from giant trees to tiny little buns, weeping and trailing and mounding and layered, we questioned, “What is normal, anyway?”

After that great visit with my old friend, I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorite conifers, that upon first introductions, people might find rather unusual, but have become very normal and important additions to my garden. These are plants that I often suggest to folks when they ask me what they should add to their gardens – even though their initial response is frequently less than immediately embracing.

Picea abies ‘Pendula’ has become very common and should be available at any independent garden center. If this tree were grown without a support, it would sprawl along the ground, mounding and layering upon itself in delicious waves of dark green, coarsely textured foliage. Most often you will find this plant staked to a height of three to five feet. It only takes a couple of years for the staked main stem to harden and support the plant, so a stake will not be needed for its entire life. Once you arrive home with one of your own, you may choose to let it do its own thing and flop over, and begin to weep toward the ground. As an alternative, you could continue to stake the leader up higher and higher to create a tall slender “waterfall” specimen in your garden. Either way, as the foliage grows down to the ground, it will begin to spread as I described above, adding to the waterfall effect.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Verdoni'
Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Verdoni' can become a wonderful golden sculpture in the garden, complementing other conifers and ornamentals.

Another fantastic cultivar that has become “normal” to me, but might seem unusual to those new to conifers is Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Verdoni.’ This excellent dwarf cultivar of Hinoki Cypress is notable for its sturdy golden foliage and its naturally sculptural form. Fairly slow growing at two to three inches per year in my garden; ‘Verdoni’ is great accent to any garden because of its bright golden color. Planted as a single specimen to highlight its sculptural characteristics, in a container alone or as part of a grouping, or in the mixed border, this small conifers will be a gorgeous addition to gardens of all sized and themes.

Let me know if these two selections are common normalities, or unusual oddities, from your perspective.

Conifer Lover

Dwarf conifers to the rescue!

One of my favorite independent garden centers had a big one-day sale last week. I had been looking for an excuse to give them a visit to see what exciting new plants they might have in stock, so I thought it would be fun to arrive just about the time they opened. What I found was a great number of people had the same idea, except they must have camped out because the parking lot was full and I had to park along the side of the rural road.

I made my way inside where I found a very long line leading from the cash register and along the north walkway, past the empty table that had been the display of the sale plants. The line continued along the east end of the building and progressed all along the south walkway.

I thought to myself that it really is still consistently too cold and wet for tomato plants to get a good start anyway, so I made my way to the new display of conifers. Honestly, I was a little disappointed that I would not be able to bring a prize home to my wife from my Big Sale hunting trip, but I thought I might at least find something new and exciting in the conifer section.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Fern'
Fantastic year-round color, Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Fern' is a great dwarf conifer for most any garden.

Of course I was tempted by the Siren songs of all the new little conifers available in the four-inch pots, but I was being strong and found that I was able to resist those little cuties (this time). As I made my way toward a nice display of dwarf conifers, I struck up a conversation with a couple of ladies that seemed quite discontent about the lack of sale items available at the store. After all, the place had only officially opened twenty minutes ago. They seemed determined on being upset, so I mentioned that it was just nice to be out on such a lovely morning.

“Finding a great bargain is all fine and dandy” I explained, “but frankly, I’m happy that this sale motivated me to come to the garden center this morning. Don’t you just love all the pretty flowers in bloom – and look at these fantastic conifers!”

I really don’t know how to describe the look that these two ladies gave me at that point. It was almost like, “How dare you interrupt our displeasure with a positive outlook.”

Finally one of the ladies, not putting too much effort in hiding her being annoyed by me said, “Well, I do like the bright yellow color of that one over there.”

“Ahhhh, yes, the Golden Fern Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Golden Fern’) – that’s really a fantastic dwarf conifer! I love how the foliage really does look a little like a forest fern – and the bright yellow color of this one just can’t be beat. Don’t you love how dwarf conifers fit so well in the garden with other flowering plants, and yet in the winter when everything else is bare or gone, the conifers provide wonderful color and structure to the garden?”

'Golden Fern' foliage
'Golden Fern' foliage has a striking texture as well as brilliant color.

I seemed to have captured their attention.

“Oh, I’ve heard about these dwarf conifers” One of my new friends said.

“You know, I have a dwarf blue spruce in my garden” the other reminded her companion.

“There’s just nothing better than dwarf conifers – and there are so many different ones to choose from. Some grow in full sun, others prefer shade; some grow tall and narrow, others are short and round or weeping or even hug the ground. Not to mention the vast color selection.”

The ladies asked if I was an employee and would I receive a commission if I was able to sell them a plant. I explained that I just loved gardening and growing conifers in particular. We chatted for several minutes, and by the time we were finished, they had both picked out a couple of the small conifers to plant in containers on their patio and seemed to have forgotten all about the bad mood they almost insisted upon  harboring when we met.

May your garden shopping be filled with successes this spring.

Conifer lover