Look no further for a lifetime of gardening enjoyment

During one of my last walks through the garden, before the first series of autumn rain storms hit the Pacific Northwest, I was struck by the beauty of what some might consider to be “just another evergreen tree.” The truth is, Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ is an extraordinary tree with great landscape functionality and multi-season appeal.

Picea abies 'Acrocona'
Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ displays its tan colored cones in the autumn sun.

Possibly the most prominent feature of ‘Acrocona’ is its prolific production of cones which hang like decorative ornaments on the multiple branch ends and vary through the seasons from intensely bright pink, to purple in spring, to reddish-tinged green during the summer, an almost golden-brown in autumn and finally darker brown through the winter. During the winter, most of the mature cones will have dispersed their seed, break down and fall off of the tree. Some remnants of older cones may be visible in springtime when the first tiny, bright pink pollen cones begin to emerge, announcing that the new cycle of life is beginning.

Picea abies 'Acrocona'
The pollen cones of Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ emerge early in spring.

I briefly mentioned in an earlier post about ‘Acrocona’ its unusual branching and growth habit which is most noticeable during the plant’s youth. As my tree has matured, it has become more and more beautiful with its combination of thick, vigorous branches and what appear to be smaller, weaker branches which give the tree an upright, broadly pyramidal form filled with a combination of sweeping and weeping branches.

Picea abies 'Acrocona'
The seed bearing cones of Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ during the peak of their pink color stage.

The unusual growth habit of ‘Acrocona’ very much insures that no two trees will look exactly alike, and make them an excellent choice to use as a primary focal point in garden design. Their four full seasons of color, supplied by the rich, grass-green foliage and the ever-changing cones as they move through their annual cycle, give ‘Acrocona’ the ability to capture attention and add visual interest to a level which is available in few other plants.

Picea abies 'Acrocona'
Large, dense, summer cones of Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ begin to make their gradual color shift from bright pink to a red-tinged green.

I love the way the cones begin as such tiny little pink buds and grow rather quickly into large, dense, purple red cones. The appearance of the cones, dangling from the tips and along branches reminds me of a tree decorated for the Christmas holidays. As the cones grow larger and heavier, they seem to move in a dance, swaying at the ends of windswept branches. When growing in clusters, the cones will weigh down branches, pulling them from their usual upward sweeping form to a downturned direction, sometimes reaching the ground. Fortunately the branches are very flexible, and I have yet to see any remarkable breakage from either the heavy cones or wet, sloppy snow.

Picea abies 'Acrocona'
The golden-brown, autumn cones of Picea abies ‘Acrocona’.

‘Acrocona’ is a fun tree which will provide a lifetime of enjoyment. I suggest you plant one while you are young and enjoy its playful presence for many years to come.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Advertisements

The amazing green world

I heard the silliest story the other day. A good friend and I had an opportunity to meet for lunch and get caught up with each other’s activities over the past several months. We are both gardeners, so we spent most of our time talking about the world of gardening. My friend had an opportunity to go to a symposium which included a rather well-known horticultural celebrity as one of the featured speakers. Apparently, this fellow was trying to sell the concept that the color green was not a color. From what I was told, he had his audience repeating, “Green is not a color! Green is not a color!…”

Green is not a color? That was one of the silliest things I had heard in quite a long time. Not only is green a color, but it is a color within which many shades and hues exist – so much so, that I devoted an early garden design to the color, relying upon the various textures, forms and growth rates of the plants to create interest in the space.

Green is possibly the most prominent color found in nature. Our planet has millions and millions of acres of green forests, green lawns, and green algae. Not only does the color green dominate the plant world, but many shades, hues and tones of green are found prevalent in animal life, from skin and feathers to tongues! Green is most certainly a color – and an important one to our lives. Imagine a world without the green of chlorophyll, and you have a world without photosynthesis. Without photosynthesis, the inhabitants of the world would certainly turn blue – from the lack of oxygen!

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana'
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana’

Green is also known as a color that inspires balance and harmony. Many hospitals use light green in the patient’s rooms because of its calming effects. Green is the color of renewal and restoration and is a natural peacemaker. I know I always feel a sense of peace and calm when I am in a forest, mature garden or just lying on a green lawn.

The color green is very well represented in the conifer world. From giant forest trees to tiny miniatures and trees growing at the edge of the alpine tree-line to lush sub-tropical regions, green conifers are found almost everywhere on planet Earth. Believe it or not, I have a few green conifers in my garden too.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Filifera'
Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera’

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana’ is one of my all-time favorite selections of Dwarf Hinoki Cypress. During the peak of its spring flush, its new growth is a bright green color which hardens to the rich, lush, dark green that persists all summer and autumn. As winter sets in, ‘Nana’ seems to darken to one of the darkest greens in the garden.

Another form, Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera’, the Thread-Branch Cypress, though green, is a lighter green than ‘Nana’. To my eye, its green color appears to have been brightened with a hint of yellow, which I presume indicates a little less chlorophyll production in its genetic code, but experts with far more scientific knowledge than myself might have another explanation. Most important to me, is that this slow-growing conifer adds a very pleasing color to the garden with the added interest of its unique texture, due to the long filament-like foliage.

Chamaecyparis thyoides 'Heather Bun'
Chamaecyparis thyoides ‘Heather Bun’

Chamaecyparis thyoides ‘Heather Bun’ is the final selection in today’s tiny look at the color green in the conifer garden. The Atlantic White Cedar is not truly a Cedar at all, but another species of Cypress which simply adds confusion in the garden world, but the silliness of most common names is the topic for a future post. I chose ‘Heather Bun’ because of its color changing properties. In spring, it pushes its soft, lush, grass-green foliage which, like ‘Nana’ above, will harden off to a darker green color. Though the green of ‘Heather Bun’ seems to be tinted with a bit of blue giving it a hue all its own. When winter arrives, ‘Heather Bun’ begins to take on a plum blush as if shyly responding to the kiss of a secret admirer.

Of course, these three plants are just a tiny sampling of the vast and wondrous variations of the color green that can be found in the amazing world of conifers.

Ed-
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!

Ed
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.”

“Mmmmm…”

“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.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

The colors of peace and harmony

I’ve been thinking about colors in nature and how color has an effect on the human psyche or spirit. Two of the most prominent colors found in our natural world are blue and green. For most of the day, when the sky is clear, it is a vast ever-changing gradient of blues. Then, when we are able to remove ourselves from the confines of large buildings, we can be surrounded by green. From large forest trees towering overhead to small blades of grass, at least for part of the year, we can be engulfed in a world of blue and green hues.

I’ve noticed that I feel much better when the sky is clear and blue and I am surrounded by plants. I began to wonder if color itself may have anything to do with those feelings of peace, harmony, kindness, etc. so I decided to see what I could find online. Sure enough, there is quite an abundance of information that suggests the colors we perceive have an effect on our overall health and mood.

It turns out that blue and green are rather healing in their nature. Green is said to support balance, harmony, love, and acceptance while blue increases a sense of calmness, love, peace, honesty, and devotion.

Abies procera ‘Glauca’ (Prostrate Form) not only makes a stunning statement in the garden, but may also provide a sense of peace and love.

No wonder I love conifers!

Our amazing world of conifers is made up of year-round therapeutic color. From the wide range of green tones through the vast assortment of blues, conifers could single-handedly transform your garden into a private wellness center. Even in the dead of winter, when the blue sky is often blocked from view by a thick layer of clouds and other plant life has dropped its foliage or withered away until spring, the conifer garden can provide a sense of well-being and inner peace.

When spring does arrive, the color of the conifers is renewed as fresh new foliage appears. Plus, with the addition of the yellows, orange, violet and red of various deciduous trees and flowers, the garden can inspire fun, humor, creativity, optimism, enthusiasm, imagination, intuition, vitality, stamina and passion!

No wonder I love gardening!

One really great conifer with a stunning blue color is Abies procera ‘Glauca’ (Prostrate Form). This is one bright blue conifer – it is a real stand-out in the garden. Plus, it tends to be a low spreading form that can cover a wide horizontal space. Probably not a true prostrate form, ‘Glauca’ does like to send up the occasional upward growing branch which can be easily removed to encourage its flat form. If an irregular, sculptural form is desired, one might choose to allow one or two of these upright stems to grow, but keep a close watch because in time those small upright stems could become dominant and revert the form of your low spreader into a large upright tree. Either way, the color will remain an extraordinary blue.

Until next time, may your garden be a tranquil respite from the stresses of 21st century life.

Ed-
Conifer Lover