I’ve been growing conifers for so long that I may have become desensitized to what is considered unusual or weird. When I have new guests visit my garden – those with very little prior exposure to the world of conifers – I find myself a little surprised by their total amazement with the plants in my collection. It seems that what I once saw (and others continue to see) as weird and wonderful, I have come to recognize as simply, wonderful.
As I was enjoying the amazing spring-like weather over the weekend, I discovered that I still have plenty of open space in my garden where early season weeds can germinate and create a lovely ground covering sea of green and white. I knew that this was my last chance to pull these particular weeds because they had been flowering for at least a week and with warmer temperatures on the way, they would be producing their “popping” seeds which means that they will very effectively spread themselves even further in my garden.
As much as I enjoy crawling around on my hands and knees pulling weeds, I believe it is time to fill those empty spaces with conifers to prevent any more of this particular garden activity. My mind begins to wander as to what new conifer would be just the right fit in the space I need to fill. It must be dwarf, low maintenance, and it would need to be something extremely unusual.
Why, you ask? Because this small space is framed by larger, more ordinary conifers and a Japanese maple. On their own, each of these plants is a beauty, and together, they have made a very pleasant little vista in my garden. The space I want to fill is like a small room in a gallery awaiting the premier showing of an artist’s new sculpture. I need something that will stand out from the plants around it – something really “out-there” and yet with a unique beauty unlike other conifers in my garden.
I have conifers that can represent every color of the rainbow. I have tall skinny conifers. I have short squat and spreading conifers. I have conifers that grow with perfect uniformity and others that grow with an unpredictable spontaneity and irregularity that they always stir up conversation in those who witness their beauty. Then I remember a wonderful little conifer that I have admired for years and years.
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Baldwin Variegated’ is a tremendous dwarf Hinoki cypress with an irregular broadly pyramidal habit that will provide a wonderful sculptural element to the garden. It also has one of the most amazing creamy white variegations you will ever see. I can imagine that the uninitiated would find the overall appearance of this small tree quite unusual. (And my wife loves variegated plants.)
I remember the first time I saw a conifer with twisted or contorted foliage. What a strangely appealing and unique plant it was. Today, I’ll share with you two of my favorite “twisted” conifers with yellow foliage.
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Sunny Swirl’ is a selection discovered at Iseli Nursery. This special plant has the same twisted, contorted foliage as C.o. ‘Torulosa’ (its mother plant) but with yellow foliage. Its lack of chlorophyll probably accounts for its yellow color and its slower growth rate causing it to fall into border of the dwarf and intermediate categories of conifer growth rates. I love the texture this plant provides and its yellow color is a definite bonus. Growing in full sun intensifies the color, but ‘Sunny Swirl’ will tolerate some shade.
The second yellow conifer I’ll mention today also has tiny, twisted, cord-like foliage. Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Lemon Twist’ is a delightfully slow grower staying more compact than ‘Sunny Swirl’. This is a selection from Buchholz Nursery of a yellow sport originating on Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Tsatsumi’. Due to its small, rounded habit, ‘Lemon Twist’ is ideal for container gardens, patios, the rock garden and even table top gardens when a smaller plant is purchased in one of those cute 4″ pots available at the local fine garden center.
Both plants offer great texture and color to the garden however you may choose to use them. I have a ‘Sunny Swirl’ in my garden that is nearly 4 feet tall now and a couple little ‘Lemon Twist’s in containers on my patio.
Looking around my garden the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that the most intense color in my conifers is yellow. I don’t think I’ve noticed it in the past. Sure, there have been one or two gold conifers that have really popped out this time of year, but not as many as I am seeing this year. I can’t explain it, but I sure can enjoy it!
All these bright yellow conifers – from large growers to intermediates, from those with traditional foliage to those with unusual characteristics, and even the miniatures – they look fantastic this early Spring amongst the blue and green spruce and other conifers as well as the fresh new red and pink and orange foliage of some of my Japanese Maples.
Three of the larger growing Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) cultivars that are standing like lighthouses right now are Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Aurea,’ ‘Goldilocks’ and ‘Confucius.’ All three have their own unique growth rates, color intensity and overall texture. I am happy to have the space to grow all three in my garden.
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Aurea’ might be considered the “granddaddy” of the golden Hinokis. Introduced in 1860, this tree will become quite large with age and stands out with its golden yellow newer foliage. Older, shaded foliage will tend to turn a nice green color which contrasts well with the brighter new foliage. Rated with a annual growth rate of over 12 inches per year, ‘Aurea’ will become a stately tree in the garden.
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Goldilocks’ is a newer cultivar that is becoming more available in the local fine gardening centers. Also a large grower, ‘Goldilocks’ has intensely bright yellow foliage that reminds me of the Lemon Yellow crayon in the old Crayola 64 count box. A strong central trunk and very uniform branching habit make ‘Goldilocks’ an improved form when compared with ‘Aurea’ and it’s irregular branching when young.
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Confucius’ is an intermediate grower that will form a shorter, wider and more densely foliated plant than ‘Goldilocks’. If a smaller tree is desired with a brilliant yellow color, ‘Confucius’ is a real winner; one of the best golden yellow Hinokis to be sure.
Next time I’ll compare two fantastic yellow plants with unique textural characteristics – don’t miss it!