Marching into the Holidays

We have survived the “creepy creepers” and were thankful for all of our many blessings and now winter is nigh upon us as we march into the holidays and prepare to begin a new year. This time of year is always fun (and at times, stressful). I am excited to collect some colorful foliage for my annual wreath and swag construction. Some of my favorite conifers are very well suited to provide colorful and delightfully scented foliage for these projects. If you are interested in growing lovely foliage for your own holiday decorating, then do read on.

Cupressus arizonica 'Aurea'
Cupressus arizonica ‘Aurea’

Nothing beats the rich dark green color and pleasant Christmassy scent of Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) for not only a Christmas tree, but also greens for decorating. I usually utilize our native Douglas Fir foliage as the base for my wreaths and swags. When I want something with similar foliar texture but with a little added zing, I’ll look to Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Blue’ and P. m. ‘Waggin Tails’.

Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Waggin Tails'
Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Waggin Tails’

P.m. ‘Waggin Tails’ has the same lovely scent as its parent, but its branchlets have a bit of a curve or twist which will add an interesting texture to holiday constructions. As its name implies, ‘Blue’ has bright blue foliage which complements the other colors in my wreaths. Both are tremendous additions to the garden when space allows.

Both Cupressus arizonica ‘Aurea’ and Cupressus arizonica ‘Blue Pyramid’ are amazing garden trees with brightly contrasting colors. The soft, and yet, intense yellow of ‘Aurea’ will add a brilliant focal point in your garden and a delightful color contrast to the greens and blues of other great conifers. ‘Blue Pyramid’ is a bright, light blue color, that again can make a remarkable garden focal point and a colorful contrast to darker greens in the typical holiday wreath. If your garden is large enough, I recommend both of these plants for year-round color in both your garden and your winter decorating.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Lutea'
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’

Several cultivars of Chamaecyparis obtusa are regulars on my wreath-making list. Two bright choices to add eye-catching color are Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’ and C.o. ‘Sunny Swirl’. ‘Nana Lutea’ is always a winner in my wreaths with its bright yellow, soft-textured foliage. It delights the eyes as it contrasts with the blues and green of other foliage choices. For a more subtle yellow color, but with the addition of a unique textural twist, I love to include C.o. ‘Sunny Swirl’ for its coarse, twisted and fasciated foliage.

Sometimes I will include Threadbranch Cypress as a filler for its wonderful contrast in foliar texture. Its coarse, wispy threads of foliage add a pleasing effect and, depending on cultivar choice, may also add contrasting color, as with the bright yellow of Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mop’ or C.p. ‘Boulevard’ for soft-textured, bluish foliage.

Pinus strobus 'Mini Twists'
Pinus strobus ‘Mini Twists’

I usually try to have the added, wintry scent of Pine in my holiday decorations, so I will include the bluish-green foliage of Pinus strobus (Eastern White Pine) or Pinus parviflora (Japanese White Pine) cultivars, both of which have 5-needle bundles so they add a definite softness to the design. From the longer needles of Pinus strobus ‘Macopin’ or ‘Pendula’ to the shorter needles of ‘Sea Urchin’ or ‘Mini Twists’, there is definitely an Eastern White Pine for the holidays. The Japanese White Pine offers generally shorter needle length, but a similar color and overall effect. P. parviflora ‘Bergman’ is an excellent choice for foliage density and a variegated form, such as, ‘Goldilocks’ or ‘Ogon Janome’ add softness and a splash of color.

Alright, it seems I have put together my list, now I need to get to work! I hope you will have some time to enjoy the relaxing art of holiday wreath-making or decorating in whatever style you desire.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

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Colorful conifers for good health and well-being

We have just recently returned to Pacific Standard Time with our clocks falling back an hour, and even though I have allegedly gained an hour of sleep, I am already feeling the effect of shorter daylight hours. I love the summer when the sun usually wakes me up around 5:30am and finally puts me to rest after 9:30pm. Those long, bright days are truly energizing. Our recent Fall Back, hit me like a ton of topsoil and I’ve been dragging through the past couple of days.

Then, today it hit me—it’s time to start making plans for holiday decorating!

I love to make wreaths, and my wife loves hanging them both indoors and out! We recently made some major progress in organizing our garage which resulted in my having a place for my, “You’re not going to make a mess in my house” projects like holiday wreath making, candle making, whittling and carving. That is perfectly okay with me, now that I have a nice warm space to work on my projects.

wreath
Here is one wreath I crafted in 2015. I am so looking forward to getting started this season!

One of my first projects will certainly be making wreaths for the holiday season. Conifers are perfect for this craft because of their very wide-ranging assortment of foliage colors, textures, and even their scents. One of the comments I hear when folks visit during the holidays is how fresh and “Christmasy” the house smells. I’m certain that conifers play a big role in those comments (as well as my wife’s “Swill” she has warming on the stove through the holidays).

I love to create my wreaths with an assortment of conifer foliage. I will often begin with something simple like our native, dark green, Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas Fir) or the glossy green sprays of Thuja plicata (Western Red Cedar) or Calocedrus decurrens (Incense Cedar). As I work my way around the wreath, the real fun begins as I begin to include other complimentary and/or contrasting color elements.

wreathfoliage
Just a small sample of some of the foliage I prepared for my wreath-making in 2015. Now that I’ll have a larger workspace, I hope to make several new wreaths this holiday season!

For bright powder blue color, I love to use Cupressus glabra ‘Blue Pyramid’ or a splash of Picea pungens ‘Hoopsi’ . When I want to add a flash of bright yellow, I love to use Cupressus glabra ‘Aurea’, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’ or C. pisifera ‘Golden Mop’. Of course each of these selections add their own unique texture and aromatic presence to the piece. Variegated conifers such as Juniperus chinensis ‘Torulosa Variegata’ or C. ob.‘Snowkist’ add a delightful zing as well. For a softer texture, Pinus strobus ‘Macopin’, P. s. ‘Louie’ and the variegated Pinus parviflora ‘Ogon Janome’ are delightful choices.

If you have never made your own wreath before, I want to encourage you to take the time. It is a very fun and relaxing (even meditative) project that yields tons of smiles and happiness in those who visit. I always make several and give a few away to neighbors and loved ones. It’s always fun to spread the cheer!

Yes, now that I have fresh new wreath-making ideas flowing, my back seems to hurt a little less and I seem to have a spring to my step that has been missing for several days. Thanks to the therapeutic power of conifers!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Getting into the holiday mood

This time of year, with the deciduous trees nearly bare from our recent cold wind storm, crisp, cold temperatures and the winter holidays on their way, I can’t help but begin to become excited. In the USA, our Thanksgiving holiday is just around the corner, and for me, that means spending time surrounded by some of the people I love. It also means that it is time to begin outdoor winter decorating, which includes displaying little lights on many of my “Christmas tree shaped” conifers. I am not sure how or when Christmas trees were determined to be perfectly conically shaped, or how the tradition of decorating trees and houses with lights came about, but I sure do enjoy it!

‘Banderica’ is a superb choice for the garden – any time of year!

Some folks seem to think that more is better when it comes to decorating their space with lights. Some even go to the extreme with computer controlled lighting that is in sync with music, and some even broadcast the music over a low-power FM signal so drivers may enjoy the show in their cars. I, on the other hand, am perhaps a bit more of a traditionalist and I like a more subtle approach to my lighting technique. Several of my dwarf conifers are just the right size and shape for that traditional look of conically shaped trees strung with lights. You may recall my experience stringing a non-traditionally shaped tree some years ago, if not you can check it out here.

Some of my favorite small trees to decorate with lights this time of year include Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ and ‘Sester Dwarf’. Both of these dwarf forms of Colorado Blue Spruce have very nice blue needles that really shine when I string them with either colored or plain white lights, plus they stand out all year long with their great color.

A few choice pines to decorate include Pinus leucodermis (heldreichii) ‘Banderica’, ‘Irish Bell’ and ‘Compact Gem’. ‘Banderica’ has taken some time to become sizable enough to decorate, but now that it has matured, this very slow grower is a short, chubby tree that complements the other two in this section. ‘Irish Bell’ is a faster grower, but provides the same kind of broadly conical shape in a more open form. ‘Compact Gem’ is very nice with its taller and more narrow stature. I love planting these three in a group that shows off their varying forms and sizes while providing a great effect when they are all lit up for the holidays!

Coney Island’, this nice green mound of fine textured foliage, is as great in the summer garden as it is when covered with tiny lights through the holiday season!

But hey, I am certainly not going to limit myself to the traditional conical shapes when deciding on where to place lights in my garden. I like to cover the larger globe shaped conifers as well and turn them into giant, glowing snowballs! One in my garden is Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’, which lights up brightly and gives off a wonderfully therapeutic scent during the decorating process. Another great rounded conifer to decorate is, Pinus strobus ‘Coney Island’ which comes pre-decorated with an abundance of delightfully dangling small cone ornaments – just add lights. One final plant to list this time is Picea abies ‘Fat Cat’. I just love this one with its nice, tidy, compact, rounded form – it’s perfect for those net lights which can simply be laid over the plant for easy installation and removal.

Okay, my fingers are warmed up from all this typing, I think I had better get into the garage and start going through my boxes of lights. Let the holidays begin!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Making the fun meter hit high

I have so much fun during the Christmas holiday season. Sure enough, Thanksgiving weekend is usually when I dust off the old Christmas songs and begin to fill the house with a festive mood. As I’ve mentioned before, my wife loves to decorate for the holidays and I love to supply her with fresh foliage from the conifer garden for all her decorating desires. The day after Thanksgiving, I created a pair of colorful wreaths and a few days later, I was back in the elves workshop creating a pair of colorful swags. There is nothing like nice fresh-smelling greenery collected right outside my door in my very own festive evergreen factory!

Next, I had a request to harvest some more traditional greens from the large Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedars to surround a table centerpiece that my wife was planning. After I discovered what she had planned, I realized that this particular centerpiece would not be complete without a few of those cute little conifers in the festive red pots that I see this time of year at my favorite independent garden center. Being it was still the end of November, I was fairly confident that they would have in stock exactly what I was looking for. My quick trip (okay, when have I ever had a quick trip to my favorite garden center?) to the store proved a success and I returned with several little conifers that would add a touch of life to the already whimsical table display.

Cute little conifers in festive red pots are just the thing to make my wife’s already whimsical display a whole lot more fun! Harvested greens are one thing, but adding live plants in an assortment of colors and textures brings the display to life and kicks the fun meter all the way to high!

What I like to do is keep my potted conifers outdoors until needed. My wife’s display is very nice most of the time, but when guests arrive for a meal and on that special holiday, I will bring in my festive red potted plants to give the display just a little added zing! After the holidays, since my new plants will only be indoors for short periods of time, I can either just keep my new dwarf and miniature conifers in their red pots, plant them in other containers or find a place for them in the garden. By living in the Pacific Northwest, I may have the luxury of potting or planting my new plants right away since we often have mild enough temperatures in January and February to do so. If the weather does take a turn for the worse and I find that I need to delay finding these new additions a more permanent home, no problem! I can just tuck them away with my other potted conifers on my patio and take care of them through the remaining winter months as I do the others in my collection. Folks in far colder regions than my own will likely want to overwinter their cute little potted conifers in a protected cold frame or unheated garage until their ground thaws in spring.

I love these cute little potted miniature and dwarf conifers for winter decorating, and I really love that I end up with some new conifers to plant in my garden or enjoy on my patio all year long, for many years to come!

Happy Holidays to you all!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Cool little conifers make great holiday gifts

Even though I miss the long, bright, sunny and warm days of summer, I absolutely love this time of year. Our winter holidays always help me through the darker, colder and wetter months in the Pacific Northwest. Families tend to have traditions of coming together for the special winter holidays, and friends, whether old or new, make plans to enjoy each other’s company as well.

Container gardens are perfect for those folks with very small spaces.

One of the best traditions of the holiday season is gift-giving. Of course the kinds of gifts I love to give generally have something to do with gardening and most often, I must admit, my gifts tend to be dwarf or miniature conifers. Most everyone enjoys spending at least a little time in the garden. Even those who may not have the initial interest or confidence for gardening generally find that once they have a nice little conifer to care for, they become intrigued and their interest in gardening grows.

I have quite a number of friends that were once generally unaware of the joy of gardening and simply had no idea whatsoever how much fun gardening with dwarf and miniature conifers can be. Some of these friends have gone on to become quite interested in developing their gardens and in the conifer world, while others limit themselves to a much smaller scale with plants in containers on their deck or patio. Part of the fun for me is giving a gift of a small conifer or two and then seeing interest and passions grow over the years.

Miniature gardens can be created by adding miniature accessories to the container garden. Not all miniature gardens need to feature fairies, though they do seem to enjoy little gardens that are just their size.

Sometimes I’ll give a complete container garden already planted. Other folks have received a miniature garden kit with a selection of a few plants, a bag of potting soil and a nice ceramic pot so they may plant it up the way they like. I love to see young families become interested in gardening and one great way to encourage that behavior is the gift of a container garden that they may all plant together and enjoy.

Colorful little conifers add year-round interest to your favorite pots and they make great gifts and bring life to a cold and drear winter.

Container gardens are great for smaller spaces and most anyone has space for at least one. Some of my container gardens, which feature a few of my smallest miniature conifers, are placed strategically along the paths and among larger plants in the garden. I like to move some of my containers from the back patio to the front walk during the holidays so that I can decorate them with small lights and ornaments (which has the added benefit of making my wife very happy).

You might consider dwarf and miniature conifers for your gift-giving this holiday season. I have a few new friends that may be perfectly suited for a conifer surprise gift sometime in the next month or so—maybe you do too!

Ed-
Conifer Lover