The thrill of spring!

After our unusually dry and mild winter, we have entered into the spring season with cooler temperatures, more clouds, more cold rain and even brief, scattered hail showers. We seem to be back to our “normal” now and many plants are beginning  to push a bit of their new growth. Most of the early Japanese Maples have flushed their first push of fresh colorful new growth. Along with this first push of foliage, we also see tiny, delicate looking flowers, many with bright red or burgundy bracts that are very showy in the green foliage types and almost invisible in the cultivars pushing red new growth.

Bright, fresh, new foliage may be observed to be accompanied by tiny, delicate looking flowers, by those who look closely.

The Ginkgos have pushed some new foliar growth as well, although not near as much as many of the maples. Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’ is a very nice dwarf selection and its very tiny, new, bright yellow-green leaves are just beginning to emerge from buds along golden-tan branches.

Ginkgo biloba ‘Mariken’ holds stray water droplets captive in its tiny, emerging spring foliage.

Picea bicolor (alcoquiana) ‘Howell’s Dwarf’ is in beautiful color right now as both the male and female cones are rich purple-pink in color and look gorgeous against the bi-colored foliage of this very attractive small tree. Growing as a wide spreading shrub when young, the small garden tree will eventually set a leader and grow into an upright form. Light green needles with their waxy striations give the plant its distinctive bi-colored look.

The amazing spring color display of Picea bicolor (alcoquiana) ‘Howell’s Dwarf’.

Another exciting selection with bi-colored foliage just beginning to emerge is the low, wide spreading Abies veitchii ‘Heddergott’. Like ‘Howell’s Dwarf’ this slow growing dwarf conifer will eventually begin to grow into a broad upright shape. Its light yellow-green foliage is coated on one side with a thick white wax which is very effective at reflecting light and makes this dwarf fir shine bright in the garden.

Swelling buds are just beginning to break with the emerging new foliage of Abies veitchii ‘Heddergott’.

Intense color that cannot be missed this time of year is when the Abies pinsapo ‘Aurea’ is clustered full of bright purple-pink male pollen cones against the yellow, short, thick, succulent needles on this large garden tree.

Clusters of richly colored pollen cones adorn the short, succulent, yellow-green needles of Abies pinsapo ‘Area’.

I also particularly enjoy the mature, dry cones of Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Waggin Tails’. This tree seems to set cone at a fairly young age and displays many cone clusters creating a delightful ornamentation to this already unique and appealing, slow growing form of Douglas fir.

Making me nostalgic for Christmas-time, the mature cones and foliage of Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Waggin Tails’ ornament the garden beautifully.

What description of spring in the conifer garden would be complete without the reddish-pink new candle growth of Pinus parviflora ‘Tanima no yuki’? The newly extending candles of future foliage are always a pleasing sight against the mature, creamy white and green variegated, fine textured foliage of this stunning dwarf Japanese White pine.

Always a favorite sight in the spring are the pink extending candles of Pinus parviflora ‘Tanima no yuki’.

Last on my list of early spring garden stunners are the nearly pure white, bottle-brush flowers of Fothergilla gardenii. This pleasing, small, broad-leaved plant begins its spring season covered with sweet smelling, delicate looking flower spikes. During the summer, its green foliage reminds me of Clark Kent, unassumingly doing their job before the Superman of autumn color explodes onto the scene with mighty shades of red, orange and purple.

The thrilling, white, bottle-brush flowers of Fothergilla gardenii are the first exciting feature of this multi-season plant.

Springtime is a refreshing time of renewal. I hope you have time to stroll through your gardens and be enthralled and energized by all of the activity going on there, wherever you are.

Conifer lover

A tree dipped in dark chocolate? – Yes please!

Springtime, this year, has been a very pleasant mix of cloudy, rainy days and days filled with warm sunshine. Yesterday was one of those amazing sunny days that remind me of my childhood. Everything in the garden is coming alive with springtime freshness. The air smells clean and sweet with the scent of early flowers and newly mowed lawns and… Teriyaki! Someone in the neighborhood was enjoying the weather with their outdoor grill.

Spring foliage is a deep brick-red color.

With rain in the forecast for next several days, I knew that I had better mow what little lawn still remains in my garden, or it would become a more difficult task in a week or so when the weather will allow me another opportunity. Every time I do mow my lawn, I dream about a new conifer planting bed to build here or expand there, further reducing my workload by reducing the surface area of my garden that is filled with lawn. That being said, I do still love to lay on the cool grass as much now as I did when I was much younger.

Laying there on the grass, breathing in the assortment of scents as they seem to randomly drift by in unseen clouds of enchanting delight, I took in the sight of my garden from this lower than usual perspective. I drifted back to the days of childhood when I would play with army men in the grass and garden beds where I grew  up. As I lay there, enjoying the moment, and the memories of those boy-hood adventures so many years ago, I began to rotate myself to take in more of my garden from this unique perspective. Eventually, as I slowly spun myself around, my eyes fell upon one of my favorite small Japanese Maples, Acer palmatum ‘Tsukushi gata’.

Brick-red spring foliage begins to harden as light green veins become more pronounced, matching the color of the stems and branches.

Complementing the light green branches and stems of this small tree, the new foliage begins to emerge with deep, brick red color. As the leaves grow and begin to harden, their distinctive light green veins seem to pick up the color of the stems and provide another point of interest. As the foliage matures through the spring and begins to darken as summer begins, noticeable bright green, ornamental seed clusters dangle from branches and continue the color coordination. As summer heats up, the leaves darken to almost black and depending on variables of heat, humidity, intensity of the sun, perhaps even hours of daylight, the dark leaves may show different shades of chocolate with green undertones. With the onset of the shorter days and cooler nights of autumn, the leaves begin to brighten with orange tones until leaf-drop and the bright green branches and stems are exposed for the winter.

Dark, chocolate colored leaves cover the small tree through the summer.

I have had my little tree for 15 years or so, and it must have been over five years old when I planted it. It is no more than five or six feet tall and probably eight to ten feet across its breadth. ‘Tsukushi gata’ would be a very nice small tree to grow in a container on the patio or deck, and certainly will be a well-loved addition to any smaller garden where larger trees will just be too big. The smaller scale of this tree fits well with some of my miniature and dwarf conifers to make a very nice rockery island where the ‘Tsukushi gata’ sits atop a rocky mound with a collection of conifers and other dwarf and miniature plants all working together to make a very delightful space.

Looking out the window, I see that the predicted rain has arrived, and my barometer confirms that we are likely to see little good, warm sunshine for at least a few days. Perhaps the sun will chase away the clouds in time for me to take another trip around my garden with the mowing machine and allow me another warm evening to enjoy my garden from a prostrate perspective.

Conifer Lover

The naked silhouette

The sky was dark gray. The clouds were thick and low rendering the nearby hills to appear more as shadows than the beautiful, rich, green, tree-covered mounds that I knew them to be. The rain was falling at a 30° angle in a heavy, fine mist, which contributed to the obfuscation of the bright and warming rays of the sun. Looking at my watch, I confirmed that it was near noon, though outside it was dark enough that one might confuse the time of day by several hours thinking we were in the midst of twilight.

I poked the few hot coals which remained of the morning fire and added additional fuel to warm the house since we had no intention of venturing out on this day. Once the fire had settled into place, I did the same in my favorite chair. My wife joined me with a cup of tea and the newspaper while I sat and gazed out of the picture window which overlooks the main section of my garden. The cat insisted he needed some attention before he nestled himself back upon his favorite chair near the same window, through which was the focus of my attention.

Acer palmatum dissectum 'Ever Red'
The sculptural framework of an old lace-leaf maple.

By now, all but a few leaves had fallen from my deciduous trees leaving my collection of conifers as the primary players in my winter garden composition. As I slowly scanned the garden, admiring how my tiny, newer plants looked happy and healthy in their new homes and enjoying the forms and textures of older specimens that had been maturing in this garden for quite a number of years, my eyes came to rest upon the naked silhouette of a very beautifully shaped, older Red Laceleaf Japanese Maple.

Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Ever Red’ is one of the old standards in the world of landscape gardening. A Japanese selection, imported into Europe and given the name, ‘Dissectum Nigrum’, it made its way to the United States and was marketed commercially under the name ‘Ever Red’. Nomenclature purists will insist that the only legitimate name is ‘Dissectum Nigrum’, but it is grown in nurseries from coast to coast with the name ‘Ever Red’ and one is more likely to find it in the local garden center with that name.

Acer palmatum dissectum 'Ever Red'
Beautifully clothed during the summer with red lacy leaves.

Of course, this time of year, and of particular note on this dim, gray, drizzly day, was the characteristic branching structure of the tree. The lace-leaf maples, for the most part, are known for their low-growing, mounding, arched to weeping branches and their curvaceous main trunk. I like to keep my lace-leaf maples trimmed with a somewhat open form which, even during the peak of the summer growing season, when the finely dissected, colorful leaves cover the plant, allows a veiled glimpse of the inner structure of the tree. Then, after the brilliant autumn show of brightly colored leaves comes to its finale and the foliage falls and is swept away, the magnificent beauty of the sculptural framework may be appreciated to its fullest.

The rain eventually slowed and came to a brief end on that otherwise gloomy day. Within minutes the moisture began to accumulate in tiny droplets along the branches of my lovely, naked tree. Its intricate form became highlighted with tiny reflective sparkles of light as the clouds thinned and the sun began to poke its powerful golden rays of light down into my garden for a few moments, before the next shower began.

Conifer Lover

So much color! (part one)

You have heard me go on and on about the wonderful year-round color that conifers provide for the garden. From time to time I have even discussed non-coniferous plants with exciting characteristics including, but not limited to, the great color they add to the garden. Today, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the most color-saturated plants in my garden and shortly after I began I realized that this will be the first part in a series on intense garden color.

Red is a color that conifers generally add to the garden in small doses. There is Picea abies ‘Rubra Spicata’ with its blood red new foliage push in spring, but it is a rather quick display lasting only a week or two. Many conifers put on a spring-time show with their colorful, and sometimes, bright red cones. Some of these will persist in their colorful stage for several weeks to a few months while others have a shorter duration. For the longest lasting and most intense red color in my garden, I look to broad-leaved trees and shrubs.

Acer palmatum dissectum 'Crimson Queen'
Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’ is a shapely Red Laceleaf Japanese Maple that holds its red color fairly well, even in the heat of summer.

Without a doubt, some of the best reds in my garden are provided by Japanese Maples and there are two which have become favorites of mine. First, Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’ (Crimson Queen Laceleaf Maple), is an older selection that has been used in gardens since it was introduced in 1965. Rich, purple-red leaves emerge in spring, slowly covering the weeping branch-work with deeply cut, lace-leaf foliage. There is a graceful delicacy to the way each individual leaf is held on the stem which gives ‘Crimson Queen’ its delightful good looks.

As the temperatures rise in summer, many red-leaf Japanese maples begin to lose their color and fade to a muddy green as the red pigment becomes an undertone to the green. ‘Crimson Queen’ holds up particularly well to summer heat – especially if planted in a location which will provide some afternoon shade. With the onset of autumn’s crisp, cooler temperatures, ‘Crimson Queen’ becomes a bright scarlet red exhibitionist drawing many eyes before she finally disrobes, showing off her internal structure.

Acer palmatum dissectum 'Red Dragon'
Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Red Dragon’ retains amazing color through the heat of summer. Both shot were captured during our current local hot spell.

Second, there is a newer Red Laceleaf Maple in town, one which has earned a tremendous reputation for unbeatable, dark, rich, reddish-purple leaves with color that just won’t quit! Holding its dark, rich color all summer long, ‘Red Dragon’ just brightens up in autumn before finally exposing its attractive branch structure through the winter months. Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Red Dragon’ has a neat and tidy, dome-shaped, habit similar to ‘Crimson Queen’, but without the same delicate grace. That’s not to say that ‘Red Dragon’ lacks any beauty, in fact it is one of the most attractive Red Laceleaf Maples available today!

Adding these two Red Laceleaf Japanese Maples to your conifer garden will bring a pleasing addition of red color to complement the array of blues, greens and yellows available in today’s colorful conifer selections. Don’t just imagine your garden full of year-round color, make it your reality with amazing conifers and other exciting garden plants!

Conifer Lover

Where spring remains winter and autumn visits spring

It seems difficult to believe that any spring could be longer, colder and wetter than last year when we didn’t see sustained temperatures above 60 degrees fahrenheit until well into June. Even then, the rains continued past their “normal” cut-off date of July 4. Last year I did see much more activity in my garden by now in both my conifers and Japanese Maples – we seem to be two to three weeks behind last year.

It was nice to have a brief respite from the cold rain for three days last week. The thermometer on my patio claims that we had a high of 63° on Saturday. Those nice days were followed by a mix of sunshine, rain and hail and a high temperature of 48°, and now we’re back to our cold showers.

Acer palmatum Goshiki Kotohime
Summer foliage of Acer palmatum Goshiki kotohime showing great texture and color.

I did enjoy spending time in my garden during those nice spring days. I transplanted several little one year old grafts into slightly larger pots and I managed to get a little weeding done. The weeds do love our constant rain and the fact that said rain prevents me from attacking the weeds in a more timely fashion. I also noticed that my Japanese Maples are beginning to push their new flush of growth (which is a sure sign that the conifers will be following along very soon).

Perhaps the earliest plant to push its first grunt of new growth in my garden is Acer palmatum ‘Goshiki kotohime’. This very dwarf Japanese Maple will often show signs of life well before anything else in my garden. Its orange/pinkish-red new growth is very small and always seems to sparkle because when it is trying to emerge, we are still experiencing plenty of rain and the threat of light frost. I always become a little concerned when I see its first little leaves popping out and I know that frost is forecast in the area. It does seem to be more hardy than it looks since it always just waits for the cold weather to pass and continues right where it stopped without any sign of damage.

‘Goshiki kotohime’ is a great dwarf plant. Its leaves are closely packed on thin branches giving the appearance of being more of an herbaceous plant than a woody small tree. Its new leaves push with brilliant color and then turn green with deeply cut lobes and undulating edges which create a wonderful texture. Being a slow grower, it is an excellent choice for the container garden as well at other themed miniature gardens where it could easily be pruned to maintain a smaller size if needed.

Acer shirasawanum 'Autumn Moon'
The spring flush of Autumn Moon may look like fall foliage color, but trust me, it is springtime – really.

Another Japanese Maple that I love in spring is Acer shirasawanum ‘Autumn Moon’. The spring foliage is an amazing blend of autumn yellow and orange which is certainly eye-candy while it can confuse ones sense of time. This small tree is a beautiful, compact grower with nice form and a very pleasant color all season long. I love how its color complements the blue, green and gold of my conifers.

Spring is upon us, I just hope that winter will release its grip so that we may enjoy more sunshine and warmer temperatures before the calendar reminds me that it is mid-summer.

Conifer Lover