Filling with foliage

Last time I briefly discussed the Thriller, Filler and Spiller concept of garden design and how I plan to use this basic technique to pre-design some spaces for whatever new garden I may have in the future. I am expecting to have a garden space very typical of today’s smaller gardens. By pre-designing some garden spaces, I will be able to mix and match as needed when I do find my new place. Being a gardening addict, I need to stay hooked up any way I can!

I chose Picea omorika ‘Gotelli’s Weeping’ as my Thriller plant for this first space. I love its tall, majestic form, its sweeping, weeping branches and its shimmering bluish green foliage.  This time I will discuss a few candidates to use as fillers in the imaginary garden space. One thing is for sure, I will be using a Red Japanese Maple as a filler with this tree. Whether I choose a weeping type with finely dissected leaves or a more tree-like form with broader leaves, I will love space being filled with red foliage as a very nice complement to the color of ‘Gotelli’s Weeping’ plus, being deciduous, it will open up the space during the winter for a different view altogether. Choosing just the right cultivar may be the greatest challenge so far.

Richly colored foliage persists all season long on this popular Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’.

There are several factors that I will consider about the space when I do make my final decision and plant the trees. The size of the space will play a big role in determining which cultivar will be the best fit. I will also need to consider the existing light and how it might change over time with nearby trees already in place or on neighboring property.

One of the most popular red Japanese maples, ‘Bloodgood’ provides great color and fills in space very nicely.

If I have the space for a larger tree, then Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ is at the top of my list. It is an old standard these days and is hard to beat for fantastic, rich, dark purple/red color that lasts all season long. During the winter, when the leaves have been shed, its dark purple branches add interest to the colder landscape.

This deep red filler keeps itself in nice form with its compact, oval shape.

Another favorite red foliage specimen is Acer palmatum ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’. This very well-mannered, small tree has a unique, compact habit that grows into a very nice oval shaped form. Like ‘Bloodgood’ its rich red foliage lasts all season. In autumn the red brightens to an intense scarlet. I may choose this one if space is somewhat limited.

Beautiful, softly colored leaves of Acer palmatum ‘Ukigumo’ can fill your space with floating clouds of foliage.

If the space is a little shady, I may choose the uniquely colored Acer palmatum ‘Ukigumo’.  With near white, pink and green variegated leaves it could be a Thriller itself. The softer color will complement the foliage of the Thriller nicely and will add a lot of interest because of its unusual variegation. Any shade it receives will help protect its more delicate foliage from sunburn during the summer.

The North Wind® Maple is a very hardy choice and a great looking tree!

One more Filler possibility should be a thrill for my friends in the colder regions. Acer x pseudosieboldianum North Wind® is an extremely hardy hybrid of Japanese and Korean maples that has been proven to thrive in some pretty nasty Zone 4 conditions! Fortunately for me, we do not get anywhere near that cold where I live, but this selection is more than just a tough guy, it’s gorgeous too! Soft reddish orange spring foliage turns green through the summer. Colorful red seed clusters and intense red and orange autumn foliage make for a long and exciting season of color and interest.

The autumn foliage of North Wind® is worth waiting for each year!

As I have been writing my thoughts, I have come to realize that there is no reason why I couldn’t choose both an upright tree form and a weeping lace-leaf form to use in this space. In fact, I suspect by the time I begin to consider plants for the Spillers, a nice lace-leaf Japanese maple will make it on the list. For now, I will need to contemplate other filler plants to use with the above maples in each of their unique, possible situations.

Stay tuned!

Conifer Lover

Hooray for autumn!

Where did the month of September go? It seems like it was just the Labor Day holiday weekend and here I find myself writing on the last day of September. Our summer does seem to have obeyed the calendar and the temperatures dropped and some rain showers have returned right on schedule with the beginning of autumn.

You know what that means – crisp nights, the scent of wood smoke from folks lighting the first fires of the season, apple cider, pumpkins, harvest festivals and… Fall Color!

Acer palmatum ‘Tobiohsho’ is among the first to display its fall foliage color.

This is the time of year when my conifers take a break from center stage in my garden and my Japanese Maples and other broadleaved plants begin to dazzle the eyes with their vibrant color. One of my favorite Japanese Maples for fall color is Acer palmatum ‘Tobiosho’ – one of the earliest to don its incredible array of burgundy, red and orange foliage. I know when ‘Tobiosho’ begins to turn, the others will not be far behind.

Acer palmatum ‘Omure Yama’ stands out with its brilliant orange autumn foliage.

Another spectacular sight in the autumn garden is Acer palmatum ‘Omure yama.’ With its striking, bright orange, deeply cut palmate leaves, it looks amazing near dark green conifers. A premium choice for year-round interest is Acer palmatum ‘Sherwood Flame’ which turns from dark cherry red to a much more intensely bright scarlet red in the fall.

Acer palmatum ‘Sherwood Flame’ is a winner for fantastic color.

Known for its amazing deep red color from spring through summer, Acer palmatum ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’ turns shades of bright scarlet while the very hardy Acer x pseudosieboldianum North Wind® (‘IslNW’) surprises as its green late summer color becomes a combination of deep, bright red and intensely rich orange.

Acer palmatum ‘Twombley’s Red Sentinel’ is truly a standout in the garden.
Acer x pseuodosieboldianum North Wind® (‘IslNW’) is a new, extremely hardy form with spectacular autumn color.

Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’ is one of the last to turn and will generally carry our fall color season to the end of November. Of course by then, Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’ will have begun his bright golden yellow show which will persist through the winter along with other winter color conifers.

Often the tree to bring the autumn color season to a close in my garden, Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’ is a favorite sight near the end of the show.

Autumn has always been a favorite season for me and no matter what happened in September, with our autumn season kicking into gear, I sense new life even as many of my garden plants are beginning to go dormant for their winter rest. As for me, I’ll be enjoying the garden in all its autumn glory and settling into my favorite chair near the woodstove with a cup of tea, anticipating the winter months ahead.

Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’ begins his winter season of color just about the time that the deciduous trees and shrubs have finished their Autumn show.

Hooray for autumn!

Conifer Lover

I’m getting ready for a tsunami of color!

Many areas around the country have exploded into spring as evidenced not only by bulbs and early flowering shrubs bursting into bloom, but in some places, the conifers are beginning to push new growth. Here in our mild, yet wet and dark climate, spring is moving along very slowly. Our cold and snowy March did not help the matter any, and may have set our spring back a few weeks. Strolling through my garden, I don’t see any activity among my conifers, and even my earliest Japanese maples, that in the past have broken bud as early as February, are just now beginning to hint at waking up.

Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream'
Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’ spring foliage.

I usually think of spring officially arriving in my garden when the majority of Japanese maples are flushing their brightly colored, soft and delicate looking new growth. In past years, I have seen this begin to happen during the last week or so in March, which is followed by an incredible color display through the month of April. By the time the maples have made their glorious announcement that spring may now commence with their arrival, my conifers will begin to pop their buds and my garden will experience another wave of amazing color with their new spring growth throughout the month of May. I wouldn’t be surprised if I witness a little more overlap this year due to our delayed spring weather.

Acer palmatum dissectum 'Ever Red'
The spring leaves of Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Ever Red’ enjoy a silvery-white furry feature.

Since March came in like a lion, and since that lion overstayed his visit bringing stormy weather and snow showers all month long, I am hopeful to see it go out like a lamb as we enter the month of April. One thing I can be sure of, the month of April, whether it is dominated by rain or sunshine, it will be the month of the Japanese maple!

There are far too many maples in my garden to try to include them in this  blog post, but I do want to mention of few of my favorites for their beautiful spring contributions to the garden. Whether or not you are yet a conifer enthusiast, I know that you will love these maples. Although they are fairly hardy, unfortunately, they aren’t for the gardens of our friends in the most harsh climates around the world.

Acer palmatum dissectum 'Viridis'
Red tinged, winged seeds highlight the delicate looking spring green foliage of Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Viridis’.

I’ve asked Mr. Smith to pull together photos of some of my favorite Japanese maples and I am confident that once you see the delightful colors, soft textures and delicate structure of these maples, you’ll be as excited as I am for the month of April.

Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’ is one of the early ones to push its new growth in my garden. I devoted a blog entry to it back in 2008 that you may want to revisit now.

Acer palmatum 'Shindeshojo'
Acer palmatum ‘Shindeshojo’ may just be one of the most brilliant pinkish reds you will ever see.

Another exciting spring Japanese maple is also one of the oldest cultivars. Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Ever Red’ is a very popular Lace Leaf maple that has been grown in gardens for many, many years. If you have marveled at a huge specimen on an old estate, it is very possible that it was an ‘Ever Red’. One of the distinctive features of ‘Ever Red’ is the silvery-white pubescence covering much of the tiny leaves as they unfurl in spring. This fuzzy feature weathers off by summer leaving rich red leaves that are lightly tinged with green.

Acer palmatum 'Katsura'
The bright orange spring foliage of Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ turns light green in summer.

Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Viridis’ is commonly known as the Green Lace Leaf maple for its bright green foliage that begins in spring and continues its lively color until autumn when the foliage turns tones of yellow, orange and red.

Acer palmatum ‘Shindeshojo’ may be a mouthful to speak, but it is worth finding and planting in your garden. Its brilliant pinkish red spring color is only rivaled by its amazing autumn hot reds and orange.

Similar to ‘Orange Dream’ in leaf color, Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ is an amazing orange color will that fade to a rich, light green through the summer. Autumn brings a return of yellow and orange tones.

While my conifers are building up energy to explode in all their glory of colorful new growth, I’m happy to have the Japanese maples put on a show during the month of April with their wide assortment of colors, texture and form.

Conifer Lover (and Japanese maples too!)

Spring has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest!

Whew! It’s great to be back among the living. I don’t believe I’ve ever had bronchitis before, but I can tell you, I’d sure like to avoid it in the future. I hope that you all are able to enjoy good health this season and not be set back by the assortment of “bugs” that seem to be in abundance right now. But enough about that, let’s get out into the garden!

Fortunately, most of the time that I was house-bound, I didn’t really want to go outside anyway since we’ve continued to enjoy plenty of cold rain over the past few weeks. Today is different! It’s been sunny all day and I’ve been out touring my garden and making lists of things to do.

Acer japonica 'Vitifolium'
Tender, fresh leaves of Acer japonicum 'Vitifolium' captivate the attention of passersby with its unique color and delicate appearance.

Hey! Who planted all those weed seeds? One great thing about steady rain and constant temperatures in the upper 40s to mid 50s is that all the local weeds germinate and grow profusely. I hope this weather holds another day or two because I think I can muster up the energy to pull weeds now that I’m feeling better. I definitely need to lay down a thick layer of bark mulch this year to slow down the weed production. Sure, new weed seed will eventually blow in and germinate in the new mulch, but they pull out much more easily when they’ve sprouted in a fluffy layer of bark.

Picea sitchensis 'Vapenka'
Picea sitchensis 'Vapenka' just beginning to push its sharp new foliage.

I also need to pull out the last of the old rose garden. I’ve given up on them for now. Some people have great success with roses (in fact, I did too for a while, but my experiments with roses only reinforced my love for low maintenance, four-season conifers). I have a new conifer bed to build this year – it’s the same one I mentioned last year and I just never made the time to get on this big project. Actually, I became distracted by removing a large portion of lawn in another area of the garden and expanded the conifer beds in that area instead. This is the year that I will tackle the re-working of this larger bed. I have big plans for this space, hopefully I’ll have the energy to jump in and get this finished before our week or two of hot summer weather arrives in late July or August.

Most of my Japanese Maples have flushed out their first push of fresh, colorful new growth. The assortment of greens and pinks and reds and orange and gold that I saw this morning were truly an inspiration! So much delicious color on such soft, delicate looking little leaves. In a few weeks their leaves will have completely unfurled into big five to seven fingered open-palmed hands waving their luscious color in the gentle breeze. By that time, more of my conifers should be fully flushing their colorful new growth too!

Acer palmatum dissectum 'Seiryu'
A rare upright growing form with the deeply cut leaves normally associated with weeping types, Acer palmatum dissectum 'Seiryu' shows off the detail of its tiny leaves and flowers.

Several cultivars of Picea glauca have flushed out nicely by now, and I see some of my Picea omorika and Picea sitchensis cultivars are popping buds too. The Picea englemanii ‘Bush’s Lace’ has flushed a couple inches of its soft gray/green new growth. I see some young cones developing on a few cultivars of Abies koreana and almost all my pines have extended up to fifty percent, or so, of their spring candle growth.

Spring is here! Spring is here!

I hope your gardens have come alive where you live too – it’s a healing sight to behold!

Conifer Lover

“How long can you tread water?”

Maybe, instead of gardening, I should be building a boat.

Just mere days ago, the temperature was 82 degrees, the sun was shining bright, and the forecast as far as the eye could see was for sunny days with temps in the mid to upper 70s. Summer had arrived. Then overnight the temperature dropped, the clouds moved in, and the showers returned. Now when I look at the weather forecast, all I see are gray skies and raindrops with temps in the lower 60s.

All this rain reminds me of the time (many years ago) my older brother came home with the new Bill Cosby album entitled, Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow. Right! One of my favorite routines on the album was Mr. Cosby’s interpretation of the conversations between God and Noah regarding building the arc. Noah, in his frustration with the whole concept of building a giant boat in the middle of the desert began to complain to God. Noah goes on and on and God listens silently until we suddenly hear thunder and the rain begins. During our seemingly endless weeks of rain and remembering this routine I ask myself,  “How long can you tread water?”

Fortunately for my garden plants, they seem to love this weather.

With a steady supply of moisture and occasional sun breaks to slightly warm the soil and encourage photosynthesis, my conifers and Japanese maples all look fantastic. The fresh and colorful new foliage continues to grow in its lush exuberance filling my garden with an inspirational prosperity of color.

The bright blues of my Picea pungens ‘Hoopsii’ have never looked better. My Picea abies ‘Fat Cat’ sports a vibrant bright green fur and the variegated foliage of Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘White Pygmy’ is an absolute delight. Complementing my conifers, the deep reds and bright greens of my Acer palmatum ‘Rhode Island Red’ and A.p. ‘Hogyoku’ are a sight to behold. Even though we are mid-way through the last month of spring, (and it feels more like mid-April) I am enjoying all the spring-time beauty of my garden while I can.

Acer palmatum 'Rhode Island Red'
Acer palmatum ‘Rhode Island Red’

Before too long, summer will arrive, and we will be contending with an instant change to hot summer sunshine with temperatures in the mid-80s to upper-90s. That sudden change of the sun’s intensity can tend to sunburn some plants before their soft new foliage has abundant time to harden and become more able to protect itself. I need to think about which of my smaller, more tender plants I may want to provide a little shade until they are ready to fend for themselves. I look for plants that have soft new growth or very lightly colored foliage. Many of my yellow or gold colored conifers can be particularly sensitive to the sudden change from the natural shade of thick gray clouds to the power of pure sunshine.

May your garden thrive and provide you and yours a peaceful oasis this year.

Conifer Lover