I love the classics: movies, cars, music and conifers!

I was talking with a new friend about his new garden. He and his wife want a little space to grow some veggies, maybe a dwarf fruit tree or two, an area large enough for a swing-set or climbing structure for the kids and a bed or two of dwarf conifers. He loves the idea of having a garden with year-round color that is as low maintenance as it is beautiful. As we were walking around my garden, I was inclined to show him some of my most recent acquisitions – some of which are really far too rare for a newbie to look for. As we took our stroll, I noticed that he was very interested in some of the conifers that I started with many, many years ago. Conifers with great characteristics and value to the garden, but because I’ve known them for so many years, I’ve almost snubbed them for their familiarity. Silly me.

Today I’ll present to you the first two of five classic conifers worthy of a home in any garden, whether you are a conifer newb or an old-timer like me. Next time, I’ll follow-up with the final three. These five classics should be easy to find at your local independent garden center and will make a very nice combination in a new conifer bed. These same five plants will also be a joy to grow in containers, on the deck or patio, for a number of years when small plants are purchased.

Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star'
Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star' is a premium dwarf conifer with tremendous blue color and a nice coarse texture.

My first selection really is a great dwarf conifer. Its blue foliage and low, rounded, spreading form is very useful near other colorful conifers, Japanese maples, spring bulbs, perennials – just about any companion plant. Unfortunately, this beautiful conifer has received a bad reputation, due in large part to its misuse in the landscape. Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’is one of the bluest and most readily available dwarf conifers you might find. Placed properly in the landscape, it can grow to a luscious full size adding unbeatable color and texture to the garden.

People are all too often enamored with this pretty little blue conifer and since it is labeled as a dwarf, they think it will make a great way to fill in the parking strip (that narrow space between the curb and sidewalk). At first, those little blue mounds look so good dressed up with a nice mulch of small river rock or bark. The bad news is that being small and low to the ground, they become prime targets for children on bicycles and the neighborhood dogs like to make them part of their regular routine. Then, once one dog marks the spot, they become targets for every dog in the neighborhood. Of course humans can be somewhat heartless as well when they pull up to the curb, open their door and step right out and onto the young plant trying to survive all this abuse. Before long the homeowner – and everyone in the neighborhood – detests the innocent plant that has had nothing but a life of abuse as it turns from its lively blue to shades of yellow and brown. ‘Blue Star’ is much more suited for a prime location near the front door mixed with an assortment of other colorful plants. There, it will thrive in a less disturbed environment, providing years and years of color and texture.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Lutea'
Its golden yellow color and tidy, compact habit make Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Lutea' one of my very favorite classic conifers.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’ is one of the first golden dwarf conifers I met back in my youth while working for an old landscaper in the big city. This delightful dwarf conifer has soft sprays of brightly colored, golden yellow foliage. A young plant will add tremendous color to the mixed container or the garden bed. Growing just a few inches per year, ‘Nana Lutea’ will form a compact pyramidal shape and slowly grow from several inches tall in a one gallon container to nearly five feet tall and four feet broad at its base in about twenty more years. Placed near a ‘Blue Star’, their colors contrast beautifully in the garden and can make a wonderful foundation for other dwarf or miniature conifers  and other colorful companions.

I hope you’ll try these  two colorful beauties in your garden. They should be easy to find and easy on the budget as well. Keep in mind that dwarf conifers can live for many years in the garden and will slowly continue to gain size, a few inches per year, for their lifetime.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

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Federal coneheads

“Hey Ed! Did you see that one of the largest and most popular branches of the federal government have become coneheads?”

“Pardon me?”

“Yeah Ed, apparently the United States government has gone conehead!” laughed my friend. “You’ve got to check out their website.”

The conversation continued like this for a little while before I was able to get my friend to tell me exactly what he was talking about. As it turns out (and maybe many of you are already aware of this) one of the new Holiday designs for the United States Postal Service this year is a collection of four artist’s renderings featuring conifers.

I checked out the USPS website and found that they have holiday conifer stamps and other products available. The stamps feature nicely drawn details of the foliage and cones (or in the case of the Juniper, its berry-like structures). They also have very nicely produced postcards prestamped and with information about each conifer. I was very excited and impressed when I saw what they had to offer.

My wife and I were just talking a few days ago about our need to purchase more stamps for our holiday greeting cards this year. I hope she sees these great conifer stamps. Since they are Forever stamps, I think we should stock up now – then we’ll have plenty of conifer themed stamps to last us a very long time.

Check out the link above and you’ll find four conifers featured in the set including; Abies balsamea (Balsam Fir), Juniperus virginiana (Eastern Red Cedar), Picea pungens (Colorado Spruce) and Pinus ponderosa (Ponderosa Pine).

Happy Holidays!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Waves of joy

This current surge of cold weather, and its resulting effect on my aching joints, has reminded me how important thick, dense groundcovers are in the garden. I’m aching just thinking about what a huge chore I would have to face every spring and summer if I didn’t utilize some of the all-natural, year-round, hardy and beautiful ground covering qualities of many exciting conifers. I have enough bare space in my garden that weeds still do manage to pose a challenge to me – but there is less of it every year, due in some part to my groundcovers.

When some folks think, coniferous groundcovers, they may envision low growing carpets of Juniper or Taxus – which are fine examples and can be very effective. Other great plants to cover your ground and ornament your space may include any of a great number of weeping conifers from, Pine and Spruce to Hemlocks and firs.

Pinus densiflora 'Pendula'
Like a waterfall, the foliage of Pinus densiflora ‘Pendula’ spills and flows over the ground creating a dense covering to help the fight against weeds.

Some great spreading and ground-covering conifers will, in and of themselves, make fantastic individual specimens, while happily covering bare ground and making less space available for weed seeds to germinate. Others may be much more subtle as they nonchalantly creep and crawl, filling in empty spaces, drape themselves over walls or around rocks, and generally provide a nice low addition of color and texture to the year-round interest of the conifer garden, all while reducing the gardener’s workload.

For example, one great choice is Pinus densiflora ‘Pendula’(Weeping Japanese Red Pine). This delicious bright green pine has long thin needles adorning reddish brown twigs and deeply textured mature bark. If allowed to simply grow naturally, it would build wave upon wave of undulating foliage that mounds and spreads covering as much space as the garden will allow. Most likely found in the independent garden center grafted at a couple feet off the ground or trained on a stake to three or more feet tall, ‘Pendula’ will quickly turn and begin it’s waterfall-like decent to the ground where it will spill and splash and fill in empty space with its lush foliar display. Staked to six or eight feet (or taller) the effect can be absolutely stunning. Keep in mind that the taller the plant is staked, the longer it will take many of the branches to reach the ground and begin to do their job.

Other great choices of ground covering conifers include:
Cedrus deodara ‘Prostrate Beauty’
Cepahalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’
Juniperus communis ‘Corielagan’
Juniperus conferta ‘Silver Mist’
Juniperus horizontalis ‘Golden Carpet’
Picea abies ‘Pendula’
Picea pungens ‘Procumbens’
Pinus strobus ‘Stony Brook’
Pinus sylvestris ‘Albyn Prostrata’
Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula’

Ed-
Conifer Lover

The garden room

One great advantage of a conifer garden, should one have a desire for privacy, is that you can create very nice garden rooms where the neighbors can’t find you. The disadvantage is that if you’ve fallen asleep while sunbathing, your snoring may give away your location – to the parcel delivery man.

I’ve actually created a few little garden rooms. The one we use the most frequently partially encloses the patio just off the back of the house. I’ve planted a combination of a few slender upright conifers, mixed in a couple mid-sized, broadly conical forms, added a small Japanese maple and filled with lower, spreading forms that all work together to make a very nice colorful border to enclose the patio.

Picea abies 'Frohburg'

With the recent arrival of very hot weather, I thought it would be fun to relive the old days and lay out in the sun for a little while. Dressed in my shorts, flip-flops, hat and mp3 player, I dragged my favorite reclining lawn chair into position in my “secure” garden room. Full quart of iced tea at my side, I was ready to enter that state of meditation I achieve when lying in the hot sun. Some people call it a nap, but I wouldn’t dare fall asleep in this kind of hot sun, would I?

After watching the humming birds chase one another in a contest of territorial dominance, I closed my eyes and covered my face with my hat. Then, in what seemed like mere moments later, I began to hear someone speaking in some strange dialect.

Juniperus communis 'Gold Cone'
Juniperus communis 'Gold Cone' is another great narrow upright conifer for use as a colorful specimen or as part of a screen for your garden room.

“Sir? Excuse me…? Uhhhmm… Sir?”

My mind slowly beginning to drift back to reality, perspiration dripping from all exposed skin, I wondered what strange lyrics these were to the music I was listening to.

“Excuse me, uhhhhmmmm, Sir – the note on the front door said I should bring this around back to you.”

“What?” I mumbled with the kind of snort and growl that accompanies the tail end of a deep snore. My wife must have gone somewhere.

“I’m sorry sir, did I wake you? – It’s just that…”

“No, I’m not asleep… I… What time is it? Who are you?”

“UPS, sir, the sign on the front door said I needed to bring this around to you….”

You get the idea. I was thankful I had decided not to fully return to the days of my youth and retained some sense of decency in what I thought was my “secure” space.

As a word of advice, no matter how private a space you may think you have created with the nearly endless selections of colorful conifers available today, you never know when you may need to accept a parcel delivery – or when the Google Earth satellites may be photographing your area from high overhead.

Ed-
Conifer lover

Variegated conifers are cool!

My wife and I have varying tastes in garden plants. She grew up enjoying annual flowers, bulbs, perennials and flowering shrubs. I, of course, prefer conifers. One thing that we both definitely agree on is our love of variegated plants. I even tolerate a few plants that I otherwise would have no interest in if their foliage were not variegated.

Generally, variegation refers to variety or variation of color. One great example of a common plant seen in gardens and as houseplants almost anywhere is Coleus. Who doesn’t love the brightly multi-colored leaves of the Coleus plant? Another of our favorites is Hosta. Many Hosta have large leaves that appear to have been brushed with two or three colors of watercolor paints. Happily, some of the coolest conifers also have variegated foliage.

Sometimes conifers will push their new spring growth of one color, like red or yellow, and then mature to their “normal” color of green or blue. Others will push their new growth a bright golden yellow and as the older foliage becomes shaded by the new, it can darken to green giving the overall plant a variegated appearance. Still others will have green or bluish needles on one side and appear silver or white on the underside due to a waxy coating, again giving the plant a variegated appearance. Beautiful as all these things are, this is not the variegation of which I am referring today.

Juniperus chinensis 'Torulosa Variegata'
Juniperus chinensis 'Torulosa Variegata'

Today I will share with you some of the most striking variegated conifers whose foliage is multi-colored due to interesting patterns of pigment (or perhaps more accurately, lack of pigment). First on the list is a fairly slow growing small tree, Juniperus chinenesis ‘Torulosa Variegata’ or the Variegated Hollywood Juniper. You might think of this as an irregularly shaped upright green conifer with splashes of yellow all over the foliage. Sometimes entire twigs of new growth will be yellow, other branches will have a mix of yellow and green in varying quantities giving the whole tree a very unique appeal.

Pinus parviflora 'Ogon janome'
Pinus parviflora 'Ogon janome'

Another great example of yellow variegation in a conifer is Pinus parviflora ‘Ogon janome’ with its bands of buttery yellow variegation on its green needles. From a distance, the variegation is difficult to discern. One may perceive that this Japanese White Pine is a little more yellow than other nearby plants in the garden. Closer inspection will reveal a wonderful variegation on each and every needle providing this striking effect.

Tsuga canadensis 'Albospica'
Tsuga canadensis 'Albospica'

In most gardens, the two previous trees will perform their best in full sun, although ‘Ogon janome’ may enjoy light shade in the afternoon to protect it from the intense summer sun. The final conifer on today’s list is actually quite tolerant of shade. Tsuga canadensis ‘Albospica’ loves moist, rich, well drained soil and thrives in filtered sun to bright shade. Its new foliage will emerge nearly pure white with some tell-tale signs of green showing. As the foliage ages, its chlorophyll production will kick in and eventually become dark green. The contrast between the white new growth and the dark green mature foliage is absolutely stunning. ‘Albospica’ can become quite a large and open grower, so I like to keep mine pruned which encourages a fuller habit and more of the white new foliage to brighten its home on the north side of my house. I’ve seen a low hedge of ‘Albospica’ that has been regularly sheared and kept to a height of about four feet for many years.

Tsuga canadensis 'Albospica' - cone
Even the cones of 'Albospica' are variegated - that's cool!

These are just a very few of the many selections of conifers available with variegated foliage. I believe that no matter where you live, you will be able to find at least one variegated conifer that will thrive in your area. Keep an eye out for them the next time you visit your favorite independent garden center.

Ed-
Conifer Lover