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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Creeping Creepers

I love autumn. After the very long, dry and warm spring and summer of 2018, I am very thankful and encouraged by the recent transition to our cooler, misty, gray days and intermittent rain showers. We may only receive a week or two of relief from the dry weather. While the local weather soothsayer ensures that our autumn will return to dry and sunny conditions, this native born Oregonian is enjoying the cool, gray mist and the ground-soaking rain showers that we have received the past several days.

Pinus banksiana 'Schoodic'
Pinus banksiana ‘Schoodic’

Certainly one of my favorite aspects of the autumn season is all the delightful colors that our gardens and native trees begin to exhibit. Not far from my home, the local community college planted a long row of deciduous trees that explode into a widely varying array of bright red, yellow, burgundy, purple and orange. I believe the trees must have been a horticultural school experiment and we are now enjoying this delightful array of color from a batch of American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) seedlings propagated 30 to 40 years ago. The resulting seedlings were planted along one of the main – once rural – hi-ways, moving traffic North and South through this, now, growing urban setting.

Pinus sylvestris 'Albyn Prostrata'
Pinus sylvestris ‘Albyn Prostrata’

Along with the inevitable change of season and its invigorating color-show, comes the season of spooks and creepy stories of ghosts and ghouls and the downright fun of Halloween with children dressed in their favorite spooky costumes. It won’t be long and we will see scores of creeping creepers in the neighborhood, laughing their way from door to door as participating folks greet the kids with handfuls of delectable Treats to ward off the chance of some unfortunate Trick being played on them.

Pinus sylvestris 'Hillside Creeper'
Pinus sylvestris ‘Hillside Creeper’

Some of my favorite conifers just happen to be creeping creepers themselves.

A few very rugged and hardy creepers for the garden include the pines: Pinus banksiana ‘Schoodic’, Pinus sylvestris ‘Albyn Prostrata’ and Pinus sylvestris ‘Hillside Creeper’. These pines are hardy to Zones 2, 3 and 4 respectively and vary in color from rich green to shades of bluish-green. All three of these creeping selections are vigorous growers while being easy to maintain in a small garden space if needed. Growing low to the ground, they will each, very slowly, begin to mound in layers upon themselves, slowly gaining in height. Each will spread in the garden, flowing around rocks, garden ornaments or other plants with only the occasional pruning needed to help guide them on their way. If the gardener desires increased height, each of these selections respond well to being raised a foot or two (or three) upon a bamboo stake and then allowed to continue on their way. The creative gardener may choose to create waves with their creeping conifers for increased interest.

Other choice selections for adding hardy and colorful, ground-covering waves of creeping fun in the garden are:

Of course, I could add a bounty of creeping Junipers to this list, but I think those might be best reserved to a future post. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the creepy creepers creeping their way through your neighborhood in the near future and for those special colorful creepers at your local independent garden centers!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Slow and steady as she goes

This summer has been one of the most consistently wonderful weather-wise in my memory. I do have faint memories of when I was a young fella, swimming almost daily in our neighbor’s pool from at least early July through the Labor Day weekend – and that was way back in the early 1960s. I didn’t care much for the cold water of an unheated pool, so at least one summer, way back when, must have been similar to this year with day after day of sunny and warm weather.

Summer-Garden-82016_5008
Even a small garden space has room for a path through beds filled with dwarf conifers and other exciting plants.

Our spring began on time this year and we have enjoyed bumper crops in our raised bed vegetable garden. I’ll even be harvesting a water melon soon (which is very rare in this area – at least for me)! With great crops of peas, beans, cucumbers, lettuce, basil and tomatoes, we have enjoyed heart-healthy eating all summer.

Our deck is alive with over 30 dwarf conifer and flower-filled containers. These warm summer evenings have been enjoyed snuggled with my beloved wife as we have listened to frogs, crickets and the occasional coyote serenade the otherwise quiet evenings, gazing at the stars or reading our books.

Summer-Garden-82016_6057
A beautiful way to fill a corner with tons of color and excitement!

New construction of the larger garden has been very slow this season and I have achieved far less than I had hoped early on. But, life happens and I have found it to be much less stressful to go with the flow of what life presents to you rather than insist on being the one in control. Steadily working through the challenges as they arise, we have made some strides in achieving our garden transforming goals. Not rushing into some of my landscape projects has allowed me to get to know the property a little more and I have made adjustments to my original plans.

Summer-Garden-82016_5588
Wouldn’t this be a great view right off your back patio or deck? Who needs lawn grass? It’s just something you have to mow and water all summer long!

In the meantime, we have enjoyed visiting other gardens and absorbed all kinds of ideas and inspiration to apply to our new garden space. Please enjoy these inspirational photos from the display gardens at Iseli Nursery!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Not your mama’s hedgerow

Over my years of gardening, I have been inspired by all different kinds of tremendous garden designs. Many have had a lasting impact on me, while others have faded away like so many memories do over time. I love large garden spaces that present the opportunity to create smaller, more intimate garden rooms to enjoy while strolling through the garden or when available, being able to stop and dwell in a “private” space which is enclosed by all kinds of plants. I try to keep mental notes of those inspirational settings so that I can draw from them to implement similar concepts in the gardens I design.

Picea-abies-Pendula-screen
Picea abies ‘Pendula’ may be easily trained to provide an excellent, low-maintenance screen.

When we arrived at our little lot, the 30 year-old fence showed signs of haphazard repair, barely helping the fence to stand and with the first big windstorm, down came sections that had not yet been patched together. Fortunately, we were prepared and had already scheduled the old, rotting fence to be removed and an nice chain-link fence to be put in its place. Of course we lost any privacy the old fence provided, but my strategy is to utilize a number of great conifers (and other exciting plants) to create natural screening that will grow and eventually offer complete privacy to our back-yard space.

Picea-pungens-The-Blues
Picea pungens ‘The Blues’ is pliable when young and can be trained for height, breadth or however you might desire.

To achieve this goal, I have an overall strategy that will utilize a number of different selections, planted in layers, beginning near the fence and then working inward toward areas that will feature smaller, more ornamental plants, vegetables and herbs. I have already planned the placement of “rooms” that will be considered more private than others and will require planting combinations that will fill in quickly to provide the desired screening effect as soon as possible.

My first strategy is to plant an initial layer that will block eye-level views into our garden from the adjacent city park. My desire is that this outer layer will be as low-maintenance as possible. I have no desire to spend the final years of my life shearing large hedges to contain them and keep them looking tidy. I’ll be using a combination of groups of weeping conifers for this Fence Layer of the screen.

Thuja-occidentalis-Jantar
The super bright color of Thuja occidentalis ‘Jantar’ can brighten most any space.

Picea abies ‘Pendula’ can be commonly found in many garden centers around the USA. What I love about using this selection as a screen is that it has a perfect curtain-like effect. Similar to the example photo above from the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden, I’ll be staking my plants to a height of about seven feet, along my five foot chain-link fence. As the trees grow, I’ll spread side branches along the top of the fence and their lateral branches will fall and eventually cover the fence from tree to tree. I will also take side branches at about the six foot mark and train them loosely from tree to tree for a softly sweeping effect. At the top, once I no longer train the central leader up the stake, it will simply flop over creating a rounded top. Planting several of these in a line along the fence will create a very attractive, first level of screening.

Tsuga-heterophylla-Thorsens-Weeping
A finer textured option for garden screening, Tsuga heterophylla ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’ may be trained along fence or even to cover a gazebo to provide privacy and shade.

I don’t intend to simply plant a row of Weeping Norway spruce along the entire length of my fence – that would be terribly monotonous. My plan is to use the same technique with conifers of different colors or textures depending on what “room” of the garden they are screening. In a more shaded area, I’ll use the shade tolerant, Tsuga heterophylla ‘Thorsen’s Weeping’ with very much the same technique of training. To brighten a smaller space, I may use Picea pungens ‘The Blues’, which has a very similar growth habit but its bright silvery, powder blue color will reflect light. To really brighten a space, a hedge of Thuja occidentalis ‘Jantar’PP#22296 could be used. I may plant a row along the north side of my vegetable garden to reflect more light into the space for those sun-loving plants.

Remember, the weeping plants I’ve mentioned today are just the first layer of screening that I will be using in my new garden. I’ll also consider mixing a row of a combination of these plants (or others) for a beautiful non-conventional screen. Imagine the color of ‘Jantar’ placed between a pair of ‘The Blues’ and continuing that effect for 30 feet or more. Stay tuned to learn more of my strategy to screen my garden for privacy – and for fun!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

What day is this?

What day is this—Thursday, June 2nd—how is this possible? This has been one of those years that has seemed to fly by at some kind of unnaturally fast pace. It has been one of the most pleasant springs, weather-wise, in my memory. We have had a perfect balance of sunny, dry, nice days and days fill with soaking rains so that the garden I planted weeks ago is growing happily. I also re-potted several of my small, grafted plants and they now have a prominent place filling the deck. All these plants – from dwarf conifers to herbs and veggies to flowers – have brought life to the otherwise plain and empty deck. With this nice weather we are finding the deck a very pleasant place to spend the evenings with our favorite books.

Even with all the great weather, I have made very little progress breaking new ground in the garden transformation. I do have some areas delineated for new beds and the larger veggie garden, but keeping up with life’s routines has prevented me from getting some bigger chores done.

Acer shirasawanum Autumn Moon_3619
Looking more like October than June, the fresh, new, spring foliage of ‘Autumn Moon’ might fool you into double-checking your calendar.

I have had time to dream about new plants for the garden and in a recent visit to the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden, I found another tree that I simply must make room for.

Who doesn’t love autumn foliage color? Autumn is possibly my favorite season (right after spring and summer) and I certainly intend to plant the new garden with opportunities for great color during that season! But why wait for great color?

Acer shirasawanum ‘Autumn Moon’ begins the spring season with a spectacular flush of autumn color that persists all through the summer and until leaf drop sometime in November! This tidy tree is perfect for the smaller garden and is a gem in a container on the patio or deck. I think this one might be just the right size to fit in my smaller front yard where it can tease the neighbors with its special color for seven or eight months every year.

I hope to get my mind back on my larger garden project at hand as well as return to more regular blogging in the weeks and months to come. Last time I promised to talk about different screening plants and that will have to wait until next time…

Ed-
Conifer Lover