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

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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.

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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.

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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

I have been bit hard

The Garden Bug has bit me early this year and I am very anxious and excited to get going on the new garden! I must admit, though, having to wait to begin breaking the soil and getting serious about working in my new garden is good… or bad, depending on one’s perspective. Although I do have some definite ideas and plans about how I will design my new garden spaces – both the strictly ornamental area and the productive, food producing area – the longer I wait to begin, the more opportunity I have to make changes. Which, as I said, can be good or bad.

“Hey Ed!” He greeted, “What do a dwarf and a miniature conifer have in common?”

From my perspective, allowing my imagination to flow is always a good thing, so changing my plan as new ideas form is quite fun. On the other hand, if I do not stick to a definite plan, I’ll never make any progress when I can finally break ground. One of the great things about the way I approach gardening is that nothing is forever. I can always move things around if I need to as the garden grows and matures. At this stage in my life, I think it would be best to have a good plan to begin with since I don’t have as many years in my future to make changes as I did 40, 30, 20, even 10 years ago. I am inclined to be more content with my garden layout so that I can spend my time enjoying the space rather than continually changing and re-working it.

Beautiful blue foliage of the perfectly symmetrical Fritsche Engelmann spruce make this tree worth waiting for.

So, although I do have some definite plans for the general layout of my new garden, I remain open to be flexible regarding many of the exact plants I will use in the design. For example, I took advantage of the amazingly spring-like weather in Boring, Oregon today and decided I would absorb some inspiration from my friends at Iseli Nursery by strolling through the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden. Thankfully, my long-time association with the folks there, I can pop in to get updates on what is new in the nursery trade.

As I arrived at the front desk to check in, I was stopped by one of the enthusiastic CSRs who happened to be walking by on his way to… well, wherever.

“Hey Ed!” He greeted, “What do a dwarf and a miniature conifer have in common?”

My eyes rolled up a bit as I began to think about some specific characteristics of common dwarf and miniature conifers. Growth rate was the first thing to come to mind, but also often times they may share smaller needles size and certainly more compact growth…

Not really wanting an answer he said, “Very little.” and continued on his way around the corner with his “hehehehe” fading the further he proceeded.

I thought for sure I heard the typical thump of a drum and cymbal crash (ba-dum, crash) often associated with comedic one-liners.

I smiled, and as I turned, there was Mr. Smith waiting for me.

“Hey Ed, follow me, I want to show you something.”

Out the door I followed my old friend and associate to the north-west section of the Memorial garden. We chatted as we strolled in the warm, late-winter sunshine and as we arrived at the destination of our little tour, standing before me was a beautiful blue spruce. I thought for a moment or two about this tree. I remembered it being much smaller (when this section of the garden was planted in 2008) and tried to think of how I had missed giving it much notice since that time.

The tree was gorgeous! I looked at my host and simply said, “Wow.”

“I know” he replied.

We both stood there for a minute or two and I finally mentioned how I hadn’t realized what a pretty form this new cultivar would mature into when it was first planted those eight years ago.

“Me too” he said with a big smile. “We don’t have a whole lot of these sold, or even available yet, but I think we need to let people know about this one!”

He assured me that there will be some plants landing in independent garden centers all across the country this spring, but it will be a few years before they have a large inventory. My thoughts went immediately to whether or not they might have one available to spare for an old friend of the nursery since this beautiful tree would fit perfectly into my new garden!

Picea engelmannii ‘Fritsche’ is a very lovely cultivar of the Engelmann Spruce. Its blue foliage rivals the color of many other Colorado Blue spruce selections. With its symmetrical, broad upright habit, its full, attractive form, great color and superb cold hardiness, it will be a winning choice for many areas of the USA and Europe.

I really love the way its lateral branchlets fall downward from the main branches creating a fully-clothed effect. I especially look forward to seeing the tree mature in the decades to come.

Now, how am I going to talk them out of a small one for my new garden?….

Ed-
Conifer Lover