The finer details

This past Labor Day holiday weekend, my wife and I enjoyed visiting one of our favorite independent garden centers across town. Although our goal for the day was to find a few new house plants, we had a tremendous time strolling through the entire nursery, and I found some fantastic miniature and dwarf conifers to include in this segment of my ongoing series of Thriller, Filler and Spiller garden design.

As you know, over the past several posts I have been discussing my plans to create a great new garden space with a colorful assortment of conifers and other exciting garden plants. I began with a specific Thriller in mind and have been imagining what other plants I will use  to fill space around it.

Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’ is a fantastic little “mini-thriller” that can be used with other minis to fill smaller garden spaces.

Be sure to check out those past posts if you have not been following along. Today, I’ll be talking about some of my favorite slower growing dwarf and miniature conifers for filling in more detailed smaller spaces.

Once I have the larger plants in place, I like to get down and dirty as I create small, intimate spaces, filling in with very slow growing plants and other details like interesting rocks or other garden ornaments such as bird baths, etc. I am talking about plants today whose annual growth will be limited to less than an inch or two per year in my Pacific Northwest climate. I love these plants because they have so many great features. My favorites offer slow growth, interesting texture, unique form, great color and sturdy performance.

An all-time favorite, and perhaps one of the larger selections on today’s list is Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom’, which I chose because of its reliable, light blue color and slow growth. Rated at USDA Zone 2, it is far more winter hardy than I require in my climate, but with well-drained soil and a sunny location, it will perform very well and provide a solid blue color statement on a small scale in the garden.

Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom’ is a great choice for bringing year-round bright blue color to smaller garden spaces.

For a good dark green and unique texture, I’ll include Picea abies ‘Mikulasovice’. This dark green, mounding plant displays needles of a longer length than one might imagine on such a small, slow growing plant empowering it to add a unique texture to the garden. Another good, dark green plant is so slow growing, it might be confused with being a moss covered rock, in fact that is what inspired its name of Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Greenstone’. The tiny, fine textured foliage covers this small, rounded mound which is perfect in miniature container gardens as well as a small detail in the larger garden as I am including today.

Picea abies ‘Mikulasovice’ is a very slow grower with lots of character.

Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’ is a delightful golden yellow miniature conifer with tiny needles covering the small branches which form this slowly spreading, mounding plant. Speaking of bright yellow, I will have to include a Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Butter Ball’ to this list with its soft textured, lovely golden yellow foliage and slowly mounding and eventual broadly conical habit.

Bright yellow color and fine-textured foliage make the miniature Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Butter Ball’ a brilliant choice!

I find with all of the above broadly mounding, and spreading forms I will need to include a few more upright and narrow forms to break up the monotony and add more visual interest to the smaller details of this garden space. One of the first to come to mind is a very fine textured, narrow, compact form of the Dwarf Alberta Spruce called Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’® This rich, grass-green plant grows very slowly into a narrow, cone shape and will remain in perfect scale with the other miniatures on today’s list. Of course I must include one of my very favorite plants, Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’ at this time since it fits the specifications perfectly and adds a bright twinkle of color.

This list could go on and on, depending on how much space I end up with. Next time I will finalize this series with a list of some favorite Spillers which will spill along the ground, filling in and covering open space with year round color!


Conifer Lover


Return to the pond

It’s been a few weeks, but I am finally ready to share with you my selections for my young friend’s garden pond. You might remember that my friends had recently purchased a home that was built in 1999 and landscaped primarily with very large, fast growing forest trees. Since that time, my young and energetic friend has cleared much of his backyard of the unwanted trees and shrubs, dug out stumps, collected rocks to build a new waterfall for the pond, plus completed an assortment of other chores in the garden and their new home all while continuing his medical school studies and working at his job. (Ahhh… the days of youthful energy.)

Tsuga canadensis 'Cole's Prostrate'
Tsuga canadensis 'Cole's Prostrate' is a versatile conifer that can be staked and shaped or simply allowed to crawl and fall over and around rocks or other garden plants.

The pond itself is approximately fifteen feet long by eight or nine feet wide at its widest point and has the typical kidney shape of small garden ponds. To the side of one end, is where the water cycles into the pond and where we will build a new, small waterfall. Surrounding the pond is a nice selection of flat stones. Overall, we’ll be planting in a space of approximately 25′ by 20′ minus the area taken up by the pond.

The water fall with be small, perhaps just two to three feet tall and three to four feet wide at its base. It will be a fairly simple tier of flat stones to drop the water from one to the other providing visual and audio interest. Since it will not be large enough to plant much amongst its rockwork, we’ll plant a nice Tsuga canadensis ‘Cole’s Prostrate’ on the back side of the waterfall. Over the next few years, my friend will stake the growth to attain some height and eventually, the weeping branches will spill over much of the outer face of the waterfall rocks, softening their harshness while growing into a soft green mound.

Currently, the pond is partially surrounded by a few ornamental grasses which look very nice in this setting. We’ll plant a few dwarf and miniature conifers to add some color and year-round interest. Along one side of the pond is a rock path to allow close access to the pond so that the fish may be observed. The path leads from a very nice, covered patio complete with a small fireplace. between the pathway and the house, we’ll build a small mounded space, utilizing some rocks that will tie in with the pond, and then we’ll plant with a few more dwarf and miniature conifers.

Here is the list of dwarf and miniature conifers that we have selected to include in this pond project:

Name Growth Zone
Abies balsamea ‘Piccolo’ Dwarf


Abies koreana ‘Cis’ Dwarf


Abies koreana ‘Silberperle’ Miniature


Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Butter Ball’ Dwarf


Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Ellie B.’ Miniature


Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Golden Fern’ Dwarf


Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Just Dandy’ Dwarf


Chamaecyparis thyoides ‘Top Point’ dwarf


Cryptomeria japonica ‘Tensan’ Miniature


Juniperus communis ‘Corielagen’ Intermediate


Juniperus horizontalis ‘Golden Carpet’ Intermediate


Picea abies ‘Thumbelina’ Miniature


Picea glauca ‘Humpty Dumpty’ Dwarf


Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’ Miniature


Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’ Miniature


Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom’ Dwarf


Tsuga canadensis ‘Betty Rose’ Miniature


Tsuga canadensis ‘Cole’s Prostrate’ Dwarf


Until next time,

Conifer Lover

Spring makes a morning visit

The day began like any other with the cat deciding my chest required kneading before 5:00 AM. Once he was convinced that neither my wife nor I had passed away overnight, he snuggled in close while I lay awake far earlier than I had planned. Just as I began to drift back to sleep, my alarm – always eager to satisfy its working expectations – began to play Pietro Nardini’s Violin Concerto in G (which I must admit is a rather pleasant way to be coaxed into beginning the day).

The cat, realizing that breakfast was about to be served, jumped off of the bed just as I was beginning my less than fully awakened walk toward the kitchen to get the tea kettle going and in his usual manner managed to run directly under my left foot which caused him to howl, me to stumble and my wife to shout a near-sleeping command to “settle down out there you two!”

Once the cat was fed and my tea sufficiently steeped – that first sip bringing a hint a jasmine and peach to my senses – I opened the curtains to discover that it had stopped raining! Not only that, but I could see a hint of blue color mottled in amongst the varying shades of white and gray that were the pallet of the morning sky. Excitement growing, I grabbed my robe and teacup and quickly slipped into my rubber garden boots, making my way out into the garden.

Larix decidua 'Pendula'
Remnants of the previous night's rain collect as shimmering pearls of water on the fresh spring-green foliage of Larix decidua 'Pendula'.

It was an amazing morning. The sky quickly began to brighten causing the lightest gray clouds to become white with more and more blue color beginning to show through. The air smelled fresh and the birds were singing with great enthusiasm as a small flock of Canadian Geese squawked in their overhead flight. The ground was completely saturated and all the plants in the garden were dripping with beads of water that sparkled in the light of the sun just beginning to show itself through a small hole in the clouds.

The brisk morning air was making it clear that my robe was not quite enough protection to ward off a small chill that wisped up, but I was determined not to miss this beautiful morning stroll – after all, with all the recent rain, and my busy schedule last week, this was the first opportunity I had to give my garden a brief inspection to see if spring were truly upon us. Last week I had noticed that buds on my Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’ were noticeably swelling giving them an almost iridescent glow. As I briskly walked my garden paths, I noticed tiny bright red pollen cones beginning to develop on my Abies koreana ‘Blauer Pfiff’ and my Larix decidua ‘Pendula’ had definitely pushed the very beginnings of its new, fresh spring-green growth. I also discovered that my Picea glauca ‘Pixie’ was at least as developed as the ‘Pixie Dust’ with its tiny, swollen, pearl-shaped buds glowing in anticipation of slightly warmer temperatures which would encourage them to pop. I was surprised to see that even a few cultivars of Pine were ever-so-slightly beginning to extend their candles in their spring ritual of new life.

By now the sun was most assuredly up, my legs were definitely cold, and I was ready for another cup of tea. I hope that you are also beginning to see some signs of life in your gardens. Until next time – happy gardening!

Conifer Lover

A tale of twelve Norwegians

Thirty years ago when I was a young fella with boundless energy, I planted my own first real conifer garden. Prior to that, I was on a piece of property that was so large, and I was so busy with work and life and home repair/re-modeling projects that I just didn’t have much time for gardening. Well, at that time I was more of an organic vegetable gardener. We had a huge garden filled with enough vegatables for us and our city-dwelling friends. Then we experienced some of life’s changes and we moved to a city lot. Much smaller, more manageable and the back yard was a clean canvas of a weedy lawn.

Picea abies 'Pendula'
Picea abies 'Pendula' can be trained to any height and/or allowed to mound and sprawl, covering the ground in hardy green waves.

I had almost forgotten, but back in those days I was a huge fan of the dwarf and miniature cultivars of Picea abies (Norway spruce). Honestly, I don’t think I’ve become less of a fan over the years, I’ve just added many more plants to my list of favorites. One of the main areas I created back then had a combination of 12 different cultivars with varying size, shape, and textural characteristics. I had drawn out a traditional overhead-view design of the garden with both the planted sizes and my projected 20 years sizes. Then I also sketched out more of an eye-level view to give me more of a real-world perspective. I mention all this because I still think that plant selection was great for any beginning conifer gardener. They are easy to grow and extremely hardy and adaptable into a great many climatic conditions.

What I like about the cultivars that I chose for this project was that they all have distinctive shapes as they grow and mature creating a multi-leveled, three dimensional, sculptural bed of varying shades of green. This menagerie of shape and texture would become the year-round foundation to the garden bed which also included my first experimentation with assorted perennial flowers and some broadleaved shrubs. Over the nine years that we lived at that place, I did fill in with other conifer acquisitions and everything grew together nicely. As we sold the place and moved on, the landscape was beginning to have the “feel” I was seeking in my original plan by screening the garden shed and the neighbors directly behind us. I can only image how nice it must be now. If I were to do the project all over again, I would include more dwarf and miniature cultivars in an assortment of genera which would widen my pallet of color and texture – essentially taking the place of all those bothersome short-season perennials.

Picea abies 'Witches Brood'
Picea abies 'Witches Brood' is a cheery sight with its covering of bright green new foliage each spring.

Here is the list of those original conifers. These should be relatively easy to find (or special order) at your local independent garden center and will be great selections to anchor any new garden plan. Fill in spaces with whatever your heart desires from companion small trees, shrubs and flowers to herbs and vegetables. As the seasons change, your garden will have the stability and beauty of year-round color, texture and an assortment of shapes from tall columns to broad pyramids, varying sizes of rounded, mounding forms and undulating waves of weeping groundcover. Have fun!

Picea abies ‘Clanbrassiliana Stricta’
Picea abies ‘Cupressina’
Picea abies ‘Elegans’
Picea abies ‘Gregoriana Parsonsii’
Picea abies ‘Little Gem’
Picea abies ‘Mucronata’
Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’
Picea abies ‘Pendula’
Picea abies ‘Pumila’
Picea abies ‘Sherwood Compact’
Picea abies ‘Thumbelina’
Picea abies ‘Witches Brood’

Conifer Lover

My coniferous valentine

My wife really knows how to tickle my love button on Valentine’s day. She announced this morning over breakfast that my special gift this year would be going to the Portland Yard, Garden and Patio show on opening day!

Oh baby!

It’s been a few years since I’ve been to a garden show so this is a real treat. I really do love going to these winter garden shows. We’re expecting a long week of cold, dark gray rain, so spending a day wandering around the great landscape displays and garden ideas, pots, books and all those wonderful plants will be a special delight. I can almost smell the flowers and hear the water features just thinking about it.

Just to make sure that the show will be complete, I called one of my friends active in the local chapter of  the American Conifer Society to confirm that they will be there. Sure enough! Not only will they be there, but they will have on hand, for sale, hundreds of conifers in those cute little 4″ pots. I tried to get him to tell me exactly what they would have available, but he steadfastly held his tongue.

Dwarf and miniature conifers
Dwarf and miniature conifers combined with other amazing companions make a beautiful garden scene.

“C’mon, you can tell me… I can keep a secret.” I assured him.

“Nope, I’m not going to spill the beans! You just need to get down there early and see for yourself.”

“Hey we’ll be there when they open the doors on Friday – just give me a hint, will ya?”

“Well… we’ve got some Fanciful Gardens packages coming in.”

“Ok, that’s a start. Can you be a little more specific?”

“Oh, all right, I think we’ll have some of the Garden Gems, Miniatures, Railway, and Fairy Garden packages. Satisfied?”

Yes. That is very satisfying news and I think it will make our special Valentine’s Day adventure even more exciting. It’s a good thing that we are planning to arrive early – I expect that these little guys will sell quickly. This is a great way to buy a few great little conifers while benefiting the American Conifer Society at the same time. Maybe I can find a good deal on a couple high quality containers too – I wonder if my local Pot Lady will be there?

I don’t know if there are any garden shows coming up where you live, but if so, with all the cold weather and snow in much of the country, I hope you have a chance to get an early glimpse of spring in your area. Maybe your local American Conifer Society chapter will be available with special treats for you too!

I hope I’ll see you there.

Conifer Lover

I struck gold!

Can you believe that Thanksgiving is just a week away? It’s nearing the end of November, and there is so much to do in my garden before winter really does set in. The leaves are very nearly all off of my trees and spread all over my driveway and in and around my garden. Then the pouring rain made sure to pound the leaves into clumps and mats on my smaller conifers – in some cases completely burying them in wet leaves. Thankfully today, though dark gray with clouds, is dryer than yesterday so I should be able to uncover my little treasures setting them free to breathe again.

 All it takes is a little time, energy and finesse to delicately remove the offending fallen leaves in such a way as not to break any little branches on my miniature conifers. I can usually pull the leaves off of my larger plants or even give them a brisk shake to set them free from the invading maple, birch, dogwood or other leaves that just days ago were providing a wondrous display of color. By next spring these leaves will be well on their way to becoming compost to spread in the garden next summer.

Juniperus horizontalis 'Gold Strike'
You can strike gold too with this hardy, colorful, groundcovering conifer.

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Gold Strike’ is one of my newer conifer additions this year. Like its parent, ‘Mother Lode,’ ‘Gold Strike’ is an absolutely striking, bright golden yellow color. This time of year I need all the bright sunny color I can get, and ‘Gold Strike’ is one of the best yellow groundcovers you will find for the garden. Pulling away the fallen leaves from this plant was like opening the draperies on a sunny summer morning – its bright golden tones warmed me right up. It won’t be too much longer though, and ‘Gold Strike’ will begin to change into its winter colors of pinkish plum, orange and gold.

 One of the beauties of conifers is their year-round appeal – the fact that they provide color and structure and texture in the garden all year long with very little fuss. I love my conifers. I hope you love yours too.

Conifer Lover

I’m craving a Cream Ball

Some people have personal trainers or personal bankers. Me, I’ve got a personal baker. All I have to do is call with a special request an in no time, I can have, in my possession, any of a number of delicious treats that would cause my personal health care specialist great alarm if she knew what I was eating. Sometimes I think my wife and my doctor are in a conspiracy to make my culinary life dull and tasteless. Fortunately, my personal baker has a very high ethical standard so I can trust that any of our transactions are kept on the strictest code of confidentiality.

My wife was beginning to become suspicious the other day when she walked in on a conversation I was having with my personal baker. Honest, I was innocently talking with her about a great conifer for her front garden called, ‘Cream Ball.’ With a name like that, you can understand my wife’s suspicion.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Cream Ball'
Great for the patio or deck in a container or featured in the garden, Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Cream Ball' is sure to add good taste to the garden.

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Cream Ball’ is a fantastic little conifer. This creamy colored little puff has very finely textured foliage that, depending on its environment, will have light green foliage tipped with light yellow or if grown in partial shade, it will appear more of a bluish-green with near white tips. Either way, this slow-growing Japanese False Cypress is a real delicacy for the garden, large or small.

‘Cream Ball’ is also a great choice for the container garden. When young, its slow growth rate and fine, brightly colored foliage will make a great accent when planted with other dwarf and miniature conifers and companions. As it gains some size, ‘Cream Ball’ will make a grand specimen on the deck or patio. Keeping it small is quite easy though, simply lightly shear the foliage in May or June with a good sharp set of grass shears. ‘Cream Ball’ looks great maintained in a ball shape, but since it sports fine textured foliage, it has potential to be used to create topiary for either garden or patio. ‘Cream Ball’ is great frozen too, rated at USDA Zone 4 hardiness, it can survive temperatures to -30°F.

Perhaps I can trade a nice ‘Cream Ball’ for some of my personal baker’s famous mini-cheesecakes. Then we both can benefit from growing this great little conifer.

Conifer Lover