A new garden and a new perspective

For those of you who have been following my gardening adventures for some time, you will be pleased to learn that I officially have a new bit of soil in which to dig my spade, enrich with compost and transform from rather dull to a garden full of life. This new place, although a fairly blank canvas to work with, is not without its challenges and its blessings!

Looking to the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden for inspiration in creating my own new garden space.

First of all, it is a much smaller plot to work with – the smallest I believe I have ever had the pleasure to be a caretaker. Being a small space is actually very good since as I age I am finding it is becoming more difficult to care for larger spaces, and even though my last place was only about an acre, it was becoming a challenge for me to maintain. Having a more contemporary sized city lot will be far easier to construct and maintain a new garden. Being adjacent to a city park and public green-space makes my small garden feel larger and I can utilize the neighboring open view as I plan my new garden space to make my small lot feel larger.

My back yard slopes away from the house toward the green-space and a large stand of native Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir) and Thuja plicata (western red cedar) and Acer circinatum (vine maple) so I have a wonderful background for my new space. Since I do love our native large trees, I will be planting a back corner with a few Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedar seedlings found growing in my dear auntie’s acreage. My uncle was so pleased that I wanted a few of the plants he had transplanted from their veggie garden space into pots a year ago. I am excited for these young trees to become established in a particularly challenging back corner which will help the transition from my garden to the surrounding, neighboring background native trees.

My overall goal is to reduce grassy lawn space and increase border beds with space for lots of dwarf conifers, Japanese maples and other exciting small trees and shrubs, perennials and herbs. I also need to install some raised beds for vegetables.

Possibly the biggest challenge will be the rock filled soil since this area is part of what was an ancient river bed. I have already dug a few bowling ball sized stones out of the way. I tend to see these rocks less as an annoyance and more as free landscape materials – to think, some people actually spend money to place these same kinds of stones into their gardens. I will be harvesting my own landscape ornaments while I make room for plants to stretch out their root systems.

As I begin clearing out brambles and other unwanted vines and weeds, I am beginning to imagine planting some of the very plants that I have been describing right here in the blog over the past several months. There is a lot of work ahead, and a lot of great exercise which will please my wife and health-care practitioners. Of course with the tremendous increase in calorie burning all this hard work will induce, I may also need to make a visit to my personal baker to ensure I have plenty of energy to burn.

Stay tuned, my gardening friends, more new gardening stories to come!

Ed
Conifer Lover

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This Gemstone is truly a treasure

There may be more individually named cultivars of the Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) than any other conifer. I have seen thousands of seedlings, and a multitude of mutations within this species over the years. Most of which were being evaluated for unique characteristics, resistance to pests, hardiness and overall aesthetics. Of course many other horticulturists have done the same over the years, and hundreds of cultivars have been named and distributed either through collectors or the commercial marketplace.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gemstone’ is a new, very slow growing, sculptural form of dwarf Hinoki Cypress. Its unique character makes the plant perfect for most gardens.

Back in the early 1980s, a group of very mature Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’ at Iseli Nursery produced a proliferation of viable seed. Thousands and thousands of seeds were planted, many of which germinated and the evaluation process began. The gene pool was vast that contributed to the pollination of the tiny cones that produced all of those seeds. Iseli Nursery had an extensive collection of mature cultivars which contributed to that pollination process. As a result, a very wide assortment of characteristics became visible rather quickly in the evaluation process. Some seedlings grew very quickly and appeared very much like the species, Chamaecyparis obtusa. Some were more vigorous, some less. The slower growing seedlings were given great consideration – as were those with unusual coloration or different foliage types. Eventually those plants that were considered to have the least chance of commercial appeal were culled and the remaining plants were planted in the ground, sorted by growth rate, foliage type and foliage color.

Many years went by with regular evaluation. Some of these seedlings began to show great promise. Extremely slow growth rates, unusually dark green foliage, bright yellow foliage, fine textured foliage, sculptural growth forms – whatever made an individual plant stand out from the crowd and appear different than other known cultivars already named, either in collections or being marketed. Some of those seedlings were then selected and the propagation process began, spanning 15 to 20 years in the process. Some of those exciting new plants have started to become available to garden consumers through independent garden centers over the past few years.

Perhaps you have seen, ‘Just Dandy’ or ‘Jane’s Jewel’. One of my very favorite plants ever just happens to have originated in that very same batch of seedlings, all those years ago. Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gemstone’ is truly a treasure.

‘Gemstone’ is a very slow growing Hinoki Cypress with a narrow, upright form. When young, it reminds me of a small, pointed wizard’s hat. As it matures, occasional side branches will develop adding aesthetic interest to the already pleasing, casual movement to its upward growing form. The largest plant I have seen is in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden and is pictured above. This specimen is one of the early propagations off of the original mother tree which is growing in an undisclosed, secret location.

I absolutely love this cute little dwarf conifer!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Something extraordinary

Back in the day—the late 1970s and through the mid-80s—Jean Iseli encouraged his employees to stay alert, no matter what nursery chore they may be involved in, and be on the watch for unusual mutations growing on the hundreds of thousands of conifers being grown at any given time. That is precisely how many plants, which have come into the marketplace over the past 25 years were discovered, by the watchful eyes of the workers. Well known examples are Juniperus horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’ which was observed as a single oddity growing among thousands of young J.h. ‘Wiltoni’ plants. Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’ was discovered as a sport growing on Picea glauca ‘Pixie’ while P.g. ‘Rainbow’s End’ and P.g. ‘Jean’s Dilly’ were both discovered as mutations growing on Picea glauca ‘Conica’.

Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’ is truly something extraordinary!

One of those plants, Picea glauca ‘Jean’s Dilly’ had been spotted as a witches’ broom growing on a small plant in a #1 container and, as was the tradition, was brought up to the sliding glass door just outside of Jean Iseli’s office. New discoveries were brought to this location for further observation where Jean could keep an eye on them and show them off to any visitor who showed an interest. This mutation had been brought to the observation deck and caught the attention of the chief propagator, Paul Halladin, who began to propagate the mutation because of its desirably unique characteristics. After the death of his brother, André Iseli wanted to name a great new plant after Jean. During its years of observation ‘Jean’s Dilly’ was proving itself to be an extraordinary new, improved form of the old Alberta. Being grown under the name of ‘Paul’s Dwarf’ for the first years of its propagation, it was decided that the name would be changed to ‘Jean’s Dilly’ and the nursery would begin to market the plant.

‘Jean’s Dilly’ is overall a much smaller version of the Dwarf Alberta Spruce, with its annual growth of about one third that of its parent. It also has distinctively shorter, thinner needles which give the plant a finer texture and smoother appearance. ‘Jean’s Dilly’ begins its spring flush of new growth three to four weeks after ‘Conica’ which can be a handy natural protection against early frost damage. With only a couple of inches of annual growth, it remains a small plant for a great number of years and makes it a perfect candidate for growing in a mixed container with other miniature conifers or flowering plants.

Both, this great little conifer, and the memory of the man it was named for, are truly something extraordinary.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Making the fun meter hit high

I have so much fun during the Christmas holiday season. Sure enough, Thanksgiving weekend is usually when I dust off the old Christmas songs and begin to fill the house with a festive mood. As I’ve mentioned before, my wife loves to decorate for the holidays and I love to supply her with fresh foliage from the conifer garden for all her decorating desires. The day after Thanksgiving, I created a pair of colorful wreaths and a few days later, I was back in the elves workshop creating a pair of colorful swags. There is nothing like nice fresh-smelling greenery collected right outside my door in my very own festive evergreen factory!

Next, I had a request to harvest some more traditional greens from the large Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedars to surround a table centerpiece that my wife was planning. After I discovered what she had planned, I realized that this particular centerpiece would not be complete without a few of those cute little conifers in the festive red pots that I see this time of year at my favorite independent garden center. Being it was still the end of November, I was fairly confident that they would have in stock exactly what I was looking for. My quick trip (okay, when have I ever had a quick trip to my favorite garden center?) to the store proved a success and I returned with several little conifers that would add a touch of life to the already whimsical table display.

Cute little conifers in festive red pots are just the thing to make my wife’s already whimsical display a whole lot more fun! Harvested greens are one thing, but adding live plants in an assortment of colors and textures brings the display to life and kicks the fun meter all the way to high!

What I like to do is keep my potted conifers outdoors until needed. My wife’s display is very nice most of the time, but when guests arrive for a meal and on that special holiday, I will bring in my festive red potted plants to give the display just a little added zing! After the holidays, since my new plants will only be indoors for short periods of time, I can either just keep my new dwarf and miniature conifers in their red pots, plant them in other containers or find a place for them in the garden. By living in the Pacific Northwest, I may have the luxury of potting or planting my new plants right away since we often have mild enough temperatures in January and February to do so. If the weather does take a turn for the worse and I find that I need to delay finding these new additions a more permanent home, no problem! I can just tuck them away with my other potted conifers on my patio and take care of them through the remaining winter months as I do the others in my collection. Folks in far colder regions than my own will likely want to overwinter their cute little potted conifers in a protected cold frame or unheated garage until their ground thaws in spring.

I love these cute little potted miniature and dwarf conifers for winter decorating, and I really love that I end up with some new conifers to plant in my garden or enjoy on my patio all year long, for many years to come!

Happy Holidays to you all!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Cool little conifers make great holiday gifts

Even though I miss the long, bright, sunny and warm days of summer, I absolutely love this time of year. Our winter holidays always help me through the darker, colder and wetter months in the Pacific Northwest. Families tend to have traditions of coming together for the special winter holidays, and friends, whether old or new, make plans to enjoy each other’s company as well.

Container gardens are perfect for those folks with very small spaces.

One of the best traditions of the holiday season is gift-giving. Of course the kinds of gifts I love to give generally have something to do with gardening and most often, I must admit, my gifts tend to be dwarf or miniature conifers. Most everyone enjoys spending at least a little time in the garden. Even those who may not have the initial interest or confidence for gardening generally find that once they have a nice little conifer to care for, they become intrigued and their interest in gardening grows.

I have quite a number of friends that were once generally unaware of the joy of gardening and simply had no idea whatsoever how much fun gardening with dwarf and miniature conifers can be. Some of these friends have gone on to become quite interested in developing their gardens and in the conifer world, while others limit themselves to a much smaller scale with plants in containers on their deck or patio. Part of the fun for me is giving a gift of a small conifer or two and then seeing interest and passions grow over the years.

Miniature gardens can be created by adding miniature accessories to the container garden. Not all miniature gardens need to feature fairies, though they do seem to enjoy little gardens that are just their size.

Sometimes I’ll give a complete container garden already planted. Other folks have received a miniature garden kit with a selection of a few plants, a bag of potting soil and a nice ceramic pot so they may plant it up the way they like. I love to see young families become interested in gardening and one great way to encourage that behavior is the gift of a container garden that they may all plant together and enjoy.

Colorful little conifers add year-round interest to your favorite pots and they make great gifts and bring life to a cold and drear winter.

Container gardens are great for smaller spaces and most anyone has space for at least one. Some of my container gardens, which feature a few of my smallest miniature conifers, are placed strategically along the paths and among larger plants in the garden. I like to move some of my containers from the back patio to the front walk during the holidays so that I can decorate them with small lights and ornaments (which has the added benefit of making my wife very happy).

You might consider dwarf and miniature conifers for your gift-giving this holiday season. I have a few new friends that may be perfectly suited for a conifer surprise gift sometime in the next month or so—maybe you do too!

Ed-
Conifer Lover