Conifer Couples

In my last post, I promised to introduce you to a pair of cute little conifers that I am confident you will want to collect and grow in your own gardens. Now, if you are at all like me, you have become completely enamored with miniature conifers – the ones that are described by the American Conifer Society as growing less than one inch per year. To be honest though, my definition of mini-conifers does expand a bit and includes some “dwarf” cultivars that grow up to around 2-3 inches per year – which is still pretty darned slow-growing and the plants remain very small for a very long time.

The cute couple that am honored to introduce to you this post are both tiny forms of Picea abies, the Norway spruce. Growing three feet per year when young and eventually reaching heights near 200 feet, the Norway spruce is a native forest tree growing in colder regions throughout Europe. An excellent tree—healthy, hardy and vigorous—it has been cultivated far from its native range. There are hundreds of unique mutations which have been discovered, named and collected in gardens for many years. Over the past 50 years, many of these new cultivars, have begun to be propagated by nurseries because of the plants usefulness in contemporary landscapes. As garden spaces have grown smaller, so have many of the plants that are commercially available.

Picea abies ‘Jana’ looks to me like the top of a human head protruding up from the soil.

Dwarf and miniature conifers are perfect plants for use in container gardens, miniature gardens, fairy gardens, railway gardens and rock gardens because they grow slowly and remain small for a great number of years. The selection of plants becoming available to local independent garden centers continues to grow, making it possible to create a garden filled with an exciting collection of these diminutive beauties much more quickly than just 15 or 20 years ago. As more folks are becoming interested in miniature gardens, more of these tiny plants, once only found as rarities in devoted collector’s gardens will become available so that regular folks may enjoy them in their own gardens.

Without any further ado, I introduce to you, ‘Jana’ and ‘Jessy’!

Picea abies ‘Jana’ is a very slow growing, mounding, dense bun with relatively long, rich green needles which radiate outward, encircling each small branch. Annual growth looks to average close to half an inch or just about 1.5 centimeters in length. I do see some random shoots of up to an inch on my plant from time to time, but I tend to snip those few oddballs off to keep my plant tidy. The largest specimen of Jana that I can remember seeing reminded me of the top of a large human head, from just about the eyebrows and the top of the ears, protruding above the ground as if the rest of this unlucky fellow was standing, buried under the soil. Growing at less than one inch per year, you can do the math to estimate the size of your new plant in 10 or 20 years.

Prominent orange-tan buds adorn the already ultra-cute Picea abies ‘Jessy.’

Picea abies ‘Jessy’ appears to me to grow slightly slower than ‘Jana’ with its overall appearance being smaller. Very tiny, dark green, glossy needles cover very small, thin, light colored branches. At the terminal of each small branch is a prominent, orange-tan bud cluster. At first I thought to describe the buds as being large, but upon close inspection I determined that the buds are close to the same size or slightly smaller than that of ‘Jana’. The tiny shoots and needles make the buds appear larger and they really do stand out as a prominent feature on this fascinating little plant.

These two miniature conifers make a delightful pair and may be grown together as part of a miniature garden of any kind. I like seeing these two planted together in miniature theme gardens because although they grow at similar rates, they are very different from one another due to the details of their features. I hope you will give them both a try in your own garden. They are both hardy to Zone 3 and will thrive in full sun with moist, well-drained soil.

I’ll have two more “minis” to share with you next time!

Conifer Lover

Mighty mini conifers!

After our unusually long, and beautifully warm and dry summer, the autumn season has turned on as if someone flipped a switch. Temperatures have dropped twenty five degrees and the rains have begun. This past weekend saw record-breaking rain accumulation throughout the Pacific Northwest combined with strong wind. Something about this sudden change of weather has had an impact on my plant focus.

Throughout the past several months I have had many opportunities to work in my garden. Working outdoors, breathing in the fresh, summer air, listening to all of the local critters flutter and scurry about while under the protective shade of the large trees that surround my property influenced some of my gardening and new plant choices. Having the opportunity to spend so much time in the wide open space seemed to have widened my interest in adding a few larger, faster growing conifers to my garden (not that I have space for any more large trees). I also expanded upon my use of larger annual flowers and vegetables which I interspersed among the conifers and other ornamental plants.

Tiny, slow-growing conifers are perfect for containers. The are full of color, texture and character and play well with other cool miniature plants.

I planted a small forest of Sunflowers to provide shade for a few of my more light sensitive conifers, and that strategy worked very well at protecting them from the intense summer sun. We even enjoyed harvesting Nerf football-sized melons from long vines that covered the ground, filling in spaces between conifers. But, as the seasons have changed, and I have retreated back indoors with a more limited view of my garden, so too has my plant focus changed from larger plants to delightful, miniature conifers.

The primary view of my garden through the cooler, wetter, winter months, feature many of  the containers on my patio. Dwarf and miniature conifers are perfect for containers gardens since they take many years to outgrow their space. One container in my garden comes to mind, that I originally planted six years ago, and in that time only one conifer in that grouping has been removed and transplanted into the garden. The three minis that remain continue to enjoy their prominent place on my patio.

Small, colorful conifers and other exciting ornamental plants make excellent year-round fillers for your favorite containers.

As I was recently sitting in my favorite chair near the wood stove, gazing out into the rainy garden, my eyes naturally focused on my containers and I was instantly taken in by the tiny conifers that I have collected over the years. As I was sitting there, it struck me that many of the containers consisted of “conifer couples” — pairs of tiny conifers that shared a theme of one kind or another. For example, ‘Jana’ and ‘Jessy’ shared a container while, ‘Thumbelina’ and ‘Elf’ happily reside in another. This has inspired me to post a series featuring some of my favorite  tiny conifer couples.

Stay tuned, next time I’ll introduce you to two cute little conifers, that if you’re like me, you will find them irresistible and not be satisfied until you find them both for a special place in your own garden.

Conifer Lover

Four more dwarfs

Last time I began a story about my good friend and his desire to transform his dog-worn backyard into a beautiful garden. Of course, I’ve been extolling the wonderful attributes of dwarf and miniature conifers and my friend is convinced that he and his wife would love a low maintenance garden filled with the year-round color and interest that conifers will provide. I began this topic by discussing some of the plants which will become the larger specimens in this first section of the new garden. Those plants put on more annual growth so they grow to a larger size more quickly over the span of years than the more dwarf and miniature plants that are on today’s list.

Picea glauca 'Pixie Dust'
As if magically sprinkled with pixie dust, this miniature form of the Dwarf Alberta spruce is a delight in the garden.

One of my favorite conifers, whether planted in the ground, in a container as a single specimen, or with a combination of other plants is a delightful dwarf with multi-season appeal. Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust,‘ is very similar in shape to its granddaddy, the Dwarf Alberta spruce, but is much slower growing. With just a couple of inches of new growth per year, it will take its time reaching three feet tall and a couple of feet wide by its twentieth birthday. One of the fun features of ‘Pixie Dust’ is that its new growth doesn’t come in one big push in the spring. Just about the time that first spring push begins to harden off, a second push begins to emerge—not as vigorous as the first, but more slowly, over a period of several weeks, different buds will swell and pop with emerging new buttery-yellow foliage. These magical sparkles of color, dusting the plant through summer, are the inspiration behind the name of this adorable little tree.

Picea abies 'Thumbelina'
The tiny ‘Thumbelina’ miniature Norway spruce is nestled in comfortably with companion flowers in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden.

Another delightful fairy-tale spruce for this garden is the miniature, Picea abies ‘Thumbelina’, also growing just a couple of inches per year, this low-growing, globe-shaped mound is covered with tiny, dark green needles. The oldest specimen that I have seen of this cutie is a little over two feet wide and perhaps 18 inches tall—it must be at least 25 years old. Never needing pruning to keep it small and shapely, ‘Thumbelina’ is also ideal for container gardens—and with a name like that, who wouldn’t want to plant it in their very own Fairy Garden?

Cryptomeria japonica 'Tenzan'
Very tight and compact growing, ‘Tenzan’ is a true miniature conifer that is perfect for containers, rock gardens and might make the perfect home for your own garden fairies and gnomes.

Possibly the slowest growing miniature conifer on the list is Cryptomeria japonica ‘Tenzan’. With just about an inch of new growth per year, this is one small, tight little mound of succulent, light-green needles. The needles look sharp, but are actually soft to the touch, though because ‘Tenzan’  is so dense, it has a very coarse texture and is one of those plants that I can’t help but want to touch when I am near it. This miniature conifer is ideal for combining with other plants in a container since it will take many years to outgrow its space. In fact, the three conifers mentioned so far would be perfect in a nice sized patio bowl combined with some alpine Sedums or Sempervivums—but that’s a topic for another post!

As cute as a seven month old kitten, ‘Golden Sprite’ on a stick is a fun addition to the garden either planted in the ground or featured in a prized container on the patio.

The fourth conifer in this design truly is fun! My wife and I attended a couple weddings recently, and it seems one of the latest things to have at the reception are cake-pops. These little balls of frosted cake are on a stick like a lollipop. Besides being delicious, they’re just darn cute. So is Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Golden Sprite’ grafted onto a small 12″ standard! This miniature, globe-shaped, golden-yellow Hinoki cypress is already a favorite for container or garden, but put it on a stick, and it is just about as cute as a seven-week-old kitten. Adding a pop of color and interest to this garden space, ‘Golden Sprite’ will grow into a perfect little ball of color which may seem to float above companion flowers or ground covers.

So, Golden Wilma and the seven dwarfs will be the foundation to this new garden space. Once we prepare the ground and properly plant these eight new conifers, we’ll discuss what companion plants will work well in the design—that means a fun trip to the garden center with my friends, which is like a trip to Santa’s workshop – and it won’t cost me a dime!

Conifer Lover

So much color! (part one)

You have heard me go on and on about the wonderful year-round color that conifers provide for the garden. From time to time I have even discussed non-coniferous plants with exciting characteristics including, but not limited to, the great color they add to the garden. Today, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the most color-saturated plants in my garden and shortly after I began I realized that this will be the first part in a series on intense garden color.

Red is a color that conifers generally add to the garden in small doses. There is Picea abies ‘Rubra Spicata’ with its blood red new foliage push in spring, but it is a rather quick display lasting only a week or two. Many conifers put on a spring-time show with their colorful, and sometimes, bright red cones. Some of these will persist in their colorful stage for several weeks to a few months while others have a shorter duration. For the longest lasting and most intense red color in my garden, I look to broad-leaved trees and shrubs.

Acer palmatum dissectum 'Crimson Queen'
Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’ is a shapely Red Laceleaf Japanese Maple that holds its red color fairly well, even in the heat of summer.

Without a doubt, some of the best reds in my garden are provided by Japanese Maples and there are two which have become favorites of mine. First, Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’ (Crimson Queen Laceleaf Maple), is an older selection that has been used in gardens since it was introduced in 1965. Rich, purple-red leaves emerge in spring, slowly covering the weeping branch-work with deeply cut, lace-leaf foliage. There is a graceful delicacy to the way each individual leaf is held on the stem which gives ‘Crimson Queen’ its delightful good looks.

As the temperatures rise in summer, many red-leaf Japanese maples begin to lose their color and fade to a muddy green as the red pigment becomes an undertone to the green. ‘Crimson Queen’ holds up particularly well to summer heat – especially if planted in a location which will provide some afternoon shade. With the onset of autumn’s crisp, cooler temperatures, ‘Crimson Queen’ becomes a bright scarlet red exhibitionist drawing many eyes before she finally disrobes, showing off her internal structure.

Acer palmatum dissectum 'Red Dragon'
Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Red Dragon’ retains amazing color through the heat of summer. Both shot were captured during our current local hot spell.

Second, there is a newer Red Laceleaf Maple in town, one which has earned a tremendous reputation for unbeatable, dark, rich, reddish-purple leaves with color that just won’t quit! Holding its dark, rich color all summer long, ‘Red Dragon’ just brightens up in autumn before finally exposing its attractive branch structure through the winter months. Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Red Dragon’ has a neat and tidy, dome-shaped, habit similar to ‘Crimson Queen’, but without the same delicate grace. That’s not to say that ‘Red Dragon’ lacks any beauty, in fact it is one of the most attractive Red Laceleaf Maples available today!

Adding these two Red Laceleaf Japanese Maples to your conifer garden will bring a pleasing addition of red color to complement the array of blues, greens and yellows available in today’s colorful conifer selections. Don’t just imagine your garden full of year-round color, make it your reality with amazing conifers and other exciting garden plants!

Conifer Lover

I’ve been expecting you

“Mr. Remsrola, I’ve been expecting you.”

These words startled me just a little as I entered the office at Iseli Nursery the other day. I hadn’t actually made an appointment, nor had I intended to visit the Iseli gardens on this particular day. So you can imagine my surprised response to those words as I was about to check in with the receptionist. My photographer friend, Mr. Smith, had seen me arrive and positioned himself just out of sight of the front door. Disguising his voice with a sharp, gravelly tone, the sound of those words truly made me jump.

Jean Iseli Memorial Garden
Mid-spring in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden – I find that there is always something new to discover!

As it turned out, Mr. Smith had been expecting me. He was certain that I would be showing up to tour the gardens now that spring has finally enticed almost all the plants to flush their new growth. There we were, both of us in an adventurous mood, so we made our way out to the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden, he with camera in hand, me carrying only my enthusiasm.

Picea abies 'Pusch'
Picea abies ‘Pusch’ cones loose their solid purplish red color with the onset of maturity.

All the rain and mild temperatures that we have enjoyed over the past few weeks has encouraged the conifers to push an abundance of their lush, colorful new growth. Small cones of quite an assortment of size and color were spotted on many plants. Some, like the Picea abies ‘Pusch’ had grown considerably since my last brief visit. Like mine at home, they had nearly tripled in size from when they were at their apex of color and had faded to mostly greenish with red highlights on the edges of the cone scales.

Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'
The tiny new growth begins to emerge on this Abies koreana ‘Ice Breaker’.

The Abies koreana ‘Ice Breaker’ that I mentioned a few posts back, then with its buds still closed tight and coated in hard resin, had pushed most of its ¾ inch annual growth and the needles were beginning to unfurl. This is one tiny little conifer that will be worth the wait for it to become readily available!

Picea glauca 'Pixie Dust'
We were surprised by the tiny, bright red color of the second push of foliage on the Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’.

The next thing I saw, which not only gave us both a jolt of excitement, but something that neither of us could remember observing before – at least to the extent we witnessed on that day. We noticed that the second foliar push on the Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’, which we all normally expect to be butter yellow – was red! With careful observation we could clearly see that the red color was quickly fading to the yellow of our expectations. Perhaps the red would last a day as the new buds swelled and began to push. When I arrived home, I immediately gave my ‘Pixie Dust’ a visit finding the very same tiny red tips of new foliage beginning to develop and fading to yellow with a day or two of age.

Overall, it was quite a successful visit and we both learned something new about our amazing world of conifers.

Conifer Lover