A while back I shared with you all a conversation I had with a dear gardening friend of mine. This gal loves her herbaceous flowering plants the way I love my conifers. I hadn’t heard from her for several months, but my last blog entry inspired her to give me a call. Apparently she thought my need for an intervention was a victory for her “side” of the gardening world and this would be a good time to rub it in.
“So, your conifers are giving you some trouble, huh?” she asked in her playful tone.
“Oh, I don’t know that they were the cause of my trouble.”
“You called one of them a “bully” didn’t you? And you had to move all that other stuff – I would’ve just got my chainsaw out and taken that big bully down!” she said with a bit of a chuckle.
“Yeah, I suppose I did lay some blame on that poor, misunderstood ‘Montgomery’.
I went on to explain that my beautiful, mature, stately ‘Montgomery’ was behaving exactly as is was genetically designed to. My erroneous expectations were the cause of my trouble.
You see, I was wanting one dwarf conifer to behave like another. I should have allowed it to be itself and not something I wanted. Afterall, there are other excellent (and even more dwarf) cultivars of blue spruce available. As it turns out though, once I relocated the plants being crowded by my faithful and trusty ‘Montgomery’, it immediately was transformed from bully to nobility.
Back when I originally planted my ‘Montgomery’ I was very well aware of its potential size. But that was a long time ago and I was younger, and perhaps a little more ambitious. I had planned on annual or semi-annual pruning to keep its size under control – which worked well for the first 10 or 15 years. Since then though, I’ve allowed it to grow without my direct influence. If I had planted a different cultivar, one with less annual growth and a natural form more suited to my original design, perhaps I could have prevented a lot of work.
Two marvelous dwarf cultivars of blue spruce immediately come to mind.
Picea pungens ‘Lundeby’s Dwarf’ is a fantastic alternative if height is a concern. It has an annual growth rate of about half of what I experienced with my ‘Montgomery’ so it will take many, many more years to attain a height of ten feet. It has more of a mounding habit, so it will tend to spread a little more while remaining comparatively low.
Another favorite of mine is Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom’. Still officially in the Dwarf growth range with an annual push of just over an inch in my garden, this little beauty will be a very well-behaved blue mound in the garden for a lifetime.
There are other wonderful dwarf blue spruce of varying growth rates, forms and shades of blue that may also be considered. A creative designer could use an assortment to build a beautiful boundary that might mimic nearby hillsides or the mountain ranges of faraway lands.
Dwarf conifers are so versatile and beautiful that I don’t mind the few challenges they may induce. What other group of plants can be both foundation and centerpiece, border and boundary, filler and cherished specimen all while providing year-round color in the garden?