Return of the Flower Girl

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.

Picea pungens 'Lundeby's Dwarf'
‘Lundeby’s Dwarf’ is an excellent, slower growing alternative to ‘Montgomery’ in todays smaller gardens.

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.

Picea pungens 'St. Mary's Broom'
‘St. Mary’s Broom’ is perfect for small spaces, the rock garden or in containers.

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?

Conifer Lover


An intervention

The past few years I’ve been in denial. Just recently some of my best gardening friends believed it was time for an intervention – and I was the subject of their rescue. Well, perhaps not me personally, but a portion of my garden.

It seems that I had allowed myself to become co-dependent with one of the oldest and most favored conifers in my garden. It was getting so bad, that this big bully was crowding out several of my smaller plants and I was unable to take the steps needed to solve this problem on my own. Thankfully, I have friends that were able to see the negative effects on my garden and through their wise counsel and strong backs, we were able to work together to set things right.

Picea pungens 'Montgomery'
Cute when small, these plants will soon outgrow their space.

28 years ago, I purchased a cute little blue mounding Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ and gave it a prominent place in my garden. At six or eight years old, this small mound of year-round bright blue fit well in my young garden. Over the years though, ‘Montgomery’ continued to grow, becoming a wonderful compact blue pyramid. Nearby, I had planted several different things over the years including perennials and other dwarf and miniature conifers. Space began to fill in and the perennials were moved to new homes while the conifers slowly matured.

Picea pungens 'Montgomery'
In time, ‘Montgomery’ will become a large stately specimen in the garden.

Actually I knew better than to plant my other treasures so close to my ‘Montgomery’, but I always believed it would be easy enough to move things later. Well, later arrived a few years ago, and like I said, I’ve been in denial. As much as I love my large ‘Montgomery’ (which had grown to nearly twenty feet tall and at least twelve feet wide), deep inside, I knew something had to be done.

Thanks to the intervention of some good friends, I was able to dig and transplant the surrounding conifers. Even though they were all true dwarf and miniature conifers, they too were fifteen to 25 years old and had become too large for me to manage by myself. Now I have a new garden bed to design with one large specimen as its anchor.

There are two morals to this story: First, plan your garden carefully to avoid the need of a garden intervention. Second, as you grow older, be sure to continue to make friends with the younger generations. You never know when you may need extra hands with strong backs!

Next time, I’ll talk more about some excellent alternatives to the stately ‘Montgomery’ with reduced growth rates. In the meantime, you might like to take a look back at my thoughts on the Blue Dwarfs in my garden.

Conifer Lover

My green thumb turned blue

The cold Arctic air that I mentioned last week has moved into our area. I understand that what those of us in the Pacific Northwest will experience over the next few days is nothing like what many of our friends are enduring in other parts of the country right now. A good friend took his eleven year old son to the “big game” in Green Bay and managed to survive four hours of -21º F wind-chill Sunday. Conditions like that give me a new appreciation for our gray rainy days here.

Picea pungens 'Montgomery'

When cold air does make its way into the PNW, I also renew my appreciation for hardy conifers and how great they are for those areas where the winter is commonly far more bitter cold than here. In an earlier blog, I mentioned a handful of dwarf Colorado Blue Spruce that I am particularly fond of. One of the most popular ones on my list is Picea pungens ‘Montgomery.’

Growing at perhaps one third to half the rate of the Colorado Blue Spruce, ‘Montgomery’ is a dwarf version reaching a height of 10 to 12 feet in 20 years. When young, ‘Montgomery’ will grow as a globe shaped mound. Its striking, consistant blue color will certainly draw the attention of passersby. As it matures, it will form a broad pyramidal shape eventually growning into a neat and compact version of the much larger parent tree. Some people prefer to prune out the developing dominant leader to encourage a broader than tall mound shaped plant into maturity. Either way, ‘Montgomery’ is a fantastic garden plant with brilliant blue color and extreme hardiness growing in zone 2 (-40 to -50º F).

‘Montgomery’s hardiness is an attribute that I don’t need to be concerned with where I live. I love it for its generally care free nature, great form and color. With all the shades of green in the garden, I’m thrilled to have ‘Montgomery’ as one contributer to the exciting range of blues to make my garden a real joy.

Conifer Lover

Thanks to Iseli Nursery for the photo links!