Look no further for a lifetime of gardening enjoyment

During one of my last walks through the garden, before the first series of autumn rain storms hit the Pacific Northwest, I was struck by the beauty of what some might consider to be “just another evergreen tree.” The truth is, Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ is an extraordinary tree with great landscape functionality and multi-season appeal.

Picea abies 'Acrocona'
Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ displays its tan colored cones in the autumn sun.

Possibly the most prominent feature of ‘Acrocona’ is its prolific production of cones which hang like decorative ornaments on the multiple branch ends and vary through the seasons from intensely bright pink, to purple in spring, to reddish-tinged green during the summer, an almost golden-brown in autumn and finally darker brown through the winter. During the winter, most of the mature cones will have dispersed their seed, break down and fall off of the tree. Some remnants of older cones may be visible in springtime when the first tiny, bright pink pollen cones begin to emerge, announcing that the new cycle of life is beginning.

Picea abies 'Acrocona'
The pollen cones of Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ emerge early in spring.

I briefly mentioned in an earlier post about ‘Acrocona’ its unusual branching and growth habit which is most noticeable during the plant’s youth. As my tree has matured, it has become more and more beautiful with its combination of thick, vigorous branches and what appear to be smaller, weaker branches which give the tree an upright, broadly pyramidal form filled with a combination of sweeping and weeping branches.

Picea abies 'Acrocona'
The seed bearing cones of Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ during the peak of their pink color stage.

The unusual growth habit of ‘Acrocona’ very much insures that no two trees will look exactly alike, and make them an excellent choice to use as a primary focal point in garden design. Their four full seasons of color, supplied by the rich, grass-green foliage and the ever-changing cones as they move through their annual cycle, give ‘Acrocona’ the ability to capture attention and add visual interest to a level which is available in few other plants.

Picea abies 'Acrocona'
Large, dense, summer cones of Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ begin to make their gradual color shift from bright pink to a red-tinged green.

I love the way the cones begin as such tiny little pink buds and grow rather quickly into large, dense, purple red cones. The appearance of the cones, dangling from the tips and along branches reminds me of a tree decorated for the Christmas holidays. As the cones grow larger and heavier, they seem to move in a dance, swaying at the ends of windswept branches. When growing in clusters, the cones will weigh down branches, pulling them from their usual upward sweeping form to a downturned direction, sometimes reaching the ground. Fortunately the branches are very flexible, and I have yet to see any remarkable breakage from either the heavy cones or wet, sloppy snow.

Picea abies 'Acrocona'
The golden-brown, autumn cones of Picea abies ‘Acrocona’.

‘Acrocona’ is a fun tree which will provide a lifetime of enjoyment. I suggest you plant one while you are young and enjoy its playful presence for many years to come.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

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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’

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Ugly duckling to beautiful swan

Some conifers I absolutely fall in love with upon my first encounter with them. Others, I may have an appreciation for, but they just don’t do anything for me – at first. Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ is one of those trees that I have been truly enjoying in my garden for the past few years; now that it has put on some size and is maturing nicely.Colorful cones add great interest.

‘Acrocona’ is a very unique Norway Spruce. It has prolific cone production at a very young age that initially interested me in the plant. Unfortunately, that same characteristic is what makes the young plant a little bit of an aesthetic challenge since it can cause unusual and erratic looking growth. What makes ‘Acrocona’ genuinely unusual is the way it develops its new cones each year. Some cones begin to form early in spring on last year’s branches. This would be considered “normal” for Norway Spruce. What’s unusual is that ‘Acrocona’ also develops cones on the terminal ends of the current seasons new growth;  not on all the new growth, but frequently on what would be the central leader of the tree and its surrounding upper branches.

Tiny cone develops at the tip of new growth.

The cones, wherever they are produced are a brilliant reddish pink color that really stands out against the dark green of the older foliage. The period that new cones are developed begins in early spring and continues for quite some time as new growth emerges with new cones developing at the tips.Swelling young cone.

My ‘Acrocona’ has been putting on a show of cones for several weeks now with the oldest ones beginning to lose their red color and tiny new cones just now emerging at the ends of new growth. As ‘Acrocona’ matures, it forms a very nice broad pyramidal shape with branches that are somewhat weeping and bounce in a slight breeze due to the heavy cones on their ends. During spring, the combination of reddish new cones and the new flush of bright green foliage make a beautiful show for several weeks. As the foliage hardens to Maturing specimen in autumn - 15 feet tall at 30 years.dark green and the cones dry to a light brown, the tree becomes a stately specimen in the summer garden.

Truly a great find that may begin as a bit of an “ugly duckling,” this tree matures beautifully and deserves a place in every garden.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Thanks to Iseli Nursery for the photo links!