The cold east wind has returned to my corner of the Pacific Northwest and although it does bring a break from the rain, bright sunshine and deep blue skies, it also brings wind gusts of 25 to 35 miles per hour. Travel a few miles to the south and the wind is but a breeze, a few miles farther and the windless sunshine feels warm through the crisp, cold ambient temperature.
Today’s walk through my garden is bittersweet. I am bundled and warm enough, but this will be one of my last walks through this garden. Life does not always march in step with the plans we make, and I find myself nearing the end of my stewardship of this little acre. It has been great transforming this once ordinary yard of some older trees and a lot of lawn to mow, into a garden which not only filled hearts with joy in all who strolled the paths, but also became home to an assortment of critters from birds and squirrels to a small lizard with the occasional passing raccoon and opossum (and of course, the neighbor’s cat who enjoyed this sanctuary away from the large dog in his own yard). Fortunately, I know that I will have gardening opportunities in the future and I look forward to sharing those adventures with you all here.
Of course, I will continue to have the pleasure and honor of strolling through the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden and I am confident that I will continue to learn a great deal from my friends at Iseli and apply that knowledge to my own future garden and new conifer collection.
In my corner of the Pacific Northwest, 2014 will be remembered as one of the exceptionally great weather years. I simply do not remember a better stretch of pleasant, mild, warm and sunny days. Even during the heat of our summer hot days, we rarely saw the thermometer rise above the mid-90s with most days peaking in the mid to low-80s – just perfect!
Now as we slide into the end of October, the rain has been with us for several days in a row with no real end in sight. I think for many of us native born Oregonians, this is a welcome change. As tired as we may become of the rain after five or six months of it on a daily basis, most of us do tend to welcome its return after a hot and dry summer.
This year our fall foliage color has been delayed when compared with years in recent memory. My photographer friend keeps an accurate photo record of the gardens at Iseli Nursery, by cataloging his photos by date. It is fairly easy for him to look back over the past decade and a half and report just when the deciduous trees began their autumn color changes, when they peaked and which trees were among the last to finally drop their leaves. For example, he has photos from early October of 2013 showing many Japanese Maples in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden in a blaze of orange and red, while this year those very same trees have just started to show their seasonal color over the past week or so – non being near their peak of color as compared with previous years.
I am sure that weather conditions, precipitation amounts, daily temperature range and early or late frost all play a role in how and when a tree may display its autumn color. Fortunately, seasonal color in the garden is not limited to deciduous trees and shrubs.
One of the greatest advantages of using conifers in the garden is that they have the potential to provide fantastic color all year long, and some of them even change color through the seasons. One of the most colorful and most exciting conifers in my garden is a dwarf Japanese Cedar called ‘Golden Promise’. Cryptomeria japonica ‘Golden Promise’ is one of the brightest yellow conifers from spring through summer and only begins to darken a bit as it takes on a slight golden-bronze hue with the onset of colder weather in autumn or winter.
Once the temperature begins to rise again in spring, new growth will emerge with a hint of bronze to the tips which quickly brightens to lemon-yellow, creating one of the brightest color spots in the garden. The slow growing plant has a very tidy globe shape and never needs shearing to maintain its attractive form. Tiny, succulent needles give the bright golden globe a coarse texture.
For a promise of gold in your garden that you may rely upon year after year, ‘Golden Promise’ is rated at Zone 6 cold hardiness and is perfect for all kinds of container gardens, rock gardens, or any small space where a beautifully bright blast of color will be seen and enjoyed.
Where did the month of September go? It seems like it was just the Labor Day holiday weekend and here I find myself writing on the last day of September. Our summer does seem to have obeyed the calendar and the temperatures dropped and some rain showers have returned right on schedule with the beginning of autumn.
You know what that means – crisp nights, the scent of wood smoke from folks lighting the first fires of the season, apple cider, pumpkins, harvest festivals and… Fall Color!
This is the time of year when my conifers take a break from center stage in my garden and my Japanese Maples and other broadleaved plants begin to dazzle the eyes with their vibrant color. One of my favorite Japanese Maples for fall color is Acer palmatum ‘Tobiosho’ – one of the earliest to don its incredible array of burgundy, red and orange foliage. I know when ‘Tobiosho’ begins to turn, the others will not be far behind.
Another spectacular sight in the autumn garden is Acer palmatum ‘Omure yama.’ With its striking, bright orange, deeply cut palmate leaves, it looks amazing near dark green conifers. A premium choice for year-round interest is Acer palmatum ‘Sherwood Flame’ which turns from dark cherry red to a much more intensely bright scarlet red in the fall.
Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’ is one of the last to turn and will generally carry our fall color season to the end of November. Of course by then, Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’ will have begun his bright golden yellow show which will persist through the winter along with other winter color conifers.
Autumn has always been a favorite season for me and no matter what happened in September, with our autumn season kicking into gear, I sense new life even as many of my garden plants are beginning to go dormant for their winter rest. As for me, I’ll be enjoying the garden in all its autumn glory and settling into my favorite chair near the woodstove with a cup of tea, anticipating the winter months ahead.
Six years ago I had an opportunity to spend a few weeks in the midwest. This was my first extended visit to that region of the country, and it was the first time I had seen fireflies in action. I remember it was sunset and we were walking along a path which followed the Mississippi river. All of a sudden we began to see soft little lights blinking on and off. There were only a few at first but as we continued along the path, and the light became more dim, the little blinking lights became greater in number. The seven year old girl who was the most excited of our guides that evening caught one of the little critters so that we could get a closer look. Fascinating.
A year later I wrote a blog post about a fascinating new plant that my friends at Iseli had been observing for many years. In that post, I described how a large tree had developed seeds, those seeds were collected and germinated and the resulting seedlings were observed for many years. One of those exciting seedlings has been selected by Iseli Nursery and is ready to find its way into gardens all across the USA and Canada.
Picea orientalis ‘Firefly’ has been under evaluation at Iseli Nursery for over twenty years. A few years ago it was selected out of a batch of seedlings and the propagation process began. First only a few small pieces of scion wood were available to graft and make new trees. As time went on, each new propagation would grow and yield scions of its own. Eventually, enough cuttings could be taken across all of the crops to produce a reliable number of new trees per year. The time has now come for Iseli to begin marketing this exciting new tree and ship it to independent garden centers all across the continent.
Growing at approximately one third the rate of its mother tree (Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’), ‘Firefly’ will become a stunning, bright yellow, small specimen tree – perfect in today’s smaller gardens. A garden featuring a ‘Firefly’ and other colorful dwarf conifers will be filled with interesting color, form and texture all year long.
Who wouldn’t love to have a Firefly in their own garden?
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.
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.
‘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.