Enter the Cobra

Sometimes I crack myself up. Seriously. Sometimes my first impression of a new plant is so poor that I roll my eyes and wonder why anyone would propagate the darned thing, let alone in large enough numbers to market it across the continent. What makes me laugh at myself, is that more often than not, those plants that I initially had such a strong negative reaction to, later become among my favorite of all plants. Several years ago I mentioned Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ as being a plant just like this. My initial response was not one of jubilation, but as I wrote in that blog post, ‘Acrocona’ has become one of my all-time favorite conifers!

Enter the Cobra.

This Picea abies ‘Cobra’ began its life as an odd looking, long single stick covered in green needles. Today it is full of lush foliage, and because of its culture, makes a unique focal point and an excellent ground cover.

The first time I cast my eyes upon this plant, Picea abies ‘Cobra’, it was a fairly young graft. It appeared to be essentially a fat stick covered with dark green needles and a few brownish-tan buds—absent of any side branches at all. It had been trained to grow up a bamboo stake to a height of almost five feet (in just 3 or 4 years). I simply could not imagine the appeal of such an oddity. I am definitely a fan of many unusual looking conifers, but this one, trained straight up the stake, without any side branches, just seemed to be past my point of appreciation.

A few years later I happened upon this very same conifer, in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden and it had been transformed. Once its terminal growth reached the top of its supporting stake, it curved and then headed right down to the ground. I also noticed that those few lateral buds I had seen on my initial observation had sprouted new, vigorous lateral branches, which followed the example of the terminal, and swept outward and down, weeping to the ground. Many other new buds had formed and the plant had begun to fill out in a most spectacular way.

Today, some 15 years later, the plant has filled out with loads of sweeping, weeping branches, flopping and flowing to the ground where they lay prostrate and layer themselves into a most excellent ground cover. Overall the effect is quite stunning and this particular conifer has become one of my very favorite of the Weeping Norway spruce cultivars available today from independent garden centers around the world.

If your initial encounter with ‘Cobra’ reminds you of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, go ahead and take it home to your garden, in just a few years I think it will become one of your all-time favorites too!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

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Leaving the past, pondering the future

An amazing single specimen, I’d like to plant several Picea glauca ‘Pendula’ in a mixed plant hedgerow.

Ordinarily this time of year, when the cold east wind blows or the cold gray rains fall in a steady flow from the sky, I find myself in my favorite chair near the woodstove, enjoying my garden from the view of the large picture window. This year, I have been busily moving to a new temporary home which has also forced me to spend some time with my containers, carefully transporting them to a new location. As I am moving and loading and unloading these many coniferous friends, I find myself thinking about what has been, and more importantly, what is to come. I have been making a mental list of what dwarf conifers I currently have to begin my new garden, and I am making a list of those conifers I will definitely want to replace one day when I have a place to begin to dig in the soil again.

Over the years I have had an opportunity to select a number of very unique dwarf and miniature conifer seedlings which are coming with me. These are real treasures to me since I selected them many years ago and have nurtured them along the way, carefully monitoring their needs and evaluating their unique traits. Other plants in my collection of containers are less rare but still of great value to me. The past several years I was able to increase my conifer collection through the propagation process of winter grafting. My small hobby greenhouse was perfectly suited for the task and I had great success adding to my collection and making new plants to give away to friends.

Taking mental inventory of my containerized conifer collection, I realize that I will have a good beginning when I find a place to create a garden once again. Some of my favorites are conifers that I think everyone should have in their garden. For example, most any garden has space for Picea glauca ‘Pendula’. This very tall growing conifer remains very narrow and even after thirty years or more in the garden, it may attain 30 feet in height, but will have a diameter of only about six feet where it meets the ground. I absolutely love the way it looks like a giant tapered candle with wax dribbling down its sides. I would love to plant three to five of these spaced with about 15 to 20 feet between them in a hedge row. I would then fill in the spaces with other conifers to create a multi-level, multi-colored and textured garden wall.

Very slow growing, Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’ is a colorful miniature conifer for small spaces.

On the other end of the scale, Picea orientalis ‘Tom Thumb’ is a very slow growing conifer of equal favor. This small, mounding spruce has tiny golden-yellow needles covering its short, stiff, twiggy branches. This one I will want to protect from the intense afternoon summer sun, but for its best color I will want to place it where it will receive many hours of sunlight. I will plan to place this with other miniature conifers in a special location where I can prominently display the appealing features of these small-scale plants.

The spring flush of new grow on Picea pungens ‘Niemetz’ is a real attention grabber!

One last spruce to mention this time is Picea pungens ‘Niemetz’. This one begins somewhat slowly, but once established, it can grow into a full-sized Colorado spruce tree. Its amazing feature is its stunning color. When it begins to push its new growth in spring, the color is bright butter-cream which shines brightly against its older gray-blue foliage. Over the months, as spring transitions into summer, the creamy color fades to a very soft blue and eventually hardens to the light gray-blue of autumn and winter. I will want to place this tree where it can be a showpiece in the spring and summer while keeping in mind that it will probably need to be a background tree due to its ultimate size.

As the perspiration runs down the side of my face, and with memories of a garden gone by, I have exciting times to ponder with the possibility of new gardens yet to grow.

Ed-
Conifer Lover

A new year, a new life – let’s get started!

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.

Even during the very crisp and cold days of winter, the conifer garden looks alive!

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.

May 2015 become a great new gardening year!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Hooray for autumn!

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!

Acer palmatum ‘Tobiohsho’ is among the first to display its fall foliage 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.

Acer palmatum ‘Omure Yama’ stands out with its brilliant orange autumn foliage.

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 ‘Sherwood Flame’ is a winner for fantastic color.

Known for its amazing deep red color from spring through summer, Acer palmatum ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’ turns shades of bright scarlet while the very hardy Acer x pseudosieboldianum North Wind® (‘IslNW’) surprises as its green late summer color becomes a combination of deep, bright red and intensely rich orange.

Acer palmatum ‘Twombley’s Red Sentinel’ is truly a standout in the garden.
Acer x pseuodosieboldianum North Wind® (‘IslNW’) is a new, extremely hardy form with spectacular autumn color.

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.

Often the tree to bring the autumn color season to a close in my garden, Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’ is a favorite sight near the end of the show.

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.

Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’ begins his winter season of color just about the time that the deciduous trees and shrubs have finished their Autumn show.

Hooray for autumn!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Who doesn’t love a firefly?

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’ is an exciting new dwarf version of the Skylands spruce. Great color, hardy, slow growing and just darned cute!

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?

Ed-
Conifer Lover