This Gemstone is truly a treasure

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.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gemstone’ is a new, very slow growing, sculptural form of dwarf Hinoki Cypress. Its unique character makes the plant perfect for most gardens.

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.

Perhaps you have seen, ‘Just Dandy’ or ‘Jane’s Jewel’. One of my very favorite plants ever just happens to have originated in that very same batch of seedlings, all those years ago. Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gemstone’ is truly a treasure.

‘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.

I absolutely love this cute little dwarf conifer!

Conifer Lover

A fluffy puff for your fairies

A while back I mentioned a little boy that behaved as if he was playing with fairies in my garden. Now, I’m not one to judge one way or the other on this kind of topic – just because I have not personally seen or experienced something, does not mean that it doesn’t exist. After all, there are quite a few people making miniature gardens these days, specifically for the fairies in their gardens. If one were to search the WEB, one would discover a surprising number of sites devoted to the existence of the whimsical little creatures. So, I suppose I should not have been surprised when I dropped in on my friends at Iseli Nursery earlier this week, and discovered that they had just decided on an interesting name for a delightful new little conifer with fluffy white foliage and a puffy growing habit.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Fairy Puff'

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Fairy Puff’ looks like it would be perfectly suited to entice the fairies into any small garden. This new cultivar was discovered growing as a sport on Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘White Pygmy’ (which is a wonderful miniature conifer itself). ‘White Pygmy’ grows very slowly in a mounding shape with tiny, adult, scale-like foliage, of light green that is tipped with buttery yellow-white. When grown in shade, the light colored variegation is almost pure white, but in more sun, it tends to move toward a yellowish color.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'White Pygmy'
Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘White Pygmy’ has tiny, tight, scale-like foliage which is typically called, “adult foliage.”

‘Fairy Puff’ is a fluffy puff of white tipped, very light green juvenile foliage giving the plant a very soft texture, both visually and to the touch. This tiny plant is reported to prefer a light shearing to promote a tighter form as it does seem to grow a little more open than ‘White Pygmy’. The light shearing will also encourage lots of new juvenile foliage since, as ‘Fairy Puff’ matures, it will begin to make a transition into adult foliage, yet it will retain its near pure white variegation.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Fairy Puff'
Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Fairy Puff’ has soft, fluffy, juvenile foliage. Notice how its tiny scales are turning outward and resemble miniature blades.

I’m fairly confident that this cute little puff of fluffy foliage will draw the fairies in your garden to visit and take a rest on its inviting, clean, soft foliage. Watch for this new temptation to begin to make its presence known at your favorite miniature garden supplier and premium independently owned garden centers.

Conifer Lover

What did you plant in 1999?

The year was 1999. Some happy new homeowners had just moved onto their brand-new property with a blank slate ready for a landscape. One of their number one priorities was to install a fish pond, followed by a nice patio and then landscape plants. Spending most of their budget on the new pond, a collection of colorful Koi, and a very nice covered patio, there was little left for the landscape plants, so they did what many new homeowners do – they spent as little as possible to purchase the largest plants they could afford at the local big-box discount store.

Now, twelve years later, I receive a call from a young friend.

“Hey Ed. I wonder if you’d like to come over and check out our new house. It’s got a cool pond and a whole bunch of big trees – I think some of them are conifers!” He said as if trying to bait this old man’s interest. “I think we’re going to need to get rid of a bunch of these trees and I’m hoping you’ll give me some advice on what to keep.”

Sure enough, my young friends had purchased a nice home, built in 1999, with a fish pond, a nice covered patio – and a collection of species forest trees that were planted to screen the neighbor’s homes which had, in just twelve years, consumed a great portion of the backyard.

Miniature Conifers
Dwarf and miniature conifers, with their managable size, great color and texture and low-maintenance nature make them perfect companions to the natural setting of the backyard pond.

“We’d like to put a veggie garden in over here” my friend said pointing to an area that, because of the number of large trees planted, would receive less than two hours of direct sun per day in the summer. I doubt that much of the backyard will see any direct sun before May, and it will be back to mostly shade by mid September.

“You did say that you wanted to remove some of these large trees, correct?”

Thankfully, my friend is ready to remove most of these trees, opening up his property for a grand vegetable garden and a wonderful collection of dwarf and miniature conifers to complement the pond and make that space a delight. Since the neighbor’s trees have grown over the years as well, the selection of conifers I will recommend will make a much more tidy looking (and easy to maintain) living fence that will not out-grow its space while they regain a great portion of useable real estate and allow much more sunlight into their garden.

I drew up a quick design for my friends, showing them how to implement the plan in stages so that they can plan and budget for each phase of the project. They are excited to fire up the chainsaw and open up their space, and I’m excited that I’ve found a future source of firewood perfect for the fire pit in my own backyard.

The moral to my story is that bigger and cheaper is not always better when it comes to purchasing your landscape plants. It’s always a good idea to have a landscape plan and some understanding of the plants that you are purchasing. My friends are off to a good start and will have a premium garden to pass on to future homeowners, should they decide to sell and move, in another twelve years or so.

Next time I’ll talk about the pond design and my recommendations of dwarf and miniature conifers to complement that space.

Conifer Lover

The cute little sister

One advantage to enduring the months of cloudy skies and rain in the Pacific Northwest is the ability to grow a vast assortment of plants, including many conifers that simply will not survive the harsher winter cold and blistering summer heat found elsewhere around the country. For example, many of my friends cannot even consider growing Cryptomeria japonica or any of its amazing cultivars.

The first cultivar of Cryptomeria that I was introduced to, way-back-when, was ‘Elegans’. This intermediate growing tree was quite a beautiful sight to behold – long, soft billowy foliage that softly swayed in the breeze like layers of feathers. When I met this tree while working for a landscaper, it was early spring and it still retained some of its winter copper/plum color. Within weeks it would return to the bronze-green of its warmer season color, lasting until the cold winter temperatures would return.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Elegans Nana'
Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans Nana’ is a delightful dwarf sculpture for any of today’s gardens.

Although ‘Elegans’ truly is an elegant specimen, it may get too big for today’s smaller gardens. Fortunately, she has a little sister that is quite a beauty herself. Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans Nana’ is a wonderful dwarf form of the Plume Japanese Cedar. Growing 2-4 inches per year in my garden, she definitely won’t overgrow even the smallest garden anytime soon. I love her irregular, almost sculpted looking, mounding form. With foliage that is typical of Cryptomeria with succulent, awl-like needles, growing in dense clumps, mounding and layering upon itself, every plant is its own unique creation. Like its big sister, ‘Elegans Nana’ will provide an interesting purplish/reddish/orange color through the cold winter months. In my garden this year, that winter color lingered well into the later months of spring.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Elegans Nana'
A close-up view of Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans Nana’

Purchased as a young plant, ‘Elegans Nana’ is a great candidate for the container garden on the patio or urban balcony. My friends in those colder winter climates might even consider growing many of the dwarf and miniature Cryptomeria in containers if they are able to move them into a protected garage or other structure, remembering that they are rated at Zone 6.

Unique, compact sculptural form, tantalizing soft foliage, color that changes with the seasons, and just being plain cute, I can’t imagine why everyone wouldn’t love to have an ‘Elegans Nana’ in their conifer collection.

Conifer Lover

Dwarf conifers to the rescue!

One of my favorite independent garden centers had a big one-day sale last week. I had been looking for an excuse to give them a visit to see what exciting new plants they might have in stock, so I thought it would be fun to arrive just about the time they opened. What I found was a great number of people had the same idea, except they must have camped out because the parking lot was full and I had to park along the side of the rural road.

I made my way inside where I found a very long line leading from the cash register and along the north walkway, past the empty table that had been the display of the sale plants. The line continued along the east end of the building and progressed all along the south walkway.

I thought to myself that it really is still consistently too cold and wet for tomato plants to get a good start anyway, so I made my way to the new display of conifers. Honestly, I was a little disappointed that I would not be able to bring a prize home to my wife from my Big Sale hunting trip, but I thought I might at least find something new and exciting in the conifer section.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Fern'
Fantastic year-round color, Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Fern' is a great dwarf conifer for most any garden.

Of course I was tempted by the Siren songs of all the new little conifers available in the four-inch pots, but I was being strong and found that I was able to resist those little cuties (this time). As I made my way toward a nice display of dwarf conifers, I struck up a conversation with a couple of ladies that seemed quite discontent about the lack of sale items available at the store. After all, the place had only officially opened twenty minutes ago. They seemed determined on being upset, so I mentioned that it was just nice to be out on such a lovely morning.

“Finding a great bargain is all fine and dandy” I explained, “but frankly, I’m happy that this sale motivated me to come to the garden center this morning. Don’t you just love all the pretty flowers in bloom – and look at these fantastic conifers!”

I really don’t know how to describe the look that these two ladies gave me at that point. It was almost like, “How dare you interrupt our displeasure with a positive outlook.”

Finally one of the ladies, not putting too much effort in hiding her being annoyed by me said, “Well, I do like the bright yellow color of that one over there.”

“Ahhhh, yes, the Golden Fern Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Golden Fern’) – that’s really a fantastic dwarf conifer! I love how the foliage really does look a little like a forest fern – and the bright yellow color of this one just can’t be beat. Don’t you love how dwarf conifers fit so well in the garden with other flowering plants, and yet in the winter when everything else is bare or gone, the conifers provide wonderful color and structure to the garden?”

'Golden Fern' foliage
'Golden Fern' foliage has a striking texture as well as brilliant color.

I seemed to have captured their attention.

“Oh, I’ve heard about these dwarf conifers” One of my new friends said.

“You know, I have a dwarf blue spruce in my garden” the other reminded her companion.

“There’s just nothing better than dwarf conifers – and there are so many different ones to choose from. Some grow in full sun, others prefer shade; some grow tall and narrow, others are short and round or weeping or even hug the ground. Not to mention the vast color selection.”

The ladies asked if I was an employee and would I receive a commission if I was able to sell them a plant. I explained that I just loved gardening and growing conifers in particular. We chatted for several minutes, and by the time we were finished, they had both picked out a couple of the small conifers to plant in containers on their patio and seemed to have forgotten all about the bad mood they almost insisted upon  harboring when we met.

May your garden shopping be filled with successes this spring.

Conifer lover