The conifers are blooming!

This is a great time of year in the garden. There is new growth and excitement everywhere I look. Of course the bulbs have been putting on a show for a few weeks, and some of my perennials have been showing signs of spring-time vigor. Many of my Japanese Maples have leafed out in their glorious spring color adding a freshness to the garden. Every morning, the birds are working hard to pull the sun up by the sound of their brilliant  singing. And, for the conifer lover, THE CONIFERS ARE BLOOMING!

Abies koreana 'Blauer Pfiff'
Young female cone of Abies koreana 'Blauer Pfiff'

I get very excited every spring as I stroll around my garden looking to see which of my conifers have begun to set new cones. Unlike the big, showy flowers of the typical plants specifically grown for the color, size and/or scent of their flowers, conifers tend to keep their flowers just a little bit hidden.

“Wait just a minute, Ed – you’re telling me conifers have flowers?

Abies cephalonica 'Meyers Dwarf'
Brightly colored male cones of Abies cephalonica 'Meyers Dwarf'

That’s right. The flowering parts on conifers are different than what we traditionally think of, but the reproductive organs on conifers work very much the same way. Conifers have both male (pollen bearing) and female (seed) flowers, or cones. Often the male cones will appear first. The most apparent are very brightly colored in reds, orange or purple. Though small, they can be very showy and a real delight when you spot them. Once they fully open and disperse their pollen, they will begin to dry and turn brown, eventually falling off of the tree.

Abies koreana 'Aurea'
Young female cone of Abies koreana 'Aurea'

The female cones will emerge shortly after the males do and may also be in any of quite an assortment of colors. A keen eye will spot them even when they are young and quite small. As they grow and swell, they will receive pollen from the local males, their tiny seeds become fertilized and they continue to grow and mature often turning brown and oozing resin. For several weeks to a few months, the female cones may retain their vibrant color and add real interest to the garden.

I love the flowers of springtime, especially the conifer flowers because they last from early spring until they eventually disperse their seed late in the year. I hope you will take some time to hunt for the flowers on your conifers this year and be amazed by the amazing world of conifers too.

Conifer Lover

Of candles and new beginnings

As children, we look forward to every birthday. That one day in the year when we become the focus of attention of our family and friends. Each year, with great anticipation and excitement, we draw in a deep breath and blow with fierce determination to extinguish the candles burning atop the cake.

Birthday candles bring back many memories of years past. They also cause me to think of the days ahead – the new things to learn and experience, the new friends to make and the new plants for my garden. 

Conifer candles have a similar effect on me. 

Pinus thunbergii Thunderhead candles emerge in spring
Pinus thunbergii 'Thunderhead' candles emerge in spring

Have you ever noticed when Pines begin their new push of growth in spring? You will begin to see long narrow “candles” emerging out of the terminal ends of the main trunk and branches. Those tight candles will elongate, sometimes resin coated, sometimes with a papery wrap or tightly woven silky threads, growing and stretching until the needles begin to unfold creating the foliage for the current season. The showy candles on the pines in my garden are perhaps the first of the conifers to wake up in spring creating an early show as the daffodils and tulips begin to fade.

Keep an eye on your pines this spring and watch for the candles to emerge. Maybe you too will catch a happy memory from your childhood or ponder what life may have for you in the coming months.

Conifer Lover

Eye-popping color

The colors this autumn are fantastic! Our little storm blew through rather quickly, and today I see sunshine and blue sky! As the sun comes up and begins to illuminate parts of my garden, I can see a blaze of color in the spotlight. It’s really quite a sight, the intense reds and orange of the leaves shimmering in the light breeze and sparkling with morning dew.

Fall Color - Fothergilla gardenii
Fall Color - Fothergilla gardenii

Fothergilla gardenii is a great companion to my conifers. In autumn, its foliage color is simply spectacular, but that is not this plant’s only redeeming feature. Early in spring, the plant becomes covered with creamy white, bottle brush shaped flowers at the ends of the branches. The flowers last for several weeks and then rich green foliage covers the plant through the summer months.

Spring flowers
Spring flowers

Now the sun has risen enough to raise the lights on the entire stage of my garden, but even without being in the spotlight, Fothergilla gardenii, provides some of the best eye-popping color in my autumn garden.

Conifer Lover

On the threshold of an Orange Dream

The Japanese maples are my favorite companion trees to plant with conifers. With hundreds of cultivars available that vary in size from very dwarf small trees to large shade providers and in colors from spring to fall that appear to have been picked out of a rainbow, they are nearly as versatile as conifers. The month of May is a big one for conifers. Some will begin their spring flush of new growth in April, but in May—BAM!—they all explode in their new foliar glory. April on the other hand, will see an explosion of color from the Japanese maples.

Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream'

One of the most spectacular, most intensely colorful spring shows is put on by Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream.’ This delightful small tree’s orange new foliage color in spring is a sight to behold. With a background of dark green and blue conifers, the color is so stunning; I find that I need sunglasses whenever I’m near it in the spring. A very tidy small tree, ‘Orange Dream’ grows just a few inches a year and will remain manageable in smaller gardens for many years. It is also very adaptable to being grown in containers for the patio or deck. I’ve planted mine where it will receive ample morning sunlight while providing afternoon shade. In summer, the tender bright orange leaves can sunburn so I may try growing a second one in a container. That way, I could move the plant around a little if it was getting too much sun.

I’ll tell you, the color is so intense and exciting; it’s worth a little extra effort to grow this beauty. And right now I wait in anticipation of the awakening of my ‘Orange Dream.’

Conifer Lover

Many thanks to Iseli Nursery for the photo links!

Brighten up with the blues

Our day or two of snow seems long gone now having been followed by nearly ten days of rain. I almost feel like a bear emerging from a season of hibernation when the weather improves and I can get outside to inspect my garden. The local weather guru is hinting at a warmer and dryer spell over the next 10 days, so I plan to spend as much time as I can cleaning up fallen debris from the big Douglas Firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and European White Birch (Betula pendula) that surround my property. In the process, I am excited to see many of the bulbs sending up their first leaves – a definite sign that spring is not far away!

As the weather warms up, and the earliest bulbs have finished their show, many of my conifers will begin to brighten the garden with their push of new growth. The vibrant colors of conifers in the springtime are a sight to behold. Of all the colors that the conifer garden will display in spring, I am really enamored with the blues. I’ve mentioned my passion for dwarf blue spruce in the past, but the color is so impressive and exciting that it’s worth another look! I think that you just cannot have too much blue in the garden!

Picea pungens ‘Procumbens’ is one blue conifer that offers much to be excited about. ‘Procumbens’ is an excellent ground cover that can be used in a variety of ways in the garden. Naturally, it will grow nearly prostrate in form as its blue foliage mounds and undulates along the ground and over rock walls. It can be propagated as a high graft or staked to give it some height allowing it to create a very free-flowing form before it reaches the ground appearing as a small water fall in the landscape. Its new flush of soft bright blue foliage makes it stand out however it might be used in the garden.

Picea pungens 'Procumbens'
Picea pungens 'Procumbens'

I love it planted in the rockery and allowed to tumble and fall amongst the rocks and other dwarf conifers. ‘Procumbens’ is a versatile plant that is so easy to maintain, it responds well to manipulation and once acclimated to its space in the garden it is essentially care-free.

‘Procumbens’ brings true enjoyment to the gardener and always garners favorable comments from plant enthusiast and novice alike. It’s only one of the blues that will brighten up my garden this spring.

Conifer Lover

Thanks to Iseli for the photo link.