Hooray! Hooray! It’s a coney day!

Hooray, they’re here! The first of the colorful little spring-time treasures have begun to show themselves. I caught my first glimpse of new developing cones just about two weeks ago. If you have been reading my blog for a few years, you will know that I always look forward to spring when the conifers begin to “flower” and their colorful little cones emerge on last year’s stems. Both male and female cones will show up along stems and upper branches on many conifers – some at a very young age, others after they have aged some years. And this treasure hunt is not limited to early spring, some conifers develop their new cones on the current seasons new flush of growth, so cone hunting season can last into summer.

Clusters of cones add interest to the garden every spring.

The first cones I spotted this season were on a few different cultivars of Abies (fir) that I have in my garden. Abies balsamea ‘Tyler Blue’ is a blue foliage form of the Balsam fir and is a very attractive tree. I was doubly pleased when I first noticed that my young specimen began to develop cones last year. These cones are not as showy as some others with their brighter colors, but the light green new cones do stand out against the bluish foliage of this great tree. Over a period of weeks, as the cones mature, the main core of the cone begins to turn light lavender-purple while the light green “wings” remain. In a month or so, the cones will have swollen and become a more solid light purple color, eventually drying to brown over the summer and into autumn.

Colorful cones create quite a spring-time show on Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’.

Another spring-time show stopper is Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’. This beautiful cultivar has very showy curved needles which are rich green on one side, and have a silvery white coating on the other. Due to the curve of the needle, its white side is exposed making the tree shimmer in any light at all – even in our gray Pacific Northwest weather. A big part of the show for me is the massive amount of purple cones that develop, in well-numbered clusters all over the upper side of the branches. My small tree had cones on it when I planted it several years ago, and it was just a young plant at the time. The skinny purple cones will fatten up and become a much deeper purple than the ‘Tyler Blue’ mentioned above.

‘Mac’s Gold’ has pretty new foliage and colorful cones to add an exciting zing to your spring garden!

One of the first spruce to show off its cones in my garden is Picea glauca ‘Mac’s Gold’. Not only do its bright pink cones emerge and begin to develop, but at the same time it begins to push its bright butter-yellow new foliage. This color combination is the cause of many a second look whenever my spring-time guests make their way to the back garden. As summer arrives, the golden foliage darkens to a light green and the cones become darker and dry to a tan and brown with warmer temperatures and longer days.

There is so much happening in the garden right now and everyday I try to make time to take a stroll, seeking out whatever tiny treasures may be emerging in the splendor of spring!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

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Federal coneheads

“Hey Ed! Did you see that one of the largest and most popular branches of the federal government have become coneheads?”

“Pardon me?”

“Yeah Ed, apparently the United States government has gone conehead!” laughed my friend. “You’ve got to check out their website.”

The conversation continued like this for a little while before I was able to get my friend to tell me exactly what he was talking about. As it turns out (and maybe many of you are already aware of this) one of the new Holiday designs for the United States Postal Service this year is a collection of four artist’s renderings featuring conifers.

I checked out the USPS website and found that they have holiday conifer stamps and other products available. The stamps feature nicely drawn details of the foliage and cones (or in the case of the Juniper, its berry-like structures). They also have very nicely produced postcards prestamped and with information about each conifer. I was very excited and impressed when I saw what they had to offer.

My wife and I were just talking a few days ago about our need to purchase more stamps for our holiday greeting cards this year. I hope she sees these great conifer stamps. Since they are Forever stamps, I think we should stock up now – then we’ll have plenty of conifer themed stamps to last us a very long time.

Check out the link above and you’ll find four conifers featured in the set including; Abies balsamea (Balsam Fir), Juniperus virginiana (Eastern Red Cedar), Picea pungens (Colorado Spruce) and Pinus ponderosa (Ponderosa Pine).

Happy Holidays!

Ed-
Conifer Lover

Waves of joy

This current surge of cold weather, and its resulting effect on my aching joints, has reminded me how important thick, dense groundcovers are in the garden. I’m aching just thinking about what a huge chore I would have to face every spring and summer if I didn’t utilize some of the all-natural, year-round, hardy and beautiful ground covering qualities of many exciting conifers. I have enough bare space in my garden that weeds still do manage to pose a challenge to me – but there is less of it every year, due in some part to my groundcovers.

When some folks think, coniferous groundcovers, they may envision low growing carpets of Juniper or Taxus – which are fine examples and can be very effective. Other great plants to cover your ground and ornament your space may include any of a great number of weeping conifers from, Pine and Spruce to Hemlocks and firs.

Pinus densiflora 'Pendula'
Like a waterfall, the foliage of Pinus densiflora ‘Pendula’ spills and flows over the ground creating a dense covering to help the fight against weeds.

Some great spreading and ground-covering conifers will, in and of themselves, make fantastic individual specimens, while happily covering bare ground and making less space available for weed seeds to germinate. Others may be much more subtle as they nonchalantly creep and crawl, filling in empty spaces, drape themselves over walls or around rocks, and generally provide a nice low addition of color and texture to the year-round interest of the conifer garden, all while reducing the gardener’s workload.

For example, one great choice is Pinus densiflora ‘Pendula’(Weeping Japanese Red Pine). This delicious bright green pine has long thin needles adorning reddish brown twigs and deeply textured mature bark. If allowed to simply grow naturally, it would build wave upon wave of undulating foliage that mounds and spreads covering as much space as the garden will allow. Most likely found in the independent garden center grafted at a couple feet off the ground or trained on a stake to three or more feet tall, ‘Pendula’ will quickly turn and begin it’s waterfall-like decent to the ground where it will spill and splash and fill in empty space with its lush foliar display. Staked to six or eight feet (or taller) the effect can be absolutely stunning. Keep in mind that the taller the plant is staked, the longer it will take many of the branches to reach the ground and begin to do their job.

Other great choices of ground covering conifers include:
Cedrus deodara ‘Prostrate Beauty’
Cepahalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’
Juniperus communis ‘Corielagan’
Juniperus conferta ‘Silver Mist’
Juniperus horizontalis ‘Golden Carpet’
Picea abies ‘Pendula’
Picea pungens ‘Procumbens’
Pinus strobus ‘Stony Brook’
Pinus sylvestris ‘Albyn Prostrata’
Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula’

Ed-
Conifer Lover

The garden room

One great advantage of a conifer garden, should one have a desire for privacy, is that you can create very nice garden rooms where the neighbors can’t find you. The disadvantage is that if you’ve fallen asleep while sunbathing, your snoring may give away your location – to the parcel delivery man.

I’ve actually created a few little garden rooms. The one we use the most frequently partially encloses the patio just off the back of the house. I’ve planted a combination of a few slender upright conifers, mixed in a couple mid-sized, broadly conical forms, added a small Japanese maple and filled with lower, spreading forms that all work together to make a very nice colorful border to enclose the patio.

Picea abies 'Frohburg'

With the recent arrival of very hot weather, I thought it would be fun to relive the old days and lay out in the sun for a little while. Dressed in my shorts, flip-flops, hat and mp3 player, I dragged my favorite reclining lawn chair into position in my “secure” garden room. Full quart of iced tea at my side, I was ready to enter that state of meditation I achieve when lying in the hot sun. Some people call it a nap, but I wouldn’t dare fall asleep in this kind of hot sun, would I?

After watching the humming birds chase one another in a contest of territorial dominance, I closed my eyes and covered my face with my hat. Then, in what seemed like mere moments later, I began to hear someone speaking in some strange dialect.

Juniperus communis 'Gold Cone'
Juniperus communis 'Gold Cone' is another great narrow upright conifer for use as a colorful specimen or as part of a screen for your garden room.

“Sir? Excuse me…? Uhhhmm… Sir?”

My mind slowly beginning to drift back to reality, perspiration dripping from all exposed skin, I wondered what strange lyrics these were to the music I was listening to.

“Excuse me, uhhhhmmmm, Sir – the note on the front door said I should bring this around back to you.”

“What?” I mumbled with the kind of snort and growl that accompanies the tail end of a deep snore. My wife must have gone somewhere.

“I’m sorry sir, did I wake you? – It’s just that…”

“No, I’m not asleep… I… What time is it? Who are you?”

“UPS, sir, the sign on the front door said I needed to bring this around to you….”

You get the idea. I was thankful I had decided not to fully return to the days of my youth and retained some sense of decency in what I thought was my “secure” space.

As a word of advice, no matter how private a space you may think you have created with the nearly endless selections of colorful conifers available today, you never know when you may need to accept a parcel delivery – or when the Google Earth satellites may be photographing your area from high overhead.

Ed-
Conifer lover

Ever eat a spruce tree?

Remember Euell Gibbons? He became nationally famous back in the mid-70’s while promoting Grape Nuts cereal with his quote, “Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible.”

I had discovered Euell a couple of years prior to that when I came across his book, Stalking the Wild Asparagus at the library. What captured me – beyond the topic of wild foods – was the whimsical style of his writing. He made foraging for, cooking, and eating wild foods, sound like fun.

Care for a cup of tea?
Care for a cup of tea?

I had learned about some wild foods, including pines, while in the Boy Scouts. While I never delved into the experience as deeply as Mr. Gibbons may have liked, I have certainly held onto my interest in natural foods. Recently I discovered some of the food aspects of one of my favorite genera of conifer, the spruce.

Did you know that the young shoots of spruce are high in vitamin C and that they can be brewed into a refreshing tea? Neither did I. In fact, according to wikipedia, the explorer “Captain Cook would have both malt and sugar-based spruce beer made during his sea voyages in order to prevent scurvy in his crew.” As it turns out, spruce beer was common in both the colonial United States and eastern Canada. There is still a spruce beer soft drink available in some parts of Canada today.

The majestic spruce has also been used medicinally for the treatment of respiratory diseases including tuberculosis and the leaves and gum of the tree have been used in the treatment of cancer. Other uses include treatment for skin complaints and to sooth a cough.

Not only can you fill your garden with colorful spruce trees of assorted shapes and sizes; with some research you might even be able to fill your medicine cabinet with remedies made from those same trees.

Ed-
Conifer Lover