Variegated conifers are cool!

My wife and I have varying tastes in garden plants. She grew up enjoying annual flowers, bulbs, perennials and flowering shrubs. I, of course, prefer conifers. One thing that we both definitely agree on is our love of variegated plants. I even tolerate a few plants that I otherwise would have no interest in if their foliage were not variegated.

Generally, variegation refers to variety or variation of color. One great example of a common plant seen in gardens and as houseplants almost anywhere is Coleus. Who doesn’t love the brightly multi-colored leaves of the Coleus plant? Another of our favorites is Hosta. Many Hosta have large leaves that appear to have been brushed with two or three colors of watercolor paints. Happily, some of the coolest conifers also have variegated foliage.

Sometimes conifers will push their new spring growth of one color, like red or yellow, and then mature to their “normal” color of green or blue. Others will push their new growth a bright golden yellow and as the older foliage becomes shaded by the new, it can darken to green giving the overall plant a variegated appearance. Still others will have green or bluish needles on one side and appear silver or white on the underside due to a waxy coating, again giving the plant a variegated appearance. Beautiful as all these things are, this is not the variegation of which I am referring today.

Juniperus chinensis 'Torulosa Variegata'
Juniperus chinensis 'Torulosa Variegata'

Today I will share with you some of the most striking variegated conifers whose foliage is multi-colored due to interesting patterns of pigment (or perhaps more accurately, lack of pigment). First on the list is a fairly slow growing small tree, Juniperus chinenesis ‘Torulosa Variegata’ or the Variegated Hollywood Juniper. You might think of this as an irregularly shaped upright green conifer with splashes of yellow all over the foliage. Sometimes entire twigs of new growth will be yellow, other branches will have a mix of yellow and green in varying quantities giving the whole tree a very unique appeal.

Pinus parviflora 'Ogon janome'
Pinus parviflora 'Ogon janome'

Another great example of yellow variegation in a conifer is Pinus parviflora ‘Ogon janome’ with its bands of buttery yellow variegation on its green needles. From a distance, the variegation is difficult to discern. One may perceive that this Japanese White Pine is a little more yellow than other nearby plants in the garden. Closer inspection will reveal a wonderful variegation on each and every needle providing this striking effect.

Tsuga canadensis 'Albospica'
Tsuga canadensis 'Albospica'

In most gardens, the two previous trees will perform their best in full sun, although ‘Ogon janome’ may enjoy light shade in the afternoon to protect it from the intense summer sun. The final conifer on today’s list is actually quite tolerant of shade. Tsuga canadensis ‘Albospica’ loves moist, rich, well drained soil and thrives in filtered sun to bright shade. Its new foliage will emerge nearly pure white with some tell-tale signs of green showing. As the foliage ages, its chlorophyll production will kick in and eventually become dark green. The contrast between the white new growth and the dark green mature foliage is absolutely stunning. ‘Albospica’ can become quite a large and open grower, so I like to keep mine pruned which encourages a fuller habit and more of the white new foliage to brighten its home on the north side of my house. I’ve seen a low hedge of ‘Albospica’ that has been regularly sheared and kept to a height of about four feet for many years.

Tsuga canadensis 'Albospica' - cone
Even the cones of 'Albospica' are variegated - that's cool!

These are just a very few of the many selections of conifers available with variegated foliage. I believe that no matter where you live, you will be able to find at least one variegated conifer that will thrive in your area. Keep an eye out for them the next time you visit your favorite independent garden center.

Conifer Lover

A break from conifers

I’ve got to tell you about an exciting garden plant that is sure to please almost eveyone. My wife loves it for its variegated holly-like foliage which she uses during the holidays in her decorating. I love it for its multi-season appeal and nearly care-free maintenance. Others love it because it is deer resistant and not bothered by other pests.

Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki'

Although Osmanthus heterophylla ‘Goshiki’ is not a conifer, I do love it. With its holly shaped variegated leaves emerging with pinkish tones and maturing to golden yellow and green and its manageable growth rate, I think it should have a home in every garden. A very versatile plant, ‘Goshiki’ is suitable grown in containers, the rockery or allowed to grow large in wide open spaces. If you desire to keep it small, it responds well to heavy annual shearing.

From a distance, ‘Goshiki’ will appear as a golden mound or broad pyramid. Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice the delightful patterns of color on each leaf and that their shape is similar to, but not quite as sharply pointed as holly.

Leaf close up

Evergreen, hardy to zone 6 and limited only by the gardener’s imagination, ‘Goshiki’ is useful in a formal, casual or whimsical garden and it could be an accent, hedge or featured specimen. Did I mention that I love it?

Conifer Lover

Thanks to my friends at Iseli Nursery for the photo links.

Sparkling like a precious gem

Every once in a while I come across a plant in the local garden center that seems to sit there and draw my attention in a seductive way like a Sirens’ song luring me away from the mission that brought me there in the first place. If that is not enough, it usually is a plant that I already have in the garden, healthy and happily serving its purpose.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Mariesii'

One of those alluring plants for me is a dwarf conifer with light green finely textured foliage and white variegation that almost seems to sparkle like a precious gem. I’ve mentioned before in the blog, that the dark grey winters where I live can sometimes suck the life right out of you. That’s certainly one reason why I love conifers so much – it’s their ability to brighten and add life to those dreary, dark winter days. Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Mariesii’ is certainly a plant that can brighten a dark day and shimmer with excitement in the brighter days of spring and summer!

I love the fine textured, variegated foliage and the tidy habit of this dwarf conifer. I’ve seen a specimen of close to 30 years old that has reached a height of 9 or 10 feet and a breadth of about the same. From a distance, ‘Mariesii’ looks like a nice, finely textured, light green mound, but upon closer inspection the wonderful white variegation really stands out. I’ve been enjoying mine in my rock garden for many years, but it’s getting to the size that I may need to either move it to a more spacious location or begin a pruning routine to allow me to keep it in its current place for a few more years.

Whatever I decide to do with my specimen, I’m afraid that every time I visit a garden center, I will hear the song of a new, younger plant tempting me to purchase a second one. And hey, what would be wrong with that?

Conifer Lover

Thanks to my friends at Iseli for the photo link!

Color spots

Every spring my wife wants to go to the local garden center and bring home “color spots.” You know, those annuals that you can buy in six or eight packs and plant them around the garden to provide splashes of color for a few months in spring and summer. I keep reminding her that dwarf conifers make great color spots.

For one thing, they last all year long – not just a few months. And secondly, they are such low maintenance – you never need to “dead head” them or constantly fertilize them to force their best performance.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'White Pygmy'

Take Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘White Pygmy’ for example. Here’s a great dwarf conifer that appears as a speckled green and white mound. Over several years, this little ball of color will still be a very manageable size in the garden – very much the same scale as color spots tend to be – and all you need to do is plant it and enjoy!

Even in winter, ‘White Pygmy’ remains a bright spot in what would otherwise be an empty space where the color spot used to be.

It’s taking some time, but my wife is coming around – pretty soon, I think she might forget about those annuals all together.

Conifer Lover

Photo kindly provided by my friends at Iseli Nursery.