Grafting goodness into the garden

The past couple of winters I have enjoyed adding a few new conifers to my collection through the process of grafting. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to graft thousands of new conifers, professionally and just for fun. Although, for an assortment of reasons, my grafting years came to a sudden halt some time ago. In recent years I have enjoyed propagating a few sought after treasures in my little hobby greenhouse.

Picea omorika 'de Ruyter'
Originally a seedling selection in 1938, 'de Ruyter' is a slow-growing tree with unique characteristics.

I planted a number of those treasures in my garden this past summer, and I am terribly excited to watch them grow and become mature specimens. One of those new conifers to my collection is one I have been interested in for a number of years. It has a very unique texture in its growth habit, and is one of the finest of the silvery/blue/greens to be found due to its prominent white stomatic lines on the underside of each needle, which are held on their branches in such a fashion as to light the tree up with their bright waxy brilliance.

Picea omorika 'de Ruyter'
As a frost covered winter specimen, or a silvery spruce in the summer garden, 'de Ruyter' is worthy of the hunt. It might be a good idea to special order this one through your favorite independent garden center.

The Serbian Spruce is known for this feature of bicolored foliage, and its cultivars, in their various shapes and forms, all display it to one degree or another. Picea omorika ‘de Ruyter’ is unique in its growth habit on this otherwise relatively “normal” broad, upright conical form. Each year the terminal cluster of buds – whether at the apex of the tree or at the tips of each branch or branchlet – will push forth a dominant central extension of new growth. At the base of this six or seven inch terminal growth are a thick cluster of buds, which also burst forth their new growth, becoming smaller branchlets of just two to three inches in length. All of this new growth is covered with varying lengths of blunt-tipped needles, longer at the base of the branch, held at an outward angle, while becoming shorter and lying more closely to the branch as they approach its tip.

My little tree is essentially just a terminal stem and its first cluster of branches at this point, and it will be many years before is becomes a notable specimen in my garden.

Although grafting is not for everyone, I intend to add a few new cultivars to my collection each year. I suppose I should begin to make my list for this winter’s fun!

Conifer Lover

A tasty crystalline crust

Brrrr…. Our normally mild Pacific Northwest weather has turned foggy and frosty. It is unusual that we have a good little frost like the one this morning, although frost and fog make for a very pleasant stroll through the conifer garden.

When I first peeked out between the curtains, the sun had yet to lend much light to that morning hour. By the time we enjoyed our morning tea and I stoked up and added wood to the fire, I could see that we were immersed in a rather thick fog, which was just beginning to brighten enough for me to note a dandy little frost had added a tasty crystalline crust to all my plants.

Winter in the Conifer Garden
Winter in the Conifer Garden is as inviting as any other season.

Winter can be a very pretty season in the conifer garden. While many of my friend’s gardens, with this sudden frost, have been reduced to many piles of spent-perennial brown mush with the occasional bare-twigged shrub along with an evergreen or two, my conifer garden is full of visual brilliance composed of varying shades of blue, green, gold, mauve and orange. Color, of course, is simply one part of the winter conifer garden equation, and looking out upon my garden, I see all of the wonderful shapes and forms from very large, towering trees, to smaller and more compact broad pyramids, to slender fastigiate forms and conical shapes. Also to be found are an assortment of colors and textures, along with weeping plants (both deciduous and evergreen) and spreading ground-huggers. The conifer garden is as much a thrill to encounter today, as any in summertime.

Winter in the Conifer Garden
Winter shows off the structure of Japanese Maples resting in the conifer garden, while the conifers provide color, structure and texture.

The crisp air was unrelenting against my exposed skin causing my morning walk to be quite brisk. My discoveries were too great to be bothered by the cold as I marveled at the patterns of the frost clinging to and heaving from all of the plants in my garden. I loved the way the frost encircled the small branches of my Japanese Maples as if they had been dipped in glue and rolled in diamond dust. Even in the dim, fog-diffused morning light, the frost caught a glimmer that managed to give off a little sparkle here and there. Winter’s magic was at work.

Winter in the Conifer Garden
Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Barabits Requiem’ stands as a sentry in the frosty conifer garden.

May your winter garden be filled with conifers, and other exciting plants, to delight your eyes and draw you out for more morning walks – if not this year, then in years to come.

Conifer Lover

Where spring remains winter and autumn visits spring

It seems difficult to believe that any spring could be longer, colder and wetter than last year when we didn’t see sustained temperatures above 60 degrees fahrenheit until well into June. Even then, the rains continued past their “normal” cut-off date of July 4. Last year I did see much more activity in my garden by now in both my conifers and Japanese Maples – we seem to be two to three weeks behind last year.

It was nice to have a brief respite from the cold rain for three days last week. The thermometer on my patio claims that we had a high of 63° on Saturday. Those nice days were followed by a mix of sunshine, rain and hail and a high temperature of 48°, and now we’re back to our cold showers.

Acer palmatum Goshiki Kotohime
Summer foliage of Acer palmatum Goshiki kotohime showing great texture and color.

I did enjoy spending time in my garden during those nice spring days. I transplanted several little one year old grafts into slightly larger pots and I managed to get a little weeding done. The weeds do love our constant rain and the fact that said rain prevents me from attacking the weeds in a more timely fashion. I also noticed that my Japanese Maples are beginning to push their new flush of growth (which is a sure sign that the conifers will be following along very soon).

Perhaps the earliest plant to push its first grunt of new growth in my garden is Acer palmatum ‘Goshiki kotohime’. This very dwarf Japanese Maple will often show signs of life well before anything else in my garden. Its orange/pinkish-red new growth is very small and always seems to sparkle because when it is trying to emerge, we are still experiencing plenty of rain and the threat of light frost. I always become a little concerned when I see its first little leaves popping out and I know that frost is forecast in the area. It does seem to be more hardy than it looks since it always just waits for the cold weather to pass and continues right where it stopped without any sign of damage.

‘Goshiki kotohime’ is a great dwarf plant. Its leaves are closely packed on thin branches giving the appearance of being more of an herbaceous plant than a woody small tree. Its new leaves push with brilliant color and then turn green with deeply cut lobes and undulating edges which create a wonderful texture. Being a slow grower, it is an excellent choice for the container garden as well at other themed miniature gardens where it could easily be pruned to maintain a smaller size if needed.

Acer shirasawanum 'Autumn Moon'
The spring flush of Autumn Moon may look like fall foliage color, but trust me, it is springtime – really.

Another Japanese Maple that I love in spring is Acer shirasawanum ‘Autumn Moon’. The spring foliage is an amazing blend of autumn yellow and orange which is certainly eye-candy while it can confuse ones sense of time. This small tree is a beautiful, compact grower with nice form and a very pleasant color all season long. I love how its color complements the blue, green and gold of my conifers.

Spring is upon us, I just hope that winter will release its grip so that we may enjoy more sunshine and warmer temperatures before the calendar reminds me that it is mid-summer.

Conifer Lover

Great color for the cold days of winter

After several days of spring-like temperatures, our Pacific Northwest weather has made a u-turn back to winter. Well, around here that means the east wind is howling, bringing low temps to near freezing. But, when you factor in the 15 to 30 mph winds, that makes us feel considerably colder. With our friends in the mid-west and back east enduring much lower temperatures and a fresh onslaught of snow, all I can think about are cold hardy conifers!

Three of my favorite hardy conifers make a beautifully colorful vignette when grouped together in the landscape or in containers. This time of year when many other plants are taking a beating from the bitter cold, these three provide enough color to make anyone smile.

'Curley Tops'
The foliage of Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Curley Tops' has a unique curly habit as can be seen in this close up photo.

My first selection is the bright, silvery blue, Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Curley Tops’. This vigorous grower rates within the Intermediate growth range as charted by the American Conifer Society, putting on 6″ to 10″ of new growth per year in my area. ‘Curley Tops’ has a very nice compact form with soft, dense, curly blue foliage. If you would like to slow its growth, it does respond very well to a nice light annual shearing. Naturally growing in a cone shape, if one desired, it could be shaped to the heart’s content.

'Golden Mop'
'Golden Mop' is a slow grower suitable for small spaces in the garden or in containers when young.

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mop’ is listed as a dwarf, but keep in mind that it can become large in time. As a young plant, ‘Golden Mop’ will form a broad roundish mound of bright yellow, coarse, tread-like foliage. In time it becomes broadly pyramidal in form and is quite stunning in the garden planted near dark green or blue conifers. Its color takes on a rich golden hue as winter becomes more intense.

Like the fluffy clouds it is named for, 'Cumulus' is a perfect miniature puff for any small space in the garden or in containers.

Finally, Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Cumulus’ is a great little miniature with tight coarse green foliage and a form that is reminiscent of those wonderful, fluffy, puff-ball clouds on a warm spring or summer day. Since this one is a true miniature conifer growing close to an inch per year, it is perfect for the container garden too. In fact, if acquired as young plants, all three selections are suitable to be grown in containers for a number of years. Then, as they put on some size, you could place them near each other in the garden for a spectacularly colorful corner. Add more colorful conifers or other companion plants for a display worthy of the finest gardens.

Until next time, stay warm!

Conifer Lover

And it begins…

The new year has always given me a fresh new outlook. I suspect that it is not so much the turning of a page on the calendar, or remembering to change the last two digits of the year when writing checks, but more the simple biological fact that the hours of daylight are increasing and a sense that new life is just around the corner.

December was a very dark and rain-filled month where I live. Even though clear skies bring much colder temperatures this time of year, I am energized by the sunshine we have experienced the past few days. Sunny days encourage me to open the curtains, and open curtains mean a great view of my garden.

Tsuga canadensis 'Kelsey's Weeping'
'Kelsey's Weeping' is a premium conifer any time of year.

Brisk, cold mornings often bring frost, and frost gives the winter garden a special charm. The conifers all take on a new look with sparkling new colors when they are covered with frost early on a sunny morning. Even the last crumbling brown remnants of my wife’s perennials look good when covered in the multi-faceted crystals of a good, hard frost. Fortunately though, most of my garden is filled with the vast assortment of shapes, sizes, colors and textures of my conifer collection.

From the tall dark green of my Picea orientalis ‘Aureospicata’ and bright blue of my Picea pungens ‘Hoopsii’ to the weeping forms of Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Pendulum’, Tsuga canadensis ‘Kelsey’s Weeping’, and Picea omorika ‘Pendula Bruns’ and all of my various and assorted dwarf and miniature conifers, they all have an exciting new look in the bright early morning sun.

As I take a brisk walk through the garden, the ground makes that familiar crunch as my footsteps break through the frozen heaves of gravel in my path. I see birds busily searching for seeds and even the squirrels are out to harvest some of the goodies they had hidden away earlier in the year. The sun, very low in the sky, in an unsuccessful attempt to warm the morning air, creates a wonderful golden hue to the garden while the shadow patterns move silently across the landscape.

I think about the smell of the soil and realize that it won’t be long before I am able to bury my hands in its goodness as I begin a new year of gardening. But for today, I think I’ll just enjoy the garden, in all its winter-time beauty, from the comfort of my favorite chair near the woodstove with a fresh cup of tea.

Conifer Lover