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

Feelin’ the love

This has been a fantastic summer for enjoying our fire pit. Some summers are so hot that at nine or ten o’clock at night, when we feel like sitting around a campfire, it is still 80 degrees outside. Not this year. This year, not only do I wear a sweatshirt, but I actually enjoy the warmth of the fire.

Pinus parviflora 'Bergman'
Pinus parviflora ‘Bergman’ is an elegant specimen in the garden.

Last night as my wife and I were snuggled in our Adirondack love seat near the fire pit, out of nowhere my wife mentioned how much she liked the Pinus parviflora ‘Bergman’ just across the pit from where we sat. Now, hearing this from my wife was quite a surprise because she has always made it crystal clear that she does not like pines.  (Actually, there are a few pines in the garden that she has admired over the years – and now that I am thinking about it, they have all been cultivars of Pinus parviflora (the Japanese white pine).

Pinus parviflora 'Goldilocks'
Pinus parviflora ‘Goldilocks’ appears as a bright golden yellow small tree. Closer inspection of the foliage reveals beautiful two-toned needles.

In my last post I mentioned one of our favored variegated conifers, Pinus parviflora ‘Ogon janome’. My wife loves its soft foliage and variegated needles. Pinus parviflora ‘Goldilocks’ is another brightly colored cultivar that my wife absolutely loves. ‘Goldilocks’ is one the brightest yellows you will see in a pine.  Depending on culture, Goldilocks can be trained as a very straight tree or be allowed to follow the beat of its own drummer and mature into a wonderful specimen with gentle curves that add striking character to this small tree.

Pinus parviflora 'Catherine Elizabeth'
Pinus parviflora ‘Catherine Elizabeth’ is a delightful garden additon – I encourage you to invite her into your garden today.

Another Japanese white pine that has won the admiration of my wife is Pinus parviflora ‘Catherine Elizabeth’. This delightful little beauty is soft textured with short bluish green needles and a compact rounded form. Growing just a few inches a year, ‘Catherine Elizabeth’ will fill her space in the garden relatively slowly. She responds well to a little candle pruning in spring/early summer if you desire a tighter, more compact plant.

Pinus parviflora 'Glauca Nana' seedling under evaluation.
This seedling of Pinus parviflora ‘Glauca Nana’ has quite the character. Tiny needles and miniature habit make this one to watch for in the future.

The last time my wife joined me for a walk around the display gardens at Iseli, she honed right in on one of the smallest Japanese white pines I have ever seen. This is one of Iseli’s seedlings under evaluation. With new growth of two or three centimeters and tiny curled needles, this irregularly formed miniature captured both our imaginations. I don’t expect to see this little fella in the local garden center anytime soon, but it sure is something to look forward to.

I’m excited that my wife is beginning to move past her dislike of pines in general and is finding joy in a broader group of conifers. Go team conifer!

Conifer Lover

Anticipation keeps me waiting

After one of the mildest first two months of a new year, today our temperature is dropping to more winter-like crispness. Snow levels are dropping and we may even see sloppy wet snow mixed with rain at our elevation.  As much as I have enjoyed an early start to my garden chores, I am hopeful that the colder weather will extend my garden’s plant dormancy a little longer. If my Larix or Acers begin to push their tender new growth too early, they will very likely get hit with a spring-time frost that is typical in our area. On the other hand, I am in great anticipation for the onslaught of color that is coming soon to my conifer garden!

Pinus contorta 'Taylor's Sunburst'
Good things come to those who wait, and the spring foliage of 'Taylor's Sunburst' is definately worth waiting for.

I am extremely enthusiastic about one conifer in particular. Pinus contorta ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ is an amazing tree that will pick up where ‘Chief Joseph’ leaves off. I’ve shared my excitement about the good Chief in the past and I’ve described how tired he can become at the end of his winter show. Within weeks, ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ literally bursts into its glory as it begins to extend its spring candles of brilliant golden yellow. As the candles continue to extend and the needles expand, the color becomes a little less gold and takes on a tone as if a little cream were added to the mix. This creamy yellow color becomes very prominent against the dark green older foliage that was the sunburst of springs gone by. Place ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ near other dark green or blue conifers for a spectacular color display. Throw a deep red Japanese Maple into the mix and you will find it difficult to pull your eyes away from this special space in your garden.

Pinus contorta 'Taylor's Sunburst'
'Taylor's Sunburst' adds a lot of interest to the garden

Discovered in the Rocky Mountains, high in Colorado, ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ is a hardy Lodge Pole Pine that requires a well drained soil. Generally an upright growing intermediate sized tree, it can become somewhat irregular in form. I like the rugged, mountain grown look it can provide. With a little careful pruning and candle pinching, it can become a manageable, compact pyramid of spring gold. As summer approaches with its longer days and warmer temperatures, ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ kicks up its chlorophyll production and its foliage becomes greener – possibly a natural defense against the sun scalding the more tender yellow foliage. Through fall and winter, this tree steps out of the spotlight in time for ‘Chief Joseph’ to shine bright.

I anticipate a beautiful spring garden and I hope you will experience the joy a conifer garden can provide.

Conifer Lover

Betrayed love

I have a confession to make. My eyes have been wandering. There are some pretty young things in town and they’ve been tempting me away from my true love.

This time of year can be a real challenge for the devoted cone-head. Ordinarily it is a very rare instance when my eyes can be drawn away from my true love of conifers. This time of year though, when the Japanese maples dress themselves in their delicious hot red and orange and yellow foliage – sigh – even the most loyal can be drawn to their seductive beauty.

Autumn foliage of Acer japonicum Vitifolium
Autumn foliage of Acer japonicum 'Vitifolium'

Acer japonicum ‘Vitifolium’ is one of those beauties that is the most difficult to
resist in my garden right now. This shapely small tree does tempt me in the spring with its bright green fresh new foliage and tiny white flowers surrounded by red bracts. During the summer months, ‘Vitifolium’ is easier to resist as she makes a nicely textured filler in the garden. But, in the midst of autumn, she becomes a stunning beacon of seduction that I simply cannot take my eyes off of.

The autumn colors of ‘Vitifolium’ begin with golden tones that quickly brighten to yellow. Then, seemingly overnight, her intense scarlet tones will appear making her absolutely irresistible! Placed near dark green, blue or golden conifers she will boldly cry out, “Look at me!”

Yes, I feel as though I have betrayed my love because I know that ‘Vitifolium’ will not be the only seductress to tempt me away from my conifers this autumn. I will enjoy the show knowing that in just a few weeks, those beautiful colors will all be blown away or swept into the compost pile, while my conifers, my true love, will be waiting for me to return my adoration to them.

Conifer Lover

Mother and child reunion

Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’ is a majestic golden colored spruce tree. One of its desirable features is that it begins to set cones at a fairly young age. The purplish red cones, both, female and male, add real color contrast and interest against the golden yellow foliage of this beautiful tree.

One of the advantages of a tree with prolific annual cone formation is that thousands and thousands of seed may be collected and germinated. Iseli Nursery began germinating seed collected from the two large specimens of ‘Skylands’ located in the Jean Iseli Memorial Garden in the early 1990’s. Literally thousands of seeds have been carefully  planted, germinated and observed ever since.

Picea orientalis Skylands and one of its offspring
Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’ and one of its offspring

Naturally, when growing thousands of conifer seedlings, some variation will be apparent. Some of the seedlings appear almost identical to the parent cultivar with similar foliage color and rate of growth. Others may have a tendency to be more green in color or even have a faster, more open habit than the original. What Iseli is looking for though are plants with a more compact form, more intense golden yellow color, resistance to foliar sunburn, resistance to pests, etc.

Over the years, selections with the best characteristics are made for continued observation. From time to time, some of the lesser seedlings are made available to collectors who  may begin to propagate and distribute them as new cultivars. Meanwhile, back at the nursery, the folks at Iseli continue the evaluation process until one or two seedlings with extraordinary characteristics are chosen for production. Cuttings from those few selected new cultivars are then propagated and the inventory of those selections begins to expand. Eventually, those new cultivars are given names  and made available to the retail market.

One of those original seedlings from back in the early ’90’s is coming very close to that final stage right now. Currently referred to as Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’ [#1 Seedling], this new cultivar is truly exciting! UPDATE: Iseli has just informed me that they are now marketing this exciting new plant with the name, ‘Picea orientalis ‘Firefly’.

‘Skylands’ [#1 Seedling] ‘Firefly’ is a much more compact grower than its mother growing just 4-6 inches per year instead of the 12″+ annual growth rate of ‘Skylands’. The new cultivar also has brighter, lemon yellow foliage on densely clothed branches forming a compact golden pyramid. I suspect this small tree will grow tall in time but should remain comparatively narrow.

The photo above shows both the “mother” and “child” growing near one another in the garden at Iseli. The ‘Skylands’ in the background is just over 30 feet tall at perhaps 35 years old, while [#1 Seedling] ‘Firefly’ is nearly 42 inches tall at 17 years. Seedlings tend to grow more slowly in their younger years and as they begin to mature, their annual  growth rate stabilizes.

#1 selected Skylands seedling
Picea orientalis ‘Firefly’

I am looking forward to this outstanding new cultivar being named and made available to the retail market. I know several people that feel they don’t have room in their gardens for ‘Skylands’. When they see this new cultivar, they will jump at the chance to have its bright golden foliage and compact form highlight a special place in their own landscape.

Conifer Lover

Twisted sisters

I remember the first time I saw a conifer with twisted or contorted foliage. What a strangely appealing and unique plant it was. Today, I’ll share with you two of my favorite “twisted” conifers with yellow foliage.
Chamaecyparis obtusa Sunny Swirl
Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Sunny Swirl'

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Sunny Swirl’ is a selection discovered at Iseli Nursery. This special plant has the same twisted, contorted foliage as C.o. ‘Torulosa’ (its mother plant) but with yellow foliage. Its lack of chlorophyll probably accounts for its yellow color and its slower growth rate causing it to fall into border of the dwarf and intermediate categories of conifer growth rates. I love the texture this plant provides and its yellow color is a definite bonus. Growing in full sun intensifies the color, but ‘Sunny Swirl’ will tolerate some shade.

Chamaecyparis obtusa Lemon Twist
Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Lemon Twist'

The second yellow conifer I’ll mention today also has tiny, twisted, cord-like foliage. Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Lemon Twist’ is a delightfully slow grower staying more compact than ‘Sunny Swirl’. This is a selection from Buchholz Nursery of a yellow sport originating on Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Tsatsumi’. Due to its small, rounded habit, ‘Lemon Twist’ is ideal for container gardens, patios, the rock garden and even table top gardens when a smaller plant is purchased in one of those cute 4″ pots available at the local fine garden center.

Both plants offer great texture and color to the garden however you may choose to use them. I have a ‘Sunny Swirl’ in my garden that is nearly 4 feet tall now and a couple little ‘Lemon Twist’s in containers on my patio.

Next time: Golden yellow miniatures!

Conifer Lover

Garden lighthouses

Looking around my garden the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that the most intense color in my conifers is yellow. I don’t think I’ve noticed it in the past. Sure, there have been one or two gold conifers that have really popped out this time of year, but not as many as I am seeing this year. I can’t explain it, but I sure can enjoy it!

All these bright yellow conifers – from large growers to intermediates, from those with traditional foliage to those with unusual characteristics, and even the miniatures – they look fantastic this early Spring amongst the blue and green spruce and other conifers as well as the fresh new red and pink and orange foliage of some of my Japanese Maples.

Three of the larger growing Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) cultivars that are standing like lighthouses right now are Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Aurea,’ ‘Goldilocks’ and ‘Confucius.’ All three have their own unique growth rates, color intensity and overall texture. I am happy to have the space to grow all three in my garden.

Chamaecyparis obtusa Goldilocks
Chamaecyparis obtusa Goldilocks

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Aurea’ might be considered the “granddaddy” of the golden Hinokis. Introduced in 1860, this tree will become quite large with age and stands out with its golden yellow newer foliage. Older, shaded foliage will tend to turn a nice green color which contrasts well with the brighter new foliage. Rated with a annual growth rate of over 12 inches per year, ‘Aurea’ will become a stately tree in the garden.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Goldilocks’ is a newer cultivar that is becoming more available in the local fine gardening centers. Also a large grower, ‘Goldilocks’ has intensely bright yellow foliage that reminds me of the Lemon Yellow crayon in the old Crayola 64 count box. A strong central trunk and very uniform branching habit make ‘Goldilocks’ an improved form when compared with ‘Aurea’ and it’s irregular branching when young.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Confucius’ is an intermediate grower that will form a shorter, wider and more densely foliated plant than ‘Goldilocks’. If a smaller tree is desired with a brilliant yellow color, ‘Confucius’ is a real winner; one of the best golden yellow Hinokis to be sure.

Next time I’ll compare two fantastic yellow plants with unique textural characteristics – don’t miss it!

Conifer Lover