Sunday, November 28, 2010

Top 5 (or 6) favorite conifers for small gardens

Not everyone has room for a towering deodar cedar or Scots pine, both of which can reach 100’. However there are some beautiful conifers of a more restrained nature which fit beautifully into smaller landscapes, rockeries or containers. Not only are (most of them) evergreen, but they offer structure for the winter garden with their varied shapes and foliage types. Here are some of my favorites.

Chamaecyparis 'Wissel's saguaro'
Chamaecyparis l. ‘Wissel’s saguaro’ (Wissel’s saguaro false cypress); perfect for the narrowest garden or container this has become my signature tree in small garden design. The foliage is a rich blue-green and it is positively huggable with its saguaro-like arms. It grows about 4” per year and will eventually reach 8’ but stays less than 2’ wide.

Picea abies ‘Little Gem’ (‘Little gem’ Norway spruce); a nice little dumpling of a conifer making a tidy, flattened mound about 18” tall x 2’ wide. Very slow growing.

'Rheingold ' arborvitae

Thuja o. ‘Rheingold’ (‘Rheingold’ arborvitae); there are plenty of golden conifers but I like the coppery tones of this mounding arborvitae which become even deeper in the winter. Mature size is 3’-4’ tall and wide. Lovely near a coral bark maple tree in winter where the red maple branches will relate to the rich conifer foliage.

Cedrus d. ‘Feelin’ blue’ (‘Feelin’ blue’ deodar cedar); a prostrate variety of one of my favorite cedars. There is a wonderful blue cast to the prickly foliage of this weeping conifer. It is slow growing to 2’ tall and may eventually reach 4’ wide but can easily be kept smaller. Can be used as a groundcover but also associates beautifully with large boulders and red leaved maples. You may also find it available as a weeping standard tree.

Amazing cones on Hortsmann's Silberlocke fir
Abies koreana ‘Hortsmann’s Silberlocke’ (Hortsmann’s Silberlocke fir). One of the most striking features of this specimen are its upward curving needles with silvery undersides, making the whole tree look as though it is dusted with snow. It is slow growing, eventually reaching 5’ wide x 15’ tall. The purple cones stand upright on the branches and form when the tree is still quite young. A lovely accent tree for the garden or container.

Pinus strobus 'Blue shag' shows off its soft draping form 
beautifully in this container.
There are so many others it was hard to narrow it down to just five! Well I couldn’t; I have to add this last one Pinus strobus 'Blue shag' ('Blue shag' eastern white pine). My friend JoAnn has this growing in a container and as you can see the gently mounding pine perfectly compliments the elegant shape of the bowl. I keep telling her that if she comes home one day and finds it has disappeared it will have found a new home with me! This is so tactile you absolutely cannot walk past it without stopping to stroke the soft blue-green needles. It’s as soft as a teddy bear. Stunning.

If you’d like to explore other possibilities check out Gardening with Conifers by British author and conifer expert Adrian Bloom. Great photography, good ideas for combining conifers with other plants and accurate cultural information.

See you at the nurseries!

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