I’ll admit it, even though I graft heritage Apple trees and adore herbs and veggies and grasses, conifers are my favorite groups of plants. When all others have gone to sleep for the winter, the conifer stands steadfast and brightens the rainy winter months.
Each year I find some new excellent varieties to fall in love with and this year is no different. They are the garden bones, they provide the structure for a good design and given the right spot and conditions they are the tough fullbacks of the garden.
The adage ‘The Right Plant in the Right Place’ is never truer than with conifers.
Conifers need drainage. Putting a conifer into a soggy or heavy clay site is often one of the fastest ways to kill it. Planting it too deeply, another efficient way to get rid of it. If you moosh it in with a lot of other plants…you will get to enjoy its bare branches, as those that aren’t getting enough light and elbow room will lose their needles. They do not require much if any grooming or feeding. Average slightly acidic soil with some evergreen food in early spring is a good idea.
Their needs are not many but are very specific, however if you put a conifer into a lovely well drained spot, plant at the correct height and give it sufficient sun for most (though not all) and elbow room, you will be rewarded with an extraordinary specimen of a plant that draws the eye at any season.
Texture, colour and structure in just about every size are the specialties of this plant, something winter gardens are often sadly lacking.
There are specimens for almost every type of garden from pint sized bonsais, to dwarf rockery style plants, to slender upright conifers for small space gardens, to artistic weepers for a sloped or streamside planting, to impressive sentinels for larger gardens or windbreaks.
Conifers are one of the most multipurpose groups of plants.
It is worth a wintertime wander through the UBC Botanical Gardens or VanDusen Gardens to inspire you.
After observing my garden slowly melt away from the voracious driveway eating perennial zoo to bare earth, twigs and wet leaves, I have a hankering for some form, texture and colour now, what to choose…
Here are my 5 fave dwarf or smaller conifers:
||Dwarf Balsam Fir
Abies balsamea ‘Nana’
It is a luscious deep dark green low flat round evergreen with the most amazing electric lime new growth in the spring. This lovely little fir grows to about 3 ½ feet by 3 ½ feet verrrrry slowly. It prefers part sun to dappled shade. The deep dark green contrasts rather nicely with a variegated Hellebore or a golden leaved hosta in the summer.
||Verdon Dwarf Hinoki False Cypress
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Verdoni’
In spite of the huge moniker, this is a lovely variety for the small garden. With fan like sprays of limes, darker greens and golds, this artistically growing Hinoki Falsecypress will brighten up a drab corner of the garden. It is another extremely slow grower with eventual heights from 4-6feet high and a very slender 3’ wide. It prefers sun to part shade and unlike a few Hinokis this gold foliage won’t burn in full sun.
||Dwarf Serbian Spruce
Picea omorika ‘Nana’
A shrimpy version of one of my fave conifers for the small garden. It has the stiffly upright branch growth of the original Picea omorika, and the lovely bi coloured effect of green with blue because you get to see the undersides of its needles which are striped. This little guy can take full sun to part shade and slowly grows to about 4-6feet in height and 3-6 f feet in width.
||Silver Show Korean Fir
Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’
I love the bi-coloured effect of the rich green topsides of the needles and the silvery undersides. The needles are held upright along the branches so you get to see the silver undersides. It always looks snowy. This is a true collector type, often hard to find but worth the hunt. It is a slow grower to 5 feet tall by 3 feet wide. It prefers full to part sun.
||Carstens Winter Gold Pine
Pinus mugo ‘Carstens Winter Gold’
I fell in love with this one on a miserable cold, misty rainy evening. I could see it clear across the courtyard. I had to see what was still looking so cheery buttercup yellow on such an evening. This exceptional plant only grows about 2 inches a year into an eventual 4feet high by 2 feet wide. This little guy prefers full sun for best colour.
These and other gorgeous conifers are usually available at Art's Nursery
. Please call 604.882.1201 to confirm availability if you are looking for a specific size or variety. Stay tuned for parts two and three of my favourite conifers series - coming soon!