Friday, November 19, 2010

Large Dogs and Small Trees

Photo0145I have a large dog and a smaller auxiliary dog. Here is a photo of the former and, yes, he is sleeping on a twin size foam mattress. This is one of the reasons I garden in raised beds. Seriously, the beds are not raised high enough to keep either dog out; the Lab can jump four feet from a standstill. However, they are very good boys and just having the beds two feet higher than the surrounding area reminds them-most of the time-it is a no-go zone. Fortunately, the Dane is too dignified to jump and doesn’t like to get his feet muddy, so my beds are safe, at least from his oversized paws.

C. j. TensanI can’t explain why someone with an affinity for preposterously large pets would have a passion for tiny trees. It’s peculiar. If you are charmed by the smallest of conifers, like I am, their best use is a space devoted primarily to them-such as an alpine bed or trough. These tiny tykes, labeled “miniatures”, tend to get lost in the mayhem of a vigorous perennial border. Even in a small bed or even a container on a balcony you can suggest a woodsy ambiance using wee conifers. This is the classic use of those hypertufa troughs you see in garden magazines.

In any vignette that is preponderantly coniferous you can ensure interest by grouping a variety of shapes. Obviously, a spreader, a globe and a cone will be far more interesting than 3 balls. Maintain scale by using the same size category in your grouping. By combining your collection with well-behaved alpines and smallerIMG_1060 perennials, you can create a bed that is beautiful and always interesting. Another plus; I might point out that conifers are the original low maintenance plant. No pruning, deadheading, staking, raking, or feeding required.

I’ve created a modified rock garden in my yard that has a variety of sizes and types of plants. It’s a work in progress as I remove what doesn’t work to make room for what does. I have used mostly dwarf conifers, but also some miniatures and a few intermediates. One key to utilizing the different sizes is to arrange them in decreasing size, from the back of the bed to the pathways or to the front of the bed. It creates a trick of perspective, reducing the difference in size through distance. In an even grander setting, you can use large garden conifers to serve as a visual bridge between towering trees beyond your garden and your smaller cultivated plants. This is an example of the design principle called sequencing.

Dwarf and intermediate conifers can be used effectively in garden borders. Remember that conifers are like teenagers; they need their space. Neighboring foliage that overlays the branches of the conifer can cause serP. o. Skylandsious damage. If you lose branches, it will never fill in; only a very few conifers such as Thuja and yew will break from old wood. Evergreens serve as anchors in the seasonal displays of the garden and provide year round structure and interest. Upright conifers of intermediate size such as the columnar Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Ellwoodii’, the pyramidal Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’ or the graceful Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gracilis’ make outstanding vertical accents in the border.

Dwarf conifers also contribute significant color interest in the garden. Not only do they come in every shade of green from the pale spring green of new growth on firs to the deepest dark green found in the yews, but also silver, yellow, blue, purple and orange. Not to mention variegations of white, cream and yellow. Some conifers sport new growth that contrasts with the old growth creating an interesting scheme. Some bear colorful cones, notably Abies koreana ‘Silberlocke’ and Pinus pumila ‘Dwarf Blue’ (yowza!). A few conifers contribute colorful fall foliage, such as Larix kaempferi ‘Nana’.

Others, intriguingly, change color in Photo1040the winter and then return to their accustomed summer hue-without dropping their needles. Some Cryptomeria japonica that are green in summer turn almost purple in the winter. Thuja occidentalis ‘Gold Drop’ is yellow in summer and picks up orange tints in winter. Podocarpus ‘County Park Fire’ changes color from season to season, somewhat randomly and indescribably. Right now mine is sort of puce, which is a rather unfortunate sounding but interesting hue.

You can see why I’m cuckoo for conifers. Hopefully, if you were suffering from the mistaken impression that conifers were all large green amorphous cones, I’ve given you a whole new perspective on plants with naked seeds.

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