Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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Conifers are the Cure

Does our Zone 5 plant palette ever seem limiting to you? Do you yearn for just one specimen plant that no one else in northern Illinois has? Do you ever look at your garden and think, "If I could just get a plant with year 'round interest for that spot I'd be so much happier with my garden?" I know I'm always thinking what would be hot in this or that spot. Do we need a support group for those of us looking for plants off the beaten path?

If it existed I would suggest "Conifers are the Cure". For those that haven't been smitten or bitten yet, but want more landscape interest the world of evergreens awaits. The range of colors (gold, blue, lime, silver and more), forms (columnar, weeping, globe, pencil point and more), needle textures and often wonderful cones is far broader than you might think.

For example: Blue spruces come in different shapes. Love the powder blue color of 'Fat Albert', but lack the space for a 30' tree? Two dwarf forms are popular and readily available. 'Globe' blue spruce exhibits the same intense color typical of the best grafted blues, but with a flattish top, maturing at 5' tall and a bit wider than that.

Globe Blue Spruce
If you want something more sculptural imagine a weeping blue spruce for your garden. One great cultivar is 'The Blues'- kind of clever, eh? Weeping/sad/blue.... But it doesn't look sad. Like most weeping evergreens the mature height and spread tend to be variable based on how they're trained as young plants. A 5-6' height and wider spread might be a realistic expectation after 10 years.

Need another true blue option other than spruce? Pictured below is a Dwarf Blue Concolor Fir (Abies concolor 'Glauca Compacta') . The color is certainly equal to any blue spruce, but the needles are velvety soft to the touch. It withstands temperature extremes and drought, but only reaches 8' tall, with a space-saving 3' girth.

Dwarf Blue Concolor Fir

Norway spruces, with their dark, dark green needles come in all shapes and sizes including weeping, too. Again, like other weepers variability is to be expected. Norway's do tolerate shade, if they're forced into that situation. The dark color on such an architectural specimen arising from winter snow is pretty stunning.

Weeping Norway Spruce
Rich, true gold exists in the conifer palette, too. The use of a gold specimen makes a standout contrast and really puts an exclamation point wherever you place it. There are wonderful yews, like 'Dwarf Bright Gold' (medium height spreader) that is gold for weeks in the spring before "greening off" for the summer. I really like 'Gold Mops' Falsecypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Gold Mops') for a fun broad-based gold specimen 365 a year. It came through last winter's weather horror with no damage in my garden.

Mops Falsecypress
Space calling for a  tall drink of water, as my grandfather used to say? The columnar Norway spruce (Picea abies 'Cupressina') fills that bill perfectly. Growing rapidly to at least 30' with a 6' spread, this one has multiple uses. Could be a specimen (single plant by itself in a starring role), staggered in odd-numbered groupings to define a space or single file to create a screen where height and minimal spread are desired. Again, any Norway spruce can do sun or considerable shade.

Similarly height-blessed, but width-challenged,  is the wonderful Weeping white spruce (Picea glauca 'Pendula')  pictured below. This is a great plant to break the strong horizontal lines of a ranch house. Always a predictable pencil-pointed, silver-gray specimen, pruning is never needed. This shape is just genetic destiny. Like most conifers more sun means a fuller, denser plant.

Weeping White Spruce
Do take the time to explore all your options beyond arborvitae, yew and blue spruce. Honestly, finding just the right evergreen specimen can cure the 'garden blahs'.

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