Garden Design

Today Dale Dailey (whom we’ve visited before: Dale’s Garden in 2020) is sharing some special conifers.

Coniferous trees and shrubs have a special place in our garden located near Lansing, Michigan. Fortunately, we have enough space for many varieties of larger conifers around the perimeter of the garden, but I have also integrated smaller and dwarf varieties into our ornamental gardens. Following are a few examples.

small conifer amongst various perennialsThis dwarf Alberta spruce, Picea glauca ‘Conica’, can work in a variety of settings. Here it provides texture and a bold solid color when surrounded by hosta, astilbe, and large ferns.

Russian CypressRussian cypress (Microbiota decussata, Zones 3–7), is a little-used but hardy wide-spreading ground-cover evergreen that closely resembles a spreading juniper in shape but with the foliage of arborvitae.

blue conifer at the end of a garden bedConcolor fir trees are among my favorites. I purchased the compact variety on the right, Abies concolor ‘Compacta’ (Zones 3–7), about 25 years ago, and it anchors one section of our garden.

conifer surrounded by plants with white flowersAbies koreana ‘Silberlocke’ (Zones 5–7) is a slow-growing tree with recurved needles that showcase their silvery undersides. The bright silver color provides an effective backdrop to a garden that features white flowers and foliage.

blue spruceThe many varieties of spruce comprise another group that I particularly enjoy. This photo shows a dwarf variety of blue spruce, Picea pungens ‘St. Mary’s Broom’ (Zones 2–7) that I bought many years ago. It does not put up a leader and only grows an inch or two a year. A “broom” or “witch’s broom” is a diseased or mutated mass of dense deformed twigs and foliage in a conifer. They are the source of many choice and beautiful dwarf conifers.

small blue spruce in front of garden bedThis variation of blue spruce, Picea pungens ‘Prostrata’, provides a useful separation of colors and textures in a sunny area. It is a rather shapeless plant that sprawls over the ground like a ground cover.

conifer in a zen gardenConifers can serve many functions in a garden. In our Japanese-style garden, this green mound, Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Silver Lode’ (Zones 4–8), provides a sense of a wooded island in contrast to the stone islands in the back.

tiny conifer in gravelThis very small conifer, Picea glauca ‘Echiniformis’ (Zones 3–6), with the common name of hedgehog dwarf white spruce, has been a feature of our alpine garden for several years. It is an extremely miniature and compact evergreen with short gray-green needles, and it forms a dense, compact mound.

dwarf pine tree next to plants with yellow flowersThis dwarf white pine, Pinus strobus ‘Horford’ (Zones 3–8), has been grafted upon a standard to provide an umbrella effect. In the foreground is a creeping juniper, probably Juniperus procubens ‘Nana’ (Zones 4–9).

odd shaped coniferThis slow-growing pine has developed a beautiful shape with a little bit of help. Sorry, but I don’t know the name of the variety. In the background is a Corylus avellana ‘Red Majestic’ (Zones 4–8). It is a Harry Lauder’s walking stick with leaves that emerge burgundy-red and mature to green—also a great plant.

tiny white pine recently plantedAnd finally, here is another white pine variety, Pinus strobus ‘Tiny Kurls’, a tree I purchased recently. It is a dwarf selection of white pine that has a nice globose structure when young and later becomes broadly pyramidal. Its needles are twisted and blue-green—absolutely stunning. My research indicates that after 10 years, a mature specimen will measure 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide. I can work with that.

Conifers that are suitable for gardens may take more time to find, but the search is part of the fun.

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