Winter Conifer
Julie Parker
My interest in gardening & wildlife stemmed from childhood days spent working in the garden with my parents & reading books on anything from robins to giraffes. As time has moved on these influences have stayed with me inspiring the creation my own garden & leading to interests in fish keeping & the natural world around me. I still love to read & hope that the knowledge I gain will make topical reading through these articles.

How To Grow Colourful Conifers

Conifers are back in style - perfect for year round interest and colour! 

There is a lot of variation in shape, size & foliage in conifers; Chamaecyparis have fronds of flat leaves, Pines have sharp needles & Junipers have spines. This great diversity among conifers and their solid presence in the garden make them a useful & versatile group of plants. You can get even more visual value by planting species and varieties of different colours, there are a wide spectrum of shades to choose from including grey, blue, yellow and even variegated conifers; some conifers will also change colour as the season’s progress giving added interest. Autumn is the ideal time for planting and to celebrate National Conifer Week, 1st - 9th October 2011, we have a wide variety in stock this month so you can be guaranteed a good selection. Amongst these are a number of varieties with the RHS Award of Garden Merit which means they are of outstanding excellence.

The green conifers are also endlessly varied and there is a shape & size for every location. Juniperus communis ‘Green Carpet’ is a prostrate evergreen conifer with bright green needles which will spread up to 2m across. This is ideal for ground cover, or growing on a bank or over a wall. If you are looking for some height, another variety of merit is Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Grayswood Pillar’. A narrow flame-shaped conifer with dark green feathery foliage held on upright slightly flattened branches. Look out for Thuja occidentalis ‘Danica’ if you need a globe-shaped conifer. This compact sphere is composed of flattened foliage sprays which are bright green in summer and bronze tinged in winter. It will reach about 45cm in diameter after 10 years.

Gold/yellow conifers will brighten up a corner of the garden or form an interesting focal point. Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’ is a slow growing oval-shaped conifer, which is golden yellow in summer transforming to copper/ orange then bronze in winter, especially if planted in an exposed position. It will reach about 1.2m in height after 10 years.

Blue/grey conifers add another colour alternative to your garden design. Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Carpet’ is a vigorous prostrate conifer whose foliage can vary according to its situation. In winter it can be blue-green, steel blue or purplish but this transforms to a striking steel-blue in summer. This is ideal for ground cover or growing on a bank or over a wall but will need pruning from an early age. Another variety of merit is Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ which is similar to ‘Blue Carpet’ except that its foliage transforms in spring to a spectacular display of butter-yellow new shoots which spreads to sulphur yellow over the whole plant. Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’ is a flat topped dome shaped conifer with sparkling silver blue leaves. It will reach about 45cm in diameter after 10 years.

Variegated or mixed colour conifers rapidly make their presence felt. Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Summer Snow’ is a slow-growing cultivar with pale green foliage in winter and if grown in good moist soil in a sunny position will reward you with creamy-white new growth in summer.

It is a matter of striking a balance. If you do that right, conifers can make a fantastic, lasting, low-maintenance contribution to your garden, however big or small it may be. Conifers always enrich your living space.

Most conifers like a light spot, but Thuja and Taxus in particular can tolerate a lot of shade. It is often thought that conifers like acid soil, but that is usually not the case. They can cope with any normal garden soil, although they prefer a slightly heavier light loam or clay soil.

Match conifers to garden situation for smaller gardens avoid varieties which grow very quickly or get very big. It is best to buy good sized specimens of slow-growing cultivars for smaller gardens. It gives a mature look straightaway and there is virtually no pruning required.

As you’d expect cultivar names sometimes tell you what sort of shape or colours the plant might produce. So ‘Columnaris’ means column-shaped, and ‘Globus’ means round. A name like ‘Piggelmee’ (a gnome in Dutch children’s books) tells you that it will remain small, as does ‘Blue Dwarf’ or names with ‘Nana’ in them. ‘Fastigiata’ means rising narrowly and ‘Pendula’ is going to be a weeping form with overhanging branches. A shape like Juniperus scopulorum ‘Sky Rocket’ will go upwards in a very narrow shape, and Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Carpet’ will stay low, covering the ground.

There is a space in every garden for a conifer, they will do well in a mixed border or look particularly stunning in a well planned conifer bed with a mix of size shape & colour. So come along to see what we have in stock & celebrate National Conifer Week with us!