One day I posted a picture on Instagram of a Dwarf Conifer from my Garden. Nothing unusual about that you may think. But the photo shows a cloud of pollen around it, as I gently brushed its branches. Although I may have known, in theory at least, that this is how some trees disperse their pollen, I had never seen it for myself. And I probably never would have, without growing that Pine in my garden.
When Monty Don talked to me about including Conifers in my Norwegian influenced garden, I tried to hide my dislike of them. (You can read about his visit to my garden in the post The Making of a TV Programme)
Like many people I suspect, I thought Dwarf Conifers were just plain boring. But if we were to create a garden that resembled anything like the area of Norway that we wanted it to, it would have to include these miniature trees!
Dwarf Conifers are boring…aren’t they?
So where did my dislike of these trees come from? I think it must stem from my childhood years of Horse-riding in the New Forest. There, acres upon acres have been given over to huge coniferous (single species) plantations. Considering it was the famous Deer hunting grounds of Royalty (and is now a National Park) the plantations seem somewhat incongruous.
A little-known fact about me is, when I didn’t have my own Garden, I grew Bonsai. I adored the windswept appearance of the aged Pines and Junipers. On my one visit to Chelsea in the 1980’s I stood enraptured before the Bonsai displays in the Big Marquee.
Having taken note of Monty’s advice, I started my search for suitable dwarf conifers by “Googling it”! And I was astounded to see that there is a huge variety available. But they do come at a price. The very nature of these trees means that they are slow-growing and therefore take longer to reach a size that can be readily sold. I approached one of our local Garden Centres to see what they had. There was a good selection; they didn’t really have what I was looking for.
Head over heels in love!
I headed down to Bransgore near Christchurch, Dorset, to a family-run Nursery I knew of – MacPennys. This old fashioned Nursery has been run for many years by the Lowndes family. They propagate and grow-on many of the plants themselves, and this means you can often find some unusual varieties there amongst their huge stock. I explained to Simon Lowndes about the project we were undertaking, and what I was looking for. We then spent several hours discussing and selecting the 20+ dwarf conifers I needed.
It’s no good.
It must be said.
I have fallen in love with conifers!
Although I am by no means an authority on them I am now an advocate. I love their wealth of variety and interest.
Conifer variety comes in all shapes and sizes
The variety of leaf shape is astonishing (the needles are actual a modified leaf), it is hard to believe that some are Conifers. The mature needles vary in colour from species to species. The juvenile foliage may start as lime green and then darken. Some are red and mature to green.
Climate can affect the colour of some varieties. We have planted a Chamaecyparis thyoides Red Star. Over the winter as the temperatures drop it becomes a lovely shade of burgundy, returning to its green state as the days warm up. (Side note: This tree will attain a height of 12 feet when fully mature. It is slow growing and can be gently shaped. It will be a long time before it out-grows its place). Another tree, a prostrate form, takes on a green brown tinge on the outer branches in cold weather. But lift a branch up and the protected ones below are a vibrant green. The Chamaecyparis adeleyensis has beautiful red buds. Whilst the new growth of the Picea mariana Nana looks – and feels – like a host of furry caterpillars
With dwarf conifers you get to see up close what normally takes place 20, 30 or 40 feet up in the air. You can see the buds of new growth swelling, the pollen being released, and the tiny cones forming.
You may not have the room for as many of these little trees as we have here but consider these facts
- Dwarf Conifers don’t take up a lot of room,
- They grow slowly – so they don’t overwhelm other planting
- It is possible to prune them (With care)
- They are not demanding
- They are NOT all boring green cones of prickly foliage
- There are a huge range of shapes and colours and leaf/needle shapes
- Conifers are mostly evergreen (The couple of exceptions being the Japanese Larch and the Gingko biloba)
- They give structure and interest during the duller winter months of the year
Good homes needed!
So have a good long look around your garden. Isn’t there somewhere in your garden that would benefit from these unsung heroes?
Perhaps you have room for twin columns of Yew or Juniper? Could you make room for the tactile bun shape of a squat Thuja occidentalis ‘Teddy’? How about the elegant prostrate form of Juniperus rependans trailing over the wall?
But please don’t plant a Monkey Puzzle either side of your front door as seen some years ago………..I wonder if the Occupants can get out these days?!