This is a good time of year to assess your garden. Does it look good now? If it looks good in January and into early February it probably looks good year round. One way to approach the garden is to try and look at each bed. When I’m designing a garden bed I try and make sure at least one third to one half the bed is either evergreen or the bare trees and shrubs have interesting branch structure.
One of my favorite “go to” groups of plants are conifers. Unfortunately most conifers may get rather large. The two main native conifers in the Northwest, Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars can get to two or three hundred feet. That’s not exactly the right plant for most gardens, even large gardens, although we do have eleven Douglas Firs in our shade garden (hence shade garden). The perfect solution is to choose dwarf conifers.
Some dwarfs can still reach twenty feet but compared to a one hundred foot tree that is small. Others may only ever reach two or three feet. Dwarf is a relative term so you need to make sure you know the plant you are buying. Check out the label or information on-line so you will know how long it will take to reach a certain size. Most are slow growing which makes them an excellent plant for containers or rock gardens. Most also like sun and well draining soil.
In the garden they are great for texture, structure and color. Some needles are soft while others are very sharp. Dwarf conifers can also have many different shapes from columnar to pyramidal to round or even weeping. Placed properly they really stand out. The color can also make them pop in the garden. Not all are green. They might vary from golds, greens, blues and even variegated. Planted amongst herbaceous plants (plants that die back each year) they have year round interest complimenting the herbaceous plants in spring through fall and as stand alone plants in winter.
Here at Old Goat Farm I like to use them as container plants first. Some can stay in containers almost forever while others may be good in the container for a few to several years. We have a long concrete pad at the back of the house which is sunny and the perfect place for conifers. Since we sell a large number of dwarf conifers we like to showcase them and what better place than creating a conifer walk. They are easy to move around and place in attractive groupings. They also give a lot of interest in the winter close to the house.
We have planted a number out in the garden and it seems each year we are moving a few more from their containers to a more permanent home. A few of the sunny borders are primarily herbaceous plants so something we do to add a little winter interest is place a few of the containers of dwarf conifers into those beds. We also have a number of containers in the garden permanently because the pot adds a little height in the bed. An upright conifer in a container acts like an exclamation point or a focal point in the garden.
For those of you who have small gardens or even a condo with a deck they are even a better choice. What other plant gives you year round interest plus stays well behaved? The only problem is limiting your choice because there are so many cool dwarf conifers to chose from.