[We stock many of the varieties mentioned/pictured here, but since we only tend to get restocked in spring, please call ahead if there is something specific you’re looking for; otherwise there’s sure to be a substitute that will suit your needs.]
I see conifers as the “red-headed stepchild” of gardens; why so few appreciate their myriad forms and interesting habits, colors and textures is beyond me. Ok, so they don’t flower and don’t produce pretty berries, but they make up for it in their own way: some change color with the seasons, their seed cones can be just as interesting as clusters of fruit, and their range of textures and colors provide a consistent palette to play other plants off of. For those of you who decorate for Christmas, their cut branches last well into winter in arrangements with wet floral foam and cool temperatures (here at the nursery, they’ve lasted through Valentine’s Day).
Just like many other shrubs and trees, conifers come in dwarf and compact forms; this doesn’t always mean they’ll stay small forever – it just means that they don’t get where they’re going very quickly. “Miniature” conifers only grow about 1” per year and “dwarf” conifers grow no more than 6” per year so, let’s face it, they’re not outgrowing their space anytime soon.
There are some options for shady sites, though honestly the vast majority of conifers grow best (and look their best) in at least 6 hours of direct summer sun. I always appreciate conifers the most when they’re mixed with non-conifers; it forces you to notice the change in texture and other nuances that I think are often overlooked or taken for granted. Of course, there’s always color: you put a bright yellow conifer next to a blue one and everyone’s going to notice. Add in a purple-leaved perennial or red-berried shrub and you’ve now got a riot of color on your hands that is going to last longer than any flowering annual can, and we all know annuals are very good at what they do.
“Variety is the spice of life,” the saying goes, and that’s definitely true of gardening. The more you can mix plants together, the more interesting it becomes. If you don’t like a chaotic look, just remember to plant in swaths (if using multiple smaller plants) and use repetition to tie everything together. What do you repeat? That’s up to you – it can be the exact same cultivar or it can just be a theme like leaf color, plant shape, or overall texture. Let’s look at some uses of conifers in various landscapes to see how we can use them and what some of our options are (there are way too many to list here)…
by Miri Talabac, Woody Plant Buyer