Deciduous Conifers


Of the few deciduous conifers that exist on this planet the Larch, or Larix, is probably the best known.  There are some 11 species of it that grow from the Western US across the to the Atlantic seaboard and others that grow across Europe to Siberia and into the Himalayas and beyond to China and Japan.  The one I’m showing you here is a form of the Japanese Larch, Larix kaempferi, called “Diana”.  It’s a uniquely contorted form that bends and twists as it grows fast to a small tree of maybe 30 feet tall, in not much time, given that it’s grown 3 – 3 1/2 feet for the last two years I’ve had it and it’s still growing this year.  It turns an amazing golden yellow in fall and can be seen from the house it’s so bright and clear in its color.

We won’t get much shade from this tree but its form and texture makes up for that quite well.   This tree is in the Pinaceae, or Pine family, along with another of these deciduous conifers called the Pseudolarix, or Golden larch.  It’s not a true larch but sure does look like one. Another great tree for fall color too.  It goes bare in the fall too.  So don’t be shocked when that lovely conifer you have in the front yard loses its leaves in the autumn.  They’ll come back in the spring all feathery and bright green and new.


This tree in the Cypress family, or Cupressaceae, is well know in the south eastern parts of the US.  It’s a variety of the  Swamp Cypress that inhabits the swamps and wetlands of that area. This is the Taxodium distichum variety called a “Peve Minaret” for the developer of it in Holland.   This is a dwarf form of the tree that will only grow to 10-20 feet tall, depending on which web site you read.  I’ve only seen them get to 10 feet or so myself so we’ll see how it goes. The species tree grows to 100 -150 feet and is a valuable timber tree for commerce in its native habitat.  The wood is known for its ability to withstand rot, as is true with many plants in the Cypress family.  Not surprising, as it grows in water.  It also develops “knees”, or roots that come up above the water line.  Very cool…

This tree turns a lovely shade of orangish brown before it drops its needles in late fall.  It’s late to leaf out in the spring too but the foliage is such a treat it’s well worth the wait.  It’s one of my “pettable” trees because it’s so soft to the touch and easy to be around.  Not prickly like so many conifers are.  This tree is only 5 years old from a 5 ft tree, and it’s now over 10 feet tall and 7 feet across so it’s going to get much bigger in time.  Maybe  it’ll get to that 20 ft. mark.  I’d like that, but since it only puts on about a foot each year, as is typical for many mid sized dwarf trees, it’ll take another 1o years or more to get there.  I can wait…


This one is perhaps my favorite tree in the garden.  Maybe.  I have so many I love.  This is a variety of the famous Dawn Redwood, or Metasequoia glyptostroboides.  This variety is called “Miss Grace” and it’s a weeper that I had to train up to get it to its current height of 9 feet.  Though it’s the smallest of the redwoods, the species will grow to over 200 feet tall in central China where it was just “discovered” in the early 1940’s.  It was found in the fossil record just before then and was a surprise to be found living still in its native habitat.  Its’s endangered there but its seeds have been sent to arboreta and nurseries all over the world.  I planted my first one for my folks back in the early 70’s and I sure would like to see it now.  It must be close to 80 feet by now I’d guess.  Wow!  I wish my folks had been able to keep that home…. ah well.  But I digress…

The story of this particular cultivar, “Miss Grace”, is that the nurseryman that found it thought it was going to be a weeper and trail along the ground.  But overnight the nursery workers tied it up to be a tree, so that’s what happened.  I worked hard to get mine this tall but it wouldn’t stay put when I tried it to get it to 10 feet and it fell over about 2 months after I took off the training stakes.  So now it weeps down all over itself.  It’s another one of my “pettables” because it’s so incredibly soft to the touch.  It turns a lovely shade of orangish brown, like the Taxodium, in the fall before it loses its needles.  It grows a little slower than the other ones, at several inches a year, so it’ll be a treat to see how big it will get in time.  I’m excited to see how it does.


Some folks will say I’m cheating with this one.  Many people call this a conifer but it’s not really one.  It’s clearly related it’s true, but it’s not truly a cone bearing tree like the confers.  It’s a Gymnosperm tho like confers but is closer to the cycads (like Sago Palms…) than the conifers.  But I’m including it anyway because so many people call it one, including the  American Conifer Society.  So I’m fine with putting it in this list.  This is a Ginkgo biloba variety called “Jade Butterflies”.  It’s a relatively small dwarf tree that will grow to the usual 10-20 feet tall, but so far it’s only gotten to about 8 feet in my garden.  It’s grown about a foot a year tho so it won’t take it long to get to full size.  The leaves look like small butterflies which is why it’s named for them.  I can see it, but it’s a  fanciful name, as so many botanical names are.  That’s OK, it suits it.

This is a unique tree, being the only member of its family -the Ginkgoaceae – and has been around for over 270 million years in its current form.  It’s called a living fossil and it truly is.  Here in Washington State we have a State Park called the Ginkgo Petrified Forest and we visited it last year on a trip across the country.  It was amazing to see the little leaves in the rocks and to imagine this tree being around way before the dinosaurs and humans by ages.  It’s truly a piece of living history.  There are some giant trees of this type growing all over the world now so it’s a treat to have a small one here in our small garden.

Well, that’s a tour of  some deciduous conifers.  The only one I didn’t mention was the Chinese Swamp Cypress (Glypstrobus – like the Metasequoia glyptostroboides which was named for it.)  I feel privileged to have at least 3 ( maybe 4) of the 5 (maybe  6) deciduous conifers on the planet.  I try to have a great variety of plants in this garden and now have over 200 different varieties or cultivars.   It’s a lot of why we call this a Sanctuary, and sometimes a mini Botanical Garden.  I purposefully sought out these deciduous conifers for their unique status and their wonderful habits of growth.  I like it that they lose their leaves and die back each year.  It’s nice to provide a different option for the garden instead of a dark heavy conifer.  These are all much lighter feeling and the loss of leaves makes them look delicate and fine.  Just my opinion, but I find them fascinating.  I hope you do too.

No, they aren’t dead!🙂





This is the plant most folks think of when they speak of a Daphne. This is the classic Daphne odora “Marginata”, perhaps the most fragrant plant in the garden. When it blooms the whole front yard is filled with an intoxicating fragrance that permeates the air from the driveway to the hedge and up to the front porch as well. It even reaches out into the street at times. It’s truly amazing. I wish I could put a smell-o-meter on this post so you could experience what they smell like. These bloom in late Winter – in February and March when not much else is blooming and certainly nothing as fragrant as this plant. It’s one of my favorites in the whole garden. They’re native to Japan and China, as so many beautiful plants are…


This little gem is called Daphne “Lawrence Crocker” a hybrid between D. arbuscula and D. collina. It’s native to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. What a treat it must be to find this perfect specimen in the forests of that region. This is special plant that blooms so often it’s got flowers on it early in the spring and then blooms again later in summer. It’s in bloom now in fact and this picture was taken in April. You have to bend down on your knees to really smell this one, tho you can get a whiff of it standing over it sometimes. Here you can see it surrounded by our native Bleeding Heart and Wild Ginger.


This is the largest growing one I have. It’ll get to be a 4 or 5 foot ball. Its called Daphne transatlantica “Summer Ice” and is a hybrid of garden origin. It’s the one that Really blooms a long time. It starts in early spring with its first flush of flowers and then it begins again in June with another set that will last for weeks. It’ll keep flowers on it for months actually and they smell almost as strong as the Odora.  The two plants are only 5 feet apart on opposite sides of the garden in the front yard so we have a plethora of fragrance in that area for months on end. This plant is only about 3 years old so it grows fast. Next to it is another fragrant plant – a Sarcococca ruscifolia – that blooms even before the Daphne odora in January. We have a Very smelly front yard!🙂


This last one isn’t fragrant at all really – maybe just a touch. But that’s not why we grow it. It’s for the lovely foliage and the wonderful mounding  habit it has. It’s called Daphne x Rossetti, a natural hybrid from the Pyrenees Mountains. It’s a bit crowded here with the foxglove that volunteered to grow next to it. I love their flowers so I let them stay, usually. This is a small plant that won’t get more than about 12 inches tall and wide. It’s been here for a couple of years now and has grown wonderfully well. It may not smell but it’s still a beautiful little Daphne.

As you may know Daphne was a figure in Greek Mythology. She was a Naiad, a type of female nymph associated with springs, brooks, wells, fountains and other bodies of fresh water. She was pursued by the god Apollo, whose advances she spurned. He got mad, as those male gods tended to do, and so she had to be rescued by her father, the river god Ladon, who turned her into a laurel tree to save her. Daphne means laurel in Greek and the way it associates with her comes from a plant called a “Laurel Daphne”, or “Spurge Laurel”. Today Laurel is associated with the Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) which is the plant whose leaves crowned the victors of the original Olympic Games, and are so good to cook with.

There are some 50-100 species of Daphne over the world, mostly in Asia, Europe and North Africa. They are known for their fragrance and poisonous berries. Lovely to see and smell, but don’t eat the fruit…!! Now where have I heard That before???

Stop and smell the flowers…



Nandina domestica, also known as Heavenly Bamboo, is a medium sized shrub that grows a bit like bamboo, thus the common name. But it’s actually in the same family as Barberry – the Berberidaceae. It can grow up to 8 feet tall, or more, with a spread of 4-6 feet given room. It grows in a fountain shape and the way you prune it is to lop off the tallest canes from the ground up and let the new ones take over, which they will do rapidly. This is a fast growing plant and this variety – “Moyer’s Red” – turns a lovely reddish shade in the winter.

The red berries follow the flowers you can see in the following pictures. In some you can even see a few berries. They are a common plant and in some areas are considered invasive, but not here in Seattle where we are. This is one of the few plants we have more than one of. Mostly I try not to repeat myself, but a line of them was too attractive to miss, so we did that as you’ll  see below. All the plants you’ll see are almost 8 years old, and are some of the first plants I planted when I moved in with Louie in 2009.


This is a shot of the front of the yard, as seen from the street. This is the first view people have of our garden. As you can see the Thuja pyramidalis behind the Nandina are about 16 feet tall and make a nice backdrop for them. In between them we planted Oregon Grape, also in the Barberry family. They have small purple berries on them now that are pretty good to eat, but are a bit sour so they’re best for jelly and such.  The Nandina berries are poisonous and even the birds tend to leave them alone.


This one is right by our front porch. It’s at least 8 feet tall, and there is a legend that if the Heavenly Bamboo gets taller than the door jamb that it protects the home.  This one will do that pretty well I’d say. It has a lot of flowers on it now and a few berries left over from last season. It frames the entrance to the house and provides interest all year round with its various changes.


This last one is by the door of the garage and is well over the door jamb, so I guess the garage is well protected. I did a little bit of fancy pruning on it to air it out some and give the form a chance to show itself off. You can see a couple of little reddish new shoots coming up thru the neighboring foliage at the bottom. I’ll let them grow and in time they’ll replace the taller canes now growing. It never turns very red because it’s in a north facing area and just doesn’t get much sun at all.  The ones in front do much better at changing color because they get so much more sun.

I’ve known Nandina for some 45 years of gardening and have planted so many of them in landscapes I really couldn’t begin to tell you how many of them I’ve put in the ground. They used them a lot where I grew up in central California and are in fact pretty overused there in places. I almost grew to dislike them when I worked there doing landscapes, but I’ve overcome my prejudices as I’ve gotten older and away from that business end of things. Now I just plant what I like and am happy with them.

I hope you enjoyed seeing some of these plants in various shapes. They’re nice plants for narrow spaces or for screening, and to provide that Asian flair for the garden. They aren’t hard to find and  there are many varieties, from small mounding shrublets to this tall natural form I’ve shown you. Some turn blazing red in winter, some don’t. All in all it’s a very versatile plant for many gardens.

Happy Growing!


The Path


Going into the Front Yard


Going towards the Back Yard

This path runs along the north side of the house. It’s shady and grass won’t grow here, and it was all slanted away from the house and muddy in the rains. So we decided to redo it.  We leveled the area and brought in several bags of walk-on bark to create a nice walk along the house. Then we tackled the front area which was another muddy spot which sloped to the lawn. We got some nice stones and laid them in a rising pattern going into the back and planted Corsican Mint (Mentha requienii), a lovely ground cover that smells divinely of fresh mint when you bruise it as you walk past. It’s made an ugly eye-sore into a pleasing path from front to back. It ties the whole garden together so we can walk around the house to see everything. Not much work for a nice return…

Walking gently,


Acer palmatum “Sango Kaku”

I wanted a nice tree to walk in under as we came up to our front porch. I didn’t have the room to plant a big tree so I planted a smaller one that gets maybe 25-30 feet tall – big enough for my purposes for sure. In the following pictures I’ll show you how it’s grown so well over the last few years. It was small when we got it and I had to pick one that would allow me to train it so that it wouldn’t block the paths and stairs around it. I did a lot of work to accomplish that, including at one point tying it up so that it was straight, more or less. I dunno if that was really necessary but it worked and now it’s full and big and does the job I wanted it to do. See for yourself!


April 2010 – shortly after planting


October 2010 – with some nice fall color


May 2011 – after a year’s growth


August 2011 – getting a bit sprawly


January 2012 – in a little bit of snow – why’s it leaning?


August 2012 – much fuller now – getting big


May 2013- nice spring growth


November 2013 – bare after leaf drop. See how skinny it is?


May 2014  – lots of growth!


November 2014 – Fall color – see how the tips are going last? Last to grow – last to turn…


July 2015 – still skinny


October 2015 – gentle fall color – it gets brighter!


March 2016 – just starting to grow – see how red the new growth is?


April 2016 – in the rain – makes it look huge and cool-looking!


June 2016 – today – big enough to be a real tree to walk under now – finally!

It’s a bit hard to believe that this tree grew from a few sticks in 2010 to this 20 ft tree in about 7 years of growth. It’s still growing as I write this so I know it’ll get even bigger this year -and it’s still a baby in tree years. I did manage to accomplish my goal of keeping it very narrow so that we can walk up the stairs and into the garden without hitting our heads on the branches.

It’ll get a lot wider and still another 10 feet of of height perhaps and pictures I’ve seen of big ones make me kind of shudder – it’s going to be a big tree here, despite it’s being classified as a “small tree” in my books. It doesn’t get quite as big as the straight species which will get over 40 feet – even 50 for a really big, old one.

This one will do for us. It’s also known as the Coral Bark Maple for the bright red stems it puts on when they first come out. It’s supposed to resemble a tower of sea corral in Japanese, thus the name – “Sango Kaku”. Its lovely in winter, especially with a bit of snow on the ground around it. As they age the limbs turn an undistinguished brown but I still like it fine.

It’s pretty common in nurseries and even the big box stores (where I got mine! – eek!), so if you like this you’ll probably be able to find it somewhere in your area, depending on where you live of course. But common doesn’t mean it’s not great ya know – just that a lot of us like it…🙂

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip thru memory lane with this wonderful tree. I only had a couple of good shots of the really excellent fall colors it turns – from the yellow I did show to a striking reddish orange that you can see from up the street. It’s a beautiful tree and I’m happy to have it to walk in under when I come home. Maybe you could do this too…

Rising from the sea…


Sorbaria sorbifolia “Sem”


It’s a little hard to see what’s what here but the plant I’m focusing on is the little one in the lower middle of the screen, to the left of the Daphne and the right of the Globosa Thuja. It’s a little thing now and it was so pretty with its many colored foliage when we got it. This is taken in October of 2010, a couple of months after it was planted. It’s common name is Ural False Spirea and it’s native to Russia, Kazahkistan and  Siberia. It’s Very hardy and is one of the first plants to leaf  out in late winter. I’ll show you how it’s grown over the last few years in the following pictures.


This is the next winter as it starts to leaf out in February 2011


By May 2011 it’s gotten quite large already, and you can see the many colors of the leaves here. Just a hint of things to come!


Here it is in July of 2011, all green now


March of 2012 – leafing out nicely


Just a month later in April 2012


Late March 2013 – getting wider


Lots of growth by July 2013 – all green and big now


Late November 2013 – Looks so much smaller when it’s bare doesn’t it?


Leafing out in March 2014


Lots of color by April 2014


May 2014 – a bit bigger…


February 2015 – just leafing out ( Daphne in bloom next to it…)


March 2015 – good growth now


April 2015 – so much bigger in a month!


Early February 2016


April 2016 – getting big now, with great spring colors


June  2016 – Wow! This shows how it looks now

I hope you’ve enjoyed the profile of this unique plant. I see many of them in nurseries looking so sweet and tiny and fluffy and soft.  Like a big fern. They look like you could put them anywhere. But watch out!  They sucker like crazy. This started out with only a few stems and now it’s got dozens and spreads over some 4-5 feet of ground and is over 6′ tall and wide. You can see the remnants of the flowers on this one too. They look like a spirea which is why it’s called a False Spirea I assume. It’s a beautiful plant if you have the room for it. Just make sure you do or it’ll be a monster! But a pretty one at least…🙂

Happy Summer Solstice!



Elegant Elegans


At planting in fall color in October 2010, pretty small – 18″ maybe


Early February 2011 – no growth yet, but good color all winter


After one seasons growth – December 2011


Next summer – June 2012 – lots of growth


July 2012 – strong tip growth


November 2012 – Tons of new growth!


May 2013 – Beginning new growth


October 2013 – Very big now…


November 2013 – Wow…


April 2014 – pruned up some for walkway


May 2014 – full growth


November 2014 – Fall color beginning


March 2015 – Green again


July 2015


November 2015 – Good Fall color


February 2016 – Coming out of  Winter


February 2016  – Getting tall now


June 2016 – Yesterday

I know this is kind of a long strange post, but it seemed like the best way to show off the growth of this amazing tree. It’s got to be one of the fastest growing trees I’ve ever come across. As you can see it sometimes put on 3-4 ft of growth in one year. I’ve seen Coast Redwoods do 5-6ft but that’s in their habitat. This one really likes it here in our Sanctuary and I’m so pleased to have it.  The botanical name is Cryptomeria japonica “Elegans” and it’s better known as a Sugi in Japan.

It’s one of my “pettable” trees, perhaps the finest, with it’s elegant soft needles that don’t ever prick you, as so many conifers do. It’s billowing branches lift and drop in the breeze to create a delicate show of foliage that intrigues and softens the landscape. I love that it turns such strong colors in the fall and winter as well.

All in all one lovely tree, and just one of many (over 2-300) cultivars of this amazing Cryptomeria, the National Tree of Japan. It clearly likes it here in our peat bog in Seattle too. I hope you’ve enjoyed this retrospective of this beautiful tree.

Thanks for visiting our Garden,


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