It’s the Little Things

Fragrant Kalmiopsis

I love big trees. Their majesty and sense of history. They overwhelm me so wonderfully, and if I could I’d have a whole forest of them in my garden. But I don’t have the space for them. So I’ve decided to make a garden of little things. Of plants that bring me the joy of the larger world in small form. I have a lot of dwarf and unusual plants in this garden that are only going to get a few feet in size, small compared to many of their parents. But they are both complete in themselves and give me an echo of those parents. It’s a unique way to create a garden and I recommend it. I’ll give you a little tour of mine.

This picture is of a special and rare plant called  a Kalmiopsis fragrans. And yes, it’s fragrant. It grows in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon. It may be the oldest extant specimen of the Ericaceae, the Heather Family, which is one of my favorite plant families, comprising blueberries, rhodies and azaleas, madronas, cranberries and lingonberries, wintergreen, salal and huckleberries, and of course heaths and heathers. Many of them are the plants that cover the forest floor of the northern hemisphere. This plant will get maybe a foot or two wide and a foot tall. The one here is only about 8 inches tall and less across. You have to get down on your knees to see and smell it but it’s worth it.

I have several other little plants that you have to inspect from close up. A dwarf form of Daphne called “Lawrence Crocker” that has sweet purple blossoms and grows a foot tall, with some wild ginger with its strange red flowers poking out next to it. A dwarf Himalayan blueberry that gets a similar size and has small sweet berries in the fall. Or the andromedas or bog rosemarys. They only get a foot or two wide and a foot tall and are covered with clear pink bell shaped flowers typical of the heather family. And of course there are the Heathers themselves that are generally small plants and get to a couple of feet at the most. I have a whole bed of them that are  just gorgeous in the  summer and fall when they bloom.

Then there are the dwarf forms of the trees that get so large in regular life. In the bed with the heathers is a dwarf Ginkgo that gets maybe 10 feet tall and has butterfly shaped leaves which give it its name of “Jade Butterflies”. It’s a rare and ancient tree that was thought to be a conifer for many years but is being re-evaluated for that right now. I don’t know what the result will be yet. But it’s a beautiful thing and it turns a golden color in the fall as its much larger parent does. I’ve enjoyed Ginkgoes for many years and it’s a joy to be able to have even a small one in my own garden.

Some of my favorites are the Cryptomeria, or Japanese Cedar, varieties. One called Elegans is the largest of the 5 I have. It’ll actually get 30 feet tall. That’s still a dwarf compared to its parent that gets to be a forest tree and is the national tree of Japan. Called the Sugi it’s bark and trunks are used to roof and create temples. Its dwarf varieties are so numerous I can’t begin to name even a fraction of them. The others I have are the “elegans nana”, a dwarf form of the elegans only stiffer, a “pygmaea” which gets to be a ball of about 3 feet, a “tansu” which gets only a foot or so around and is prickly as can be, and a “black dragon” which can get to 10 or 12 feet and turns a dark color as it ages which is why it’s called black. All of these give me the echo of the parent tree and make me think of what the forests in Japan must be like.

Another of my favorites is a dwarf coastal redwood called a “Kelly’s prostrate” that only gets a foot tall and 4 feet across, tho it may get bigger since it’s already that big and I’ve only had it a couple of years. It gives me the sense of a redwood grove with the needles so flat along the stems and its branches rising up in spurts here and there A friend remarked that he thought it was a fern it looked so delicate and elegant. It’s an echo of the tallest tree in the world, and I think of those trees whenever I see it.

Then there’s the dwarf form of the largest tree in the world, the Sequoiadenrdron giganteum “Pendula’ which may get to 35 or 40 feet, but that barely compares to its ancestor which is the bulkiest living thing on earth. Its foliage weeps and is a twin to the giant Sequoia. It droops down the limbs and wraps around them, and in the fog is a ghostly image of something out of legend. It reminds me of the giants I so recently saw on a trip to California. The Redwoods, both on the coast and in the Sierras where this one comes from, are simply magnificent and with dwarf specimens I get to have a little piece of them in even this small place.

There are the other conifers that are so different from their parents that it’s hard to tell that they are the same plants. The “dwarf balsam fir” is a rounded ball that only gets 3 feet across at most and the “birds nest” spruce with a dip in it in the middle reminiscent of  a nest. Aptly named. The globe blue spruce only gets to be about 4 feet around and the globe arborvitae about 6 feet which it is now. The parents of all these plants are forest trees and grow tall where these balls again only give me the echo.

There are also conifers that do look a bit more like their parents. The Chaemacyparis are a couple of these. One is the Hinoki False Cypress, or Chaemacyparis obtusa. I have a full sized one that’ll get to 40 ft but also have 2 dwarfs that will only get to 5  or 6 ft and 3 feet respectively. One is the “Nana gracilis” which is a smaller version of its parent, and the other the “Nana lutea” with golden foliage. Besides these I have 2 varieties of Chaem. pisifera, or Sawara False Cypress. A “Blue Boy” which is a 6 foot tall cone and a “Snow” which will get 16 ” as they say in the conifer society. Both these look more like trees or a bit more so anyway.

I’ve talked about the two unusual and rare dwarf deciduous conifers I have -the Taxodium distichum “Peve Minaret” and the Metasequoia gypstostroboides “Miss Grace” – in another post. Both these lose their leaves and are bare all winter long tho the Metasequoia puts on buds as early as  it loses its leaves it seems and holds them in readiness all winter long, preparing to burst forth in the spring with the soft lacy foliage that makes it one of my favorite “pettable” plants, along with the “elegans” and the “Peve Minaret”.

And of course there are the ferns of all sorts that get only a foot or two big, or maybe 5 or 6, but are still small compared to larger specimens. I have a whole wall of evergreen ones along the garage, each different from the next, interspersed with some Lenten Rose and bunchberry and columbine. They look wonderful and are so delicate and soft, giving a sense of fragility and light all year round. Some ferns are evergreen and some deciduous but all are beautiful and provide a certain kind of elegance to the garden as a whole, where I have them interspersed with other plants here and there. They grow in all sorts of places but do seem to like the shade and damp best.

Well, I could go on and on forever it seems,  but I suspect I’ve bored the socks off of many of you with all my technical details. I just wanted to illustrate how you can create a mini forest even in a small garden with the right plants. I hope you’ve enjoyed this “miniatures” tour of my space and will come back to visit again, and maybe take a look at the website associated with this blog. I have many pictures up of the plants I talk about and the garden as a whole, as well as artistic features we’ve added. It’s a more complete tour than I can give in writing with all its pictures. Check it out if you feel the desire to see more of this little Garden in Greenwood.

Remember, Small is Beautiful,

Steve

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8 responses to this post.

  1. Wishing you many, many sunny days and all the Best! You are great !!!

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  2. Posted by Cedar on December 11, 2012 at 1:27 am

    So good to see your writing…..thank you for your help. More later……….

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  3. Interesting read on a flower/plant that is rare … thanks for stopping by

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  4. I too love trees, which is why I live in a five-acre forest full of them…mostly Douglas Fir. I love your passion for plants, as it is similar to my own. I am big fan of reality as well. Feel free to visit my blog at http://www.paulbassler.com

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    • Oh, I envy you your forest of trees. I only have a small city lot but I also have a 40 acre homestead, mostly Douglas fir as well, over in the Okanogan, in North Central Washington, but it’s too harsh to live there all year off the grid, so I just go in the summers. Thank you for visiting my site and leaving such a nice comment. It’s good to have fellow gardeners come by. I’m a big fan of both plants and reality myself. It’s the only way to go. Check my other blog, http://nakednerves.wordpress.com if you’d see what my other reality is like. I left you a note on your site. It’s a very powerful blog. Take good care,
      Steve

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