Archive for July, 2016

Deciduous Conifers

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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! 🙂

Steve

 

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Daphne

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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…

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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.

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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! 🙂

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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…

Steve

Nandina

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Steve

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