'Tis the season... the sugar maple across the street is actually donning its fall colors, we are starting into what may be a new weather pattern with the possibility of up to six inches of rain ahead of us, according to a local radio station... I would certainly not be averse to some hearty rainfall as even the seven/tenths we've had so far today has brightened the lawns and gardens. The temperatures are certainly fall-like and it's invigorating with night time lows down to 40 degrees.
My arthritic back has been giving me fits with pain down my side to my knee and below my ribs, as well as the lower back. When it hurts that bad, there's only one thing to do in my opinion... get moving! Out came the exercise ball for stretching and the chain saw for cutting wood. I managed to fill seven truckloads to overflowing with branches and sections of trees in a day and a half. I still hurt, albeit somewhat less, and I feel better about myself accomplishing something rather than laying around and moaning! As a gardener, September represents the season of change and the excitement of new ideas... I'll not miss out on that because of pain. When my wife's grandmother was quite ill at age 96, she had a sudden and surprising turn for the better. Everyone encouraged her that her health was improved and her response was "some people die of improvements"... the next day she passed on. Be that as it may, I do feel a bit better and am very excited about "improvements"... in the gardens that is!
It started with spruce trees taking over too much space, paths etc. so I decided to do some limbing up... something I always hate to do to a tree but I'm never sorry once the deed is done...
Next I decided that the flowering crabs I decide to keep really need some serious thinning out, hoping that next year the apple scab won't be as much of a problem with the better air circulation this allows. I have hired someone to take down the three trees that have the worst problem with this affliction. Normally I'd do this myself, but they are surrounded by valuable shrubs and trees and I needed someone to climb into the trees and work down from the top... not my cup of tea! I have taken on the thinning process on the remaining crab apples myself as shown here. I haven't quite decided what to do about the tree with the massive hornet's nest though...
This process then led to dealing with the area along the gazebo path... terribly overgrown and no longer particularly attractive... I'm referring to the area on the right side in the following photo...
Not pretty yet, but a clean canvas once the grasses and hostas that remain get moved out. My initial thought was to place a few specimen conifers in this area but today I had an eureka moment. This is the absolutely perfect place for a new miniature conifer/alpine rock garden. Such a garden would never again overgrow the gazebo behind it and the view of it from the gazebo would be very appealing. I've made connections regarding some wonderful rocks as of this past Saturday... lots and lots of them which I'll move either this fall or next spring. To move them in I'll need to remove one mature spruce tree, as well as a second deciduous tree that I'm not particularly attached to, and a chunk of fence... needless to say I am stoked!
A garden is never completed if you prescribe to my particular style which is most assuredly related to "evolving"... there are times when I wonder if I went too far, but generally I am happy with the changes that keep me young at heart!
I thought I'd once again share some of my favorite miniature and dwarf conifers and other plants that occupy the already completed rock gardens at Oak Lawn... if all goes as planned I will eventually extend this miniature conifer garden to encompass the east side of the driveway and will border what used to be the cottage garden. Actually my new rocks stash may provide enough small boulders to lay out this area as well.
I shared Pinus strobus 'Joe Libbey' in a recent post. It doesn't seem to be very well known as I can't find it anywhere on the internet. The biggest thing in its favor is that it is very slow growing and will be easily trained. I will start wiring branches next season.
Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Hime-Sarara' is a miniature version of 'Tsukumo' which is itself a miniature... that makes this plant a miniature version of a miniature... pretty cool!
I am absolutely in love with miniature mugo pines. This is Pinus mugo 'Teenie'. I love its rich color and form... the terminal buds are almost like little ornaments and best of all, it is very slow growing and will stay 'cute' for years to come!
Another neat little mugo pine is 'Slowmound'... I'm not sure I can see the difference between this one and 'Teeny'... perhaps in time. In the meantime I wouldn't mind having these little punctuations throughout the rock gardens. To the front is one of my dianthus cultivars. As I looked for names this evening, I realized that many of the tags have become totally enshrouded by these marvelous tight little mounds that feature blooms as well, in season... the perfect accompaniments to miniature conifers.
To the rear of the rock garden, an unusual elm grows. It is Ulmus × hollandica 'Jacqueline Hillier'; a dwarf, slow growing, densely branched little tree discovered in England in the 1960's. This will take some training as the plant matures... perhaps being formed into a single trunk eventually as it can reach 8' in height over the course of fifteen years. With orange fall color, it is far from a miniature so it's positioned as a backdrop in the rock garden.
In the past I've stayed away from Junipers in the gardens with a few exceptions, perhaps because they cause a me to break out a bit when I touch many of them with my bare skin. I'm now realizing that there are many wonderful cultivars and am starting to incorporate them into the gardens. This Juniperus procumbuns 'Nana' is particularly nice as a ground cover with its mounding center. Smaller by nature, it is also easy to control with pruning. Additionally, when a branch is trained vertically and thinned out, it has the look of a bonsai tree.
The yellow juniper to the front in the photo above is Juniperus horizontalis 'Limeglow'. These are quite slow growing plants that may eventually overgrow this area with a width to three feet. At some point they will be moved to an area more suited to their eventual size.
I mentioned Pinus thunbergiana 'Yatsubosa Watnog' in a recent post. It is shown above with Juniperus horizontalis 'Gold Strike'. 'Gold Strike' is similar to its better known parent 'Mother Load'. It makes a good bright ground cover that can be controlled by pruning. It starts to change color in the fall as shown here. My plants may be experiencing some burning in the full sun... a perennial problem with many yellow foliaged varieties. I do suspect however, that with age many of said plants will grow out of the tendency to burn.
In Juniperus chinensis 'Shimpaku' we have an example of a juniper that almost cries out for training. In fact, in it's natural environment in Japan its numbers are challenged because of over-collecting for bonsai. Nestled in its little sanctuary among the rocks in my garden, it will be slow growing and probably limited in size by virtue of limited root space. Additionally, well thought out pruning will provide what eventually will be amazing character to the plant.
Cottoneaster 'Streib's Findling' is a real gem for the rock garden... note the way it hugs the rocks...the plant will frequently display red berries. Ultimate size can be quite wide... actually several feet, but pruning once again is simple and an effective means of getting the look you desire.
Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Verdoni' can be another bright spot in the rock garden but prefers a bit of protection from the hottest sun. Mine is slightly faded and burned from the sun but should handle it better as it matures.... being a dwarf, it will eventually take on some size and be an excellent foil for the greens and blues of the miniature conifer garden.
Here's one of my all-time favorite miniatures... Pinus contorta 'Spaan's Dwarf'. This to me has a look of windswept, stalwart beauty... I love its open form and I can easily imagine a miniature hillside rock garden covered with them. Pinus contorta is a northwestern native growing on the shores of the Pacific... to my imagination, it's a plant with a story.
Then too, there are the small vertical accents such as Picea glauca 'Daisy's White' which displays almost white new growth in the spring, later turning green... there is a whole slew of these special little trees, some such as 'Pixie Dust' sprinkled with a yellow toned 2nd growth flush that reminds ones of ornaments on a miniature Christmas tree. It can become an obsession to collect all the cultivars of these little wonders.
Pictured above is a little yew, Taxus cuspidata 'Dwarf Bright Gold'... this plant is actually a dwarf with new yearly growth of four or more inches. That being the case, one must be aware that yews are extremely adaptable through pruning and the color is outstanding with both the greens and the blues of the miniature conifer landscape.
Thuja plicata 'Whipcord' is an unusual find from the western red cedar family. It was discovered in a nursery in Oregon and can eventually reach a size of 5' x 5'. Thankfully, it is slow growing but it isn't all that hardy in zone 5. I will eventually need to move this little plant into the open garden, but for now I cover it with burlap in the winter and enjoy its carefree form as slowly develops in the rock garden.
What's hardy to -50 degrees fahrenheit, grows to 5" tall by 8" wide in ten years, and has fantastic blue foliage? It's Juniperus horizontalis 'Blue Pygmy'... an amazingly rugged little juniper with all the class one could wish for in a miniature plant. It reminds me of a tiny chihuahua that faces down a great dane with chutzpah!! This little conifer has personality!
I could meander on and on with the plants I now have in our little miniature conifer rock garden, but I really should start to close this down. Let me just say that there are a great number of ground covers with diminutive foliage that are fantastic accompaniments for the little evergreens. Among my favorites are the little dianthus plants with tiny foliage and the appearance of moss growing on a rock. I love the little mounds that will spread over time and blossom in season. Here are a few different selections with names like 'Arpandianus', 'Subacaulus Blue Bun', and 'La Bourbouie'. It seems the more intricate and tiny the foliage, the less impressive the blooms. On the other hand, larger foliage provides exquisite blossoms and fragrance. I've withheld names because many of the tags are buried under this year's new growth and I didn't want to disturb it...
All for now from Oak lawn Cheese factory, where conifers are becoming an increasing fascination as the garden develops and matures...
Take care, Larry
p.s. More trees have hit the ground since I began this post and the activities of fall are in full swing! I anticipate another ten large pick-up loads of branches to be hauled away starting in a few minutes, orienpet lilies have yielded a treasure of new bulbs to be spread throughout the gardens, peonies are in need of dividing or moving as the case may be... it's wonderful being needed and the gardens can be very demanding but it's all worth the effort in the end!