Gardening with Conifers

Winter officially arrived yesterday at 6:03 p.m.  The contrast between December 22, 2013, and today is remarkable.  On this date in 2013, we had a few feet of snow on the ground and 5 – 6′ icicles  hanging from the roof…. and it only got worse for weeks and weeks… ending with ice dams on the roof and a few dead or damaged shrubs. Folks tell me last year was not a normal year. We shouldn’t have a repeat this year.

So far, so good. We’ve had enough snowfall to have the driveway cleared, followed by some warming and freezing this fall. The forecast for Christmas is 50° and rain. That suits me fine, but after that, I’ll begin to miss the white stuff. Even though the natives say last year was a fluke,  I’m not taking any chances after losing some new plants to the weather.

I asked for advice, I studied other gardens, I formed my vision, I made a plan, and I decided to install a mixed conifer border that will provide interest and give us screening for a cozy backyard retreat. I looked for plants that would survive in zone 4. Conifers bring diversity in color, shape, and texture for every season. The greens are welcome in the spring before perennials and leaves of trees emerge. Summer’s colors in the perennial garden look even more dramatic against the evergreen backdrop. Autumn colors abound in trees and shrubs but it’s pleasing to see contrasting green foliage. However, conifers own the winter season. Cold arrives early in the Northeast. Bare branches, brown grass, barren and bleak landscapes need conifers. Add a bit of snow along the green boughs and, voila! Magic!

Plus, I’m all about the birds in our compact habitat. They have taken to these new woodies as I knew they would. On brisk or snowy days, I can see them seeking shelter inside the branches and dining on the berries. Here’s the short list of what I chose:

  • 6′ Ilex x meserveae ‘Blue Maid’: the hardiest of these hybrid blue hollies, fast growing, bright red berries, can reach 10′-12′ but will prune to about 8′. Her ‘Blue Prince’ grows nearby for pollination.
  • 5′ Juniperus chinensis ‘Hetz Columnaris’: sharp needle-like green foliage and full of  bluish-green berries for the birds.
  • Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Kosteri’: a semi-dwarf falsecypress known for its twisty olive green foliage and dense texture; this 2.5′ species will slowly reach 4′.
  • Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock’: several of these evergreen native hollies are scattered in the border; I will keep these inkberries at about 4′.
  • Buxus sinica ‘Tide Hill‘: I moved my 3 miniature Korean boxwood to this border after the snowplow mounded 5′ of packed snow on them, crushing the centers. They have recouped for two seasons in a temporary nursery until recently. Full size: 15″ high by 3’ wide.
  • Taxus x media ‘Densiformis’: this popular yew is thick and lush and easy to maintain.

Click on photos to enlarge:

Some perennials and ornamental grasses grow in the spaces between the young plants but this landscape will be developed in stages. More decisions will be made after the neighborhood association removes the mature white pines later this winter. I’ll then know how much sunshine my cozy backyard will receive.   

4 thoughts on “Gardening with Conifers

  1. Watch your language….for a minute I forgot you were talking about bushes, with all that Latin! Lucky birds and wildlife to have you up there!


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