Pine Scented

Small Conifers Make Great Landscapes

I just got back from a few days in the Northwest. It is a land of towering forests, but I was especially struck by the use of small conifers in many landscapes. They are great for creating the foundation of a planting bed and combine well with other perennials of all types. Not only do they come in a variety of smaller sizes and shapes, they can be found in every hue imaginable.

The false cypress, Chamaecyparis, has many smaller selections to choose from. There are dwarf forms of C. obtusa such as ‘Coralliformis’ with contorted branches and very finely textured bluish foliage. ‘Nana Gracilis’ only reaches four feet in height and ‘Nana Lutea’ is similar in size, but has bright yellow foliage. C. pissifera also has dwarf forms and colorful selections. For silvery blue green boughs, choose ‘Cyano-Viridis.’ ‘Filifera’ forms an eight-foot mound with very fine, drooping foliage and its yellow form is ‘Filifera Aurea.’ Smaller in stature is ‘Mops,’ to only two feet or less, with ‘Golden Mops’ being the sunny version. Specialty catalogs carry even more choices.

The many varieties of junipers (Juniperus species) are truly astounding. Although they originate from a number of different species, they all share the same ability to tolerate almost any soil type, survive with little additional irrigation and, if chosen for the appropriate ultimate size, need little or no pruning. Silvery blue foliage sets J. squamata ‘Blue Star’ apart from the crowd as does the very gray J. scopulorum ‘Table Top Blue’. J. chinensis ‘Sea Green’ is deep green, while ‘Mint Julep’ is a lighter shade. There is a cream and green variegated form of the twisted Hollywood juniper, J. chinensis ‘Kaizuka Variegata,’ and the new foliage of J. squamata ‘Holger’ is tipped with yellow as is that of J. X procumbens ‘Aurea.’ All stay well under 10 feet.

Even pine trees produce compact growth now and then in the form of stunted branches, known as witches’ brooms. These can be propagated and retain the same growth pattern instead of becoming tall trees. And selections of the naturally small Pinus mugo also fill the bill for garden-sized evergreens.

November Tips

  • Unless your soil is very well-drained, dig dahlia tubers, brush soil off, and store in sand or straw in a cool, dry place until spring.
  • Cut out raspberry and blackberry canes that fruited this year.
  • Weeds don’t take a break; different, winter-growing ones will be appearing and require diligent removal.
  • Cut back perennial ornamental grasses-Nasella and Miscanthus when they begin to look ratty, but rake through clumps of evergreen Muhlenbergia and Helictotrichon to remove old leaves.

Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to

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