Gardening with Conifers Paperback – Jan 19 2007
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About the Author
Adrian Bloom has 35 years of experience planting and maintaining a six-acre garden that includes 500 varieties of conifers. He designed many smaller gardens and has photographed collections in North America, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. He is an international television presenter and regularly appears on The Victory Garden, on WGBH Boston.
Richard Bloom specializes in digital studio photography. His pictures have been widely published, with dramatic, detailed close-ups his specialty.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The Magic of Conifers
'Why should I use conifers in my garden?' is a question that anyone picking up this book might ask. The answer, I hope, will be found in the following pictures, advice and information -- conifers can add essential ingredients to a garden not easily or fully replicated by any other plants. I have spent over thirty years creating a garden with, literally, hundreds of conifers that provide interest and color the whole year round. I fully appreciate their value as well as their problems; unfortunately, it is often the latter that are highlighted by members of the gardening media who feel that conifers have little or no place in the modern garden. Gardeners in other parts of the world find it difficult to believe the paranoia that has become attached in Britain to the Leyland Cypress (x Cupressocyparis leylandii); this entirely innocent, fast-growing evergreen has caused costly legal disputes between neighbors simply because people plant it in the wrong places or omit to trim it.
This is not a book about Leylandii, nor is it about the negative sides of conifers, which are no more prevalent than those of any other group of plants (and will of course be covered in the text). Any fast-growing tree -- including eucalyptus, poplar or willow -- should always be chosen and placed with care. The point to make with this marvelous and varied group of mostly evergreen plants is the same as with other trees and shrubs, even perennials: consider before you buy, plan before you plant, and always take heed of growth rates and likely suitability for purpose.
Far from being dull, to the observant this group of plants can be both awe-inspiring and magical. Conifers come in all shapes and sizes -- miniatures may grow less than 3ft (90cm) in a hundred years, while others might reach 130ft (40m) or more in the same period. Conifers include the oldest living plant in the world, the ancient Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva, whose 4,500-year-old wind-shattered specimens cling to life over 10,000ft (3,000m) up in the White Mountains of California, as well the tallest, the Coast Redwood, also in California, measuring almost 400ft (120m). If we are lucky, we can marvel at these in nature. It would not, of course, be advisable to plant a Coast Redwood in a smaller garden but, strangely enough, Pinus longaeva grows quite successfully at much less elevated positions, even in my garden at Bressingham in Norfolk, UK.
Conifers can be deciduous or evergreen. Among the former, the larches (Larix), the Swamp Cypresses (Taxodium) and the amazing Maidenhair Tree (Ginkgo) have wonderful autumn colors as their leaves turn and fall. In winter, the first two, together with the deciduous Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia), exhibit traceries of branches and twigs against the sky, enhanced by frost and water droplets. The evergreens can display a wonderful range of colors. It is magical to see an evergreen like Pinus mugo 'Wintergold' transform its green summer needles to a glowing yellow or gold in autumn -- such a cheery change can warm the heart during long winter days.
There is great interest, too, in the variety of conifer shapes -- weeping trees can take on an ethereal appearance on a misty day; frosted or snow-laden branches can sparkle in low winter sun, their burden later melting in glistening droplets. Winter, when so much else in the garden is dormant, is when conifers really come into their own. But in late spring, when the sheathed winter buds swell and burst open on spruces (Picea) and firs (Abies), smothering them in fresh new leaves, the effect is magical. That in turn can be outdone by the startling red flowers seen on many conifers as the cones begin to develop. The cones themselves can be smaller than a pea or nearly as large as a football; in their young stage, the cones of the Korean Fir (Abies koreana) are a rich, deep blue.
The leaves of conifers are by no means uniformly dull, green needles, as many gardeners might believe. The hues of new growth include a brilliant powder-blue, bright grass-green, orange, yellow, cream, even red and crimson. Some conifers, such as junipers, bear both prickly young and quite different coarser mature leaves at the same time; others, such as firs, spruces and pines, have bright silver-blue undersides to their leaves which are gloriously revealed when they turn to face the light.
A further wonderful asset, often overlooked, is the aromatic fragrance given by many conifers, while some junipers have quite a pungent scent.
The awe-inspiring giants of the forest -- the ancient, almost prehistoric Ginkgo, the Metasequoia and the Chilean Monkey Puzzle tree -- can all be grown today in gardens. For smaller gardens, however, a further type has added to the range -- witch's brooms. These originate as congested growths on much larger trees, and have always been associated with witchcraft. Today, collectors all over the world search forests to find interesting forms that they can propagate and offer us for our gardens.See all Product Description
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The first part of the book includes brief but interesting information about the benefits using conifers in the garden, how conifers grow, and the origins and naming of garden conifers. Then he moves on to discuss, in greater depth, the different attributes you find in a lot of the more interesting conifers, like the differences and beauty of their cones, buds and new growth, bark, foliage colors, and the interesting forms and sizes available, to help you know what to look for and help you appreciate the truly unique attributes of garden conifers.
Then he moves on to my favorite part and a large portion of the book, Using Conifers in the Garden. The entire book is filled with gorgeous color photos suggesting plants to use in combination with conifers of every type, but this section outdoes itself with the amazing color photographs of the author's giant estate and the small vignettes he puts together using grasses, heathers, rhodies, and flowering perennials to accent conifers. This is incredibly inspiring and shows the huge number of ways you can combine conifers with other plants.
The written portions are amazing in this and the other sections as well. He discusses the different ways to use conifers in a garden to achieve different goals, ways of pruning and caring for your conifers to get different effects (Bonsai and Japanese gardening is discussed), conifers as container plants, hedges, windbreaks and screens, petite conifers for small gardens, and conifers as ground covers.
Last of all, he includes a directory of more than 600 outstanding conifers, including color photos on every page. Bloom knows his conifers well, and gives accurate and time-tested information on growth rates, habits, pest issues or problems, conditions needed, etc. His favorites merit glowing descriptions and praise, and his favorites have often ended up my favorites too, once I have had a chance to grow them.
The writing is simple to understand and would be accessable to a beginning to intermediate gardener, yet is absolutely depthy enough for the professional, and is a resource that once you get ahold of, you will not want to give up. It is great as an encyclopedic reference on garden conifers, and great for inspiration, instruction, and design advice.
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