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Essential Evergreens

Every winter I see many gardens normally lush and beautiful
from spring to fall take a dramatic dive to dull, boring, and brown as winter
wears on. In most cases these gardens are filled with a tremendous collection
of perennial flowers, along with deciduous trees and shrubs.

My garden is filled with a wealth of blooms
from spring to fall, but in winter it is as beautiful as ever with its carefully
selected and diverse mix of evergreen plantings.

How did I bring my garden to life for the winter?
It took a little planning and using a few plants that I like but weren’t on my
list of must-have. It’s important to remember that deciduous plants bring the
most dramatic change to your garden in spring, summer, and fall, but it’s the
evergreens that provide stability and beauty in winter.

Mulch floor

Stability is important in the garden all year
but becomes the most obvious and important in the winter. The first area and
the simplest to stabilize for the winter garden is the ground or floor of the
design. If you use mulch, it should be the same type throughout your garden.
Pick a type and grade of mulch and keep it.

Garden hard features

The second is the consistency of style with your
design and the "hard" features you choose, like patios, decks, fences,
furniture, sculptures, or containers. Many gardeners store the mobile items
in the garage or basement for the winter, protecting them from the harsh winter
weather. If you can invest in a few pieces that can be left outdoors for the
winter, they will bring beauty to the garden even if they are covered with snow.
I store most of my containers and a small fountain for the winter but choose
furniture that I could leave out, allowing it to age and weather in my garden.

Adding evergreens

The third area is the most difficult for many:
selecting and placing plants that are evergreen in your garden. Select the most
important areas for wintergreen color in your garden; the challenging part is
finding the right plant for that spot. Many evergreens, especially the conifers,
are quite large and even if your garden is 1/4 an acre or more you don’t have
room for many.

A conifer is simply defined as a group of
plants that bear cones. The plants are usually large and most are evergreen.
There are a few that are deciduous such as Larix, larch, and Taxodium,
baldcypress.

Go dwarf

A fabulous group of conifers called the dwarf
conifers can provide us with great greens, tremendous blues, and even yellow
to brighten our winter garden. Pine, spruce, juniper, and chamaecyparis are
the most popular conifers that are available in dwarf species. The main advantages
to these dwarf species are their size, extremely slow rate of growth, and most
are virtually maintenance-free.

What you will find is that they are small
and expensive compared to what you are accustomed to purchasing in the garden
centers. If you get "sticker shock" like I did when I bought my first
dwarf conifer, close your eyes and think how many years it took to get the size
it is now. Then imagine it in your garden and how beautiful and slow-growing
it will be. Simply pick the perfect spot, plant it, and enjoy its simple beauty
each winter, no fuss or pruning required.

Some cautions

There are two areas of caution when buying dwarf
conifers: the pace of growth is slow, and some may still grow quite large over
time. Even plants that are considered dwarf continue to grow over time. The
pace is much slower than you are used to, so try not to be disappointed if they
grow only 2 to 3 inches a year. A little research is good when selecting a dwarf
conifer. Eventually many will still reach heights of 6 to 7 feet and can be
twice as wide, depending on variety, so consider your research an investment
in both time and money. I may not be living in my house in 30 years, but I bet
someone will and I want them to enjoy the garden I have developed.

Dwarf varieties

There are lots of dwarf conifers to choose from,
but here are some in my garden. I have two dwarf conifers mingled in with my
perennial collection in my back yard and one in the front. Picea abies
‘Montgomery,’ a dwarf blue Colorado spruce, Picea abies ‘Maxwellii,’
a dwarf Norway spruce, and Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracillis,’ a dwarf
hinoki false-cypress. For most of the year they go un-noticed, completely surrounded
by the colors of summer. Each year as winter approaches and the perennial flowers
have disappeared for the year, the strong and stable dwarf conifers begin their
work.

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