Home Making

Growing Conifers In Gardens

Not all conifers are enormous trees suitable only for planting in woodland and parkland or gardens of big estates. And not all of them are evergreen. The Larch is the best known deciduous conifer; another is the Ginkgo or Maidenhair Tree. There are several others, but they are rarely seen in this country.

For small gardens there are plenty of dwarf and slow-growing kinds – some indeed are too small for the open garden and are best grown in the rockery, where they won’t be forgotten and neglected. Chamaecyparis obtusa gaespitosa is one of these: a tiny bush only a few inches high; an extremely slow grower; after many years it hardly adds an inch to its height. And there are many other conifers of this kind.

Some of the larger types are so slow growing that we can plant them in a limited space as permanent shrubs or small trees. And we would have to live to be very old to notice any great difference in the height and size of the plants. At Kew Botanic Gardens there is a specimen of Chamaecyparis lawsoniana nana, which is a roundish bush, broader than it is high; it was planted in 1870, and today is not much above 4 feet tall. It would be a good choice for most of us with small gardens, who want to grow an attractive dwarf conifer. It is very hardy and one of the many varieties of C. lawsoniana, which species is a native of western North America (Oregon and California).

The Lawson Cypresses need good loamy soil and young plants must be watered freely till they are well established.

The Monkey Puzzle [Araucaria araucana) is another conifer that is often planted in a small garden. Usually specimens 12-15 inches high are obtained from nurseries and are often chosen for planting in the middle of a small lawn. But after years of healthy growth these young shrubs reach a height of 50 or 80 feet or more. This tree of course should be planted only in the biggest gardens.

Yet another conifer often planted in a small garden is Cupressus macrocarpa, a quick-growing plant, usually adding a foot or more to its height every year. It is often used as a screening or a hedging plant – though it suffers by clipping; and it thrives much better near the sea.

There are, however, many dwarf and extremely slow-growing conifers that owners of small gardens can plant and they won’t need topping or pruning during a lifetime.

The following is a good selection.

The Balsam Fir, Abies balsamea, has produced a curious mountain form called Var. hudsonia, which is rarely more than 2 feet high and makes a charming conifer for the rockery (the plant doesn’t bear cones, by the way). It comes from the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and is far more successful in cultivation than the species, a tree up to 80 feet, which is short-lived in Britain.

There is a dwarf, extremely slow-growing Lebanon Cedar called Cedrus libani sargetitii; it is often planted as a lawn shrub and is sometimes grown in a large rockery.

Chamaecyparis are closely related to, and often included under, Cupressus. The former (known as ‘False Cypresses’) are distinguished chiefly by their flat branchlets and small cones. The Cupressus have rounder branches and larger cones.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana lutea nana is a slow-growing dwarf golden conifer, ideal for the rockery, and it makes a line little plant to set behind one of the winter-blooming Heathers. It is more attractive, I think, than the wholly green Var. nana, mentioned above,

Var. minima, another miniature conifer. It is very compact, with its ascending branches curiously twisted sideways; and Var. minima aurea is a lovely golden-leafed shrub pyramidal shaped, with twisted branches. Ultimately it attains a height of about 4 feet.

Var. elwoodi and Var. fletcheri are both extremely slow growing, but do eventually make tallish shrubs, and for that reason are not really suitable for the rockery. The latter, if grafted, reaches a height of 10 feet; but if raised from cuttings is dwarfer, seldom going above a height of 4 feet. (Some nurseries raise their plants only by cuttings; these are stronger and more permanent than grafted plants; grafting often has an effect on the character of the plants and they are also often less vigorous and healthy.)

The type plant was introduced in 1854 to Lawson’s Nursery at Edinburgh.

The botanist Lindley in his Treasury of Botany (1866) describes Chamaecyparis obtusa as ‘the Japanese Cypress, a very fine forest tree, 80 feet or more high.’ It is a much slower-growing plant than C. lawsoniana; not many specimens in Britain are above 80 feet in height and they all need a lime-free moist soil.

Var. gracilis (slender) is one of the dwarf varieties: very slow growing – ultimately a small tree with graceful hanging branches.

Var. nana is extremely slow too and has dark green, mossy foliage covering horizontally-tiered branches. It is one of the dwarfest of the C. obtusa species and a perfect shrublet for the rockery.

There are many other dwarf kinds of the Japanese Cypress; most of them are best accommodated, I think, in the rock-garden.

C. pisifera (pea-bearing, referring to the size of the cones). Another Cypress from Japan, and it has produced some charming dwarf and slow-growing varieties, all suitable for a limited space. I have seen the dwarf Var. nana aurea, with golden-coloured foliage, flourishing in many gardens around London, and it is the one I like best.

C. thyoides (Thuja-like) is the ‘White Cypress’ or ‘White Cedar,’ a slow-growing tree, native of eastern North America and usually found thriving in cold, boggy ground. Var. ericoides (Heather-like) is one of the very best of the dwarf kinds; it is of compact habit, pyramidal-shaped, and its leaves turn bronze in winter. After many years it reaches a height of about 5 feet. (These varieties can be obtained from any good shrub nurseries).

The Junipers are natives of the temperate and sub-tropical regions of the northern hemisphere and provide us with some charming kinds for our gardens.

Juniperus communis (common, or growing in company) is found wild in many parts of Britain, often on limestone hills, but succeeds in neutral soils. All the dwarf specimens I have seen in gardens grew in leafy, loamy soils where Rhododendrons and Azaleas were flourishing.

The species does occasionally reach a height of 40 feet; but many plants under cultivation are not much above 10 feet high. The leaves are dark green and very attractive all through the winter months. (These are sharp and pointed or awl-shaped : the so-called juvenile leaf; and totally different from the other type of Juniper leaf, the adult, produced by other species, these being scale-like and not more than ^-inch long.) And the berries are rounded and blackish-blue in colour. They are used to flavour gin; the oil, which gives the spirit its characteristic flavour, is distilled from the unripe berries. They are also used in cookery, usually along with other herbs.

Var. compressa makes a slender, cone-shaped plant of very dense habit. It is one of the slowest growing of all conifers; a plant I saw in a garden near the lake at Zurich some years ago was 20 years old and not much above 12 inches tall. A delightful miniature conifer for the rockgarden.

Juniperus conferata (crowded, referring to the leaves which are crowded on the branches). This low, mat-forming species is a native of the sea-shores of Japan, and is found copiously among the wild plants on the sand dunes of Hakodate Bay of the island of Hokkaido. The bright green foliage is lovely all through the year, and especially so on plants growing within reach of the sea air. It is a fine, prostrate shrub for the lower parts of the rockery.

J. horizontalis is known as the Creeping Juniper, and is common on the shores of the Great Lakes and other parts of Eastern North America. In 1952 a shrub specialist in Enfield sent me a variety called glauca, described on the label as ‘a blue prostrate Conifer.’ This is probably the same as Var. douglasii – of a charming steel-blue colouring. It does best in moist loamy soil and does not grow on limestone.

The dwarf varieties of J. chinensis do not appear to be so widely grown as those described above. J. chinensis Var. japonica grows extremely slowly; bushes I saw recently in this district which were planted 20 years ago are 2 feet tall and about twice as wide. An excellent evergreen bush for a limited space. The foliage is mosdy juvenile.

Var. japonica aurea is a lovely golden-yellow spreading Juniper, attractive as a single specimen growing against grey stone-work.

J. sabina (the Common Savin) is a native of the mountainous parts of Central and Southern Europe, where it is mostly found on limestone formations. As it seldom reaches more than 5 feet in height in our gardens, it is among the most useful evergreens to grow, especially in limy places. (In the wild, specimens have been found up to 15 feet tall.)

There are several good dwarf varieties.

Var. tamariscifolia, known as the ‘Spanish Savin,’ a charming, prostrate form often used for covering sunny banks. It is also an excellent shrub for the rockery. (The name means Tamarisk-like.)

Var. variegata has some of its branchlets coloured creamy-white.

Var. pfitzeriana, the ‘Knap Hill Savin’ is regarded as a hybrid form, and is a densely-branched, wide-spreading shrub, the branchlets drooping at the tips. It is especially attractive when grown as an isolated shrub in a small formal garden.

And the last of the dwarf Junipers I shall mention here is J. squamata Var. meyeri, which is a blue-glaucous shrub of erect habit, and a very slow grower. A charming dwarf conifer. It was given an A.M. In May, 1931.

The genus Picea contains what is for many of us the most famous of all the conifers, namely the Christmas Tree: Picea abies. It is known as the ‘Common Spruce’ and the ‘Norway Spruce;’ the finest trees, producing the best timber, coming from Norway. The species is a native of Central and Northern Europe, but not of Britain. But it is widely grown as a forest tree, being of great economic value to us.

It is no ornament in the garden and in favourable districts where there is a consistently high rainfall, it reaches a height of 100 to 120 feet.

There is however a most attractive dwarf form called Var. clanbrassiliana, which is a dense, rounded shrubby plant seldom reaching more than 3 feet in height after 20 years’ growth. It is broader than it is high and makes a charming little conifer for planting singly in a round bed on a lawn. I have seen it grown in this way in gardens on the outskirts of Dublin. This variety actually originated in Ireland: in the private gardens of Tallymore, Co. Down. (The shrub is named in honour of Lord Clanbrasil, who discovered it growing in that district).

The ‘Alberta Spruce’ {Picea albertiana) is a native of western North America and has produced the pygmy form called Var. conica, which is regarded by growers as one of the finest of all the rock-garden conifers. But it does eventually reach a height of 5 or 6 feet – it would take about 20 years to grow as tall as that. It is of a very pleasing conical shape, broad at the base and tapering to a close top. The shape has been described as that of the old-fashioned candle-extinguisher. An excellent little evergreen for the middle of a small lawn. I have seen it grown in an oak tub (not the best place for it), but it was watered freely and planted in a rich loam.

Spruce like cool moist growing conditions and are natives of most of the colder temperature regions of the northern hemisphere and cannot have too much rain.

Propagation is by seeds; when raised by cuttings, Spruce are not so good, nor so long-lived.

The Pines constitute the largest and the most important of the conifer groups or families. Compatively few, however, are suitable for the average garden; the smaller kinds are best, and for restricted spaces varieties such as Pinus montana Var. pumilo are ideal {Pinus mugo is given by some botanists as the specific name). This is the form of the mountain Pine that is mostly found in our gardens. It is extremely hardy and suitable for any part of the country. Although in many gardens it seldom reaches more than 2 feet in height after many years of growth, old specimens have been known to grow as tall as 10 feet. The foliage is dark green and very pleasing all through the winter months; the cones are about i1 inches long. This Pine thrives in the poorest soils, and is especially useful for covering sandy slopes. It transplants easily (most of them unfortunately do not) and it can be got from a nursery for about half a guinea.

P. pumilo is the ‘Dwarf Siberian Pine’ and comes from Japan, Manchuria, Siberia, and other cold regions of Eastern Asia. It seldom reaches more than 8 feet in height in our gardens and is often grown in the rockery. It is mostly of prostrate habit and has glaucous-green leaves, longish, needle-like, and aggregated into bundles of five.

These Pines like an open, loamy, well-drained soil. Young specimens should be planted, unless one can get from nurseries the larger kinds that have been specially shifted periodically to ensure safe transplanting to outside gardens.

Thuja (sometimes spelt Thuya) are classed with the same group of conifers as the flat-leaved type of Cypresses [Chamaecyparis).

Thuja occidentalis (known as the Arbor-vitae from eastern North America) has produced some fine dwarf garden forms.

Var. dumosa (compact, bushy) is a dwarf, rounded shrub seldom more than 2 feet high.

Var. rheingold ultimately reaches a height of 6 feet or so; a slow-grower, broadly pyramidal in form and with beautiful golden foliage in summer, which turns a deeper gold in the autumn.

Thuja orientalis is the Chinese Arbor-vitae, a native of North and West China. Like the preceding species, it has produced some lovely garden forms, among which are several charming dwarf kinds. The loveliest – in my opinion the loveliest of all the slow-growing conifers, is Var. degussata, whose glaucous foliage turns an astonishing plum-brown colour in late autumn; the foliage has the semblance of delicate threads of metal. There is a fine specimen at the Savill Gardens at Windsor, about 5 feet tall, and wonderful to see in late October. A good specimen can be bought for 15s.

Another very beautiful form is Var. rosedalis. It is an extremely slow-growing shrub, attaining not much more than 3 feet after perhaps 20 years. It is a picturesque shrub all the year through: ovalish in shape, the foliage yellow in spring, sea-green in summer, and plum-purple in winter.

Thuja need a moist, loamy soil; they are completely hardy; but dryness at the roots and periods of drought are inimical to healthy growth.

The conifers I have mentioned in this section are suitable for small gardens and restricted spaces. There are many others -some beautiful dwarf Silver Firs {Abies); a particularly lovely miniature Incense Cedar (Libocedrus); a dwarf Douglas Fir.

Although the species and varieties described in this section are trees, a number are slow-growing and take many years, perhaps a life-time, to reach maturity. The ultimate height of the tree in cultivation is given when it is known.

Abies are the Silver Firs, very beautiful ornamental trees for growing in moist climates, such as parts of Ireland and Scotland (particularly Perthshire), and in good deep loamy soils. They are mostly pyramidal in shape and remarkably symmetrical in form; very few are under 100 feet in height. Abies are sometimes confounded with the Spruce (Picea), to which they are allied. But Abies may be distinguished by their cones, winch are always erect – those of the Spruce are pendent. The leaves of Abies are linear, like those of the Common Yew, and come away cleanly from the stem when pulled off; but those of the Picea, when pulled off, tear away some of the bark.

Abies cephalonica (of Cephalonia, one of the Ionian Isles). It is known as the Greek Fir and thrives in ordinary garden soils, even those containing chalk. It has sharp-pointed leaves and attractive cones, 4 to 6 inches long, of a velvety brown colour. A native of the mountains of Greece. The tree reaches a height of about 100 feet (suitable only for large gardens) and is among the easiest to grow in Britain.

A. concolor. This has been rightiy called one of the most beautiful of all conifers. It makes a magnificent specimen tree for a large garden; the foliage is glaucous green; and the cones are first a rich plum colour, then turn brown.

In its native habitat, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, it attains a height of 100 feet; but is less than tiiat under cultivation in Britain.

A. forrestii (named for George Forrest, who discovered it in China in 1910). It is one of the most striking of the Abies family, the leaves being a brilliant dark green above and pure white beneath, giving a delightful frosty glaucous effect, especially attractive in winter. It is known as Forrest’s Fir and is a native of Yunnan and Szechwan, where it reaches a height of 60 feet or so. In gardens in Britain it is less than that.

A. pinsapo (this is die Spanish name for the species). It is known as the Spanish Fir, and is another very fine, tall Fir, suitable only for large gardens. It comes from die mountains of Granada in Southern Spain, where it flourishes luxuriantly on limestone. It is recommended for chalky soils in Britain and is handsome all the year, with its dark green foliage and the large purplish-brown cones.

A. veitchii (named for John Gould Veitch, who discovered it in Japan in i860). Veitch’s Silver Fir comes from Mount Fuji-Yama and does not prosper in chalky soils. It needs a moist loam in good heart, and is a tree that could be grown in a limited space: under cultivation (in Britain at least) it seldom goes above a height of 30 feet. It is undoubtedly among the most striking of all the Silver Firs, with its beautiful leaves, dark glossy green above and intensely white beneath; and the cones, cylindrical in shape, are blue-purple. The tree is better in the young stages of its growth, older specimens becoming rather lanky and thin-looking. It is a poor grower in chalky, limy soils.

Cedars are among the noblest of all conifers and eminently suitable for specimen planting. A good place for a Cedar is at the back of a lawn, where it can be viewed from a distance, and where its magnificent shape shows up to best advantage. It should not be planted amongst other trees.

The most famous kind is the Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), a native of Mount Lebanon and parts of the Taurus mountains. These trees are the ‘Mighty Cedars of the Lord.’ They are mentioned in the Bible: in the book of Isaiah (35:2) they are referred to as ‘the glory of Lebanon.’ In ancient times invaders felled whole forests of the trees, till all that was left were isolated groves. Today about 400 trees, some more than 1,000 years old, are preserved as a national treasure – they are called by the Lebanese Arz al-Rabb, Cedars of the Lord. Behind them are the eternal snows of the mountains, and the trees are protected from animals by a high stone wall.

The Cedar of Lebanon needs a deep, loamy soil and does best in our warmer southern counties – the finest specimens will be seen there. I have known owners of quite small gardens plant a young tree on their lawns, hoping it could be kept dwarf. Pruning it might of course spoil the symmetry of the branches; but it is such a slow grower that no pruning would be necessary in any body’s lifetime and one would never live to see the tree when it reached maturity.

Old trees are flat and spreading at the top and have enormous horizontal branches; their height is often well over 100 feet, and the diameter of their trunks may be 8 feet or more.

The Cedar of Lebanon is incomparably the most imposing of all the big trees we grow.

The Atlas Cedar, C. atlantica, is a quicker growing species. (It is a native of the Atlas Mountains, N. Africa.) This Cedar thrives in gardens near towns and cities, even in industrial districts, where the air is smoky and for many conifers decidedly noxious. The form Var. glauca has foliage of an enchanting glaucous-blue colour and is among the most striking of all glaucous-blue trees. (Specimens can be bought in pots for about 30J. Each.) There is a magnificent show of these Cedars at Cliveden, Taplow, Buckinghamshire; the trees are in a row, planted on the west side of the parterre, below the terraced front of the house.

The leaves, ½ inch to 1 inch long, are needle-like and silver-blue in colour; the cones 3 inches long, cylindrical and erect.

Cephalotaxus are seldom seen in our gardens. They have been described as Yew-like conifers; and they are allied to the Yews, which they resemble in the shape and arrangement of the leaves. Nurserymen tell me there is very little demand for these conifers (and not much for the Common Yew), probably because of their rather sombre appearance. Many people associate the Yew with churchyards and funerals. In the past Yew branches were carried by mourners in a funeral procession and put under the coffin in the grave. And according to John Ray, the naturalist (162 7-1705), the Yew being an evergreen, was thus made typical of the immortality of man. Few people choose these evergreens for their gardens, especially those who have only a limited amount of room.

Cephalotaxus prosper in shady places and in limy soil, which must, however, be deep and loamy.

C. drupacea, known as the ‘Japanese Plum Yew,’ is a native of China and Japan, where specimens 30 feet high are found. In cultivation it is much smaller, not usually above 12 feet tall; it is an excellent shrub for a limited space; yet it remains a rarity. The fruits are egg-shaped, green, an inch long and f inch wide.

C. fortunei (named for Robert Fortune, who introduced the plant in 1849). This species is a native of Northern China, and makes a small, handsome tree, with smallish leaves and of a rich glossy green colour. It is a striking evergreen tree, though not much more than a tall shrub in most localities, and is often planted in large gardens as a specimen shrub in a bed on a lawn.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (Lawson Cypress). The species is a native of western North America and abundant in Oregon and California. It often reaches a height of 200 feet in the wild; and its trunk near the base will measure 7 feet or more in diameter. It is probably the commonest and most popular of all conifers and more frequently seen in our gardens than any other. There are few so adaptable to the average garden; the tree is completely hardy and seems to thrive in any ordinary soil; the finest specimens, however, will be found growing in deep loam which retains its moisture through dry weather. And it does best in a moist climate.

No other conifer has produced such an astonishing number of different varieties and garden forms. One can only make a few suggestions: these Lawson Cypresses are all beautiful and very desirable garden trees.

I single out the choicest from those I’ve seen growing in different gardens in the country.

A favourite variety of many gardeners is the lovely ‘Golden Cypress,’ Var. hillieri, which has golden-yellow foliage, and a light, feathery appearance – a most cheerful-looking tree in winter. It should be planted somewhere where its elegant shape and delightful colouring can be seen from the windows of a living-room.

Var. fletcheri has already been recommended as a dwarf Cypress for the rockery or for a limited space in a small garden . True, it would be a good choice for either of these places, being an exceptionally slow grower, but eventually it makes a tallish shrub. It is pyramidal in shape (not at all similar to the usual type of Lawson Cypress) and more resembles a Juniper. It has beautiful glaucous-blue feathery foliage and was awarded an F.C.C. In 1913.

Var. STEWARTn is another golden Cypress; the colour is richer on younger plants.

Var. eregta viridis is in my opinion the best of all the columnar varieties. It was raised at the Knap Hill Nurseries in 1855. Its erect shape and lovely green colour make it one of the best of all trees for specimen planting.

C. nootkatensis is known as the Nootka Cypress and also the Yellow Cypress of the western States of North America, where it occurs from Alaska to Oregon. It is similar to the Lawson tree but has more drooping branches. Any ordinary loamy soil suits this fine conifer, which is very hardy, vigorous and grows rapidly.

Var. lutea, with soft yellow-green foliage, is one of the best of the several garden forms.

The Hinoki Cypress of Japan is highly valued in that country both as an ornamental and as a timber tree; and there it reaches a height of 120 feet or more, with a trunk 4 feet in diameter. But in Britain it is seldom much more than half that size and grows very slowly. Its reddish trunk and dark green foliage and the feathery appearance of the branches make it one of the most pleasing of all the conifers we grow. It needs a deep moist loam and does not thrive where there is lime.

Of the many varieties offered by nurseries, I plump for Var.

CriPPSii, a small tree (up to 30 feet tall eventually), with young shoots of a charming golden-yellow colour. Furthermore, it has a dense, elegant habit of growth.

The Sarawa Cypress (C. pisifera) reaches a height of 150 feet in the wild. It is of more open habit than the Lawson Cypress and is not so widely planted in Britain as that tree or as C. obtusa . More often than not one comes across some of the more attractive varieties, such as Var. aurea, which has all its young shoots golden-yellow.

These Japanese Cypresses want a good loamy soil and plenty of moisture, especially in their young state; they are inclined to grow thin and straggly-looking on poor ground; clipping, which they stand well, helps to keep them more bushy. Occasional doses of weak liquid manure during the spring and summer are excellent for them.

Cryptomeria japonica is the Japanese Cedar, a native of China and Japan: a tall pyramidal tree, not at all well known here and not a great success in most districts. It needs primarily plenty of moisture in the soil and the atmosphere; and flourishes most luxuriantly in the warm moist valleys of South-west Ireland.

The garden forms are better known and on the whole more attractive plants. Var. elegans is the best of these. The plant retains the juvenile form of leaf permanently and is of plumose habit. (The juvenile or young leaves are very soft and longer than the adult ones which are short and stiff in texture.) These young leaves are glaucous green in summer and turn a lovely bronzy-red in the autumn, which is a rare change of colouring among evergreens. This tinting alone makes the tree well worth growing. The trunk being very supple frequently allows the head of foliage to topple over and touch the ground. This often happens with trees 20 feet high. To prevent this, the top should be pruned back before the plant gets too tall.

The Cupressus (often called the True Cypresses) need loamy, leafy soils which are well drained; and young plants straight from the Nurseries should be given some shelter during the winter weather, till they have grown strong and tall.

One of the finest of the Cupressus we can grow is the hybrid C. X leylandii, raised at Leighton Hall, near Welshpool in 1888 – a valuable garden tree and singular in being the only known hybrid between Cypresses of the groups, Cupressus and Chamaecyparis (Cupressus macrocarpa X Chamaecyparis are the parents). It makes a tall, dense, pyramidal tree (sometimes columnar) and soon reaches a height of 40 feet – it is perhaps the fastest growing of all evergreens. When growing strongly, it stands up well to battering winds; and it succeeds on limy ground, provided there is a good depth of loamy soil. Few conifers makes such a reliable screening or hedging plant.

This hybrid was named in honour of Mr. C. J. Leyland of Haggerston Castle, Northumberland.

Cupressus macrocarpa, often called the Monterey Cypress: Monterey is the district in California, which is its habitat. The species is another quick-growing Cypress, and once well established, often adds a foot to its height every year. This may be one of the reasons, if not the chief reason, why the plant is grown. As this Cypress grows older, it becomes more hardy and in gardens in the Thames Valley they go up to a height of 40 feet or so; near the sea (it likes the warm climate of the south best of all) it attains a height of 60 feet or more. They are not good for hedges in this district, 30 miles from London: they begin to deteriorate after being clipped and trimmed – much of the lower growth turns brown and finally dies off. But left to grow tall as individual trees (set perhaps 6 feet apart), they make a magnificent tall screen.

There are several garden forms, viz. Var. fastigiata, a tree with erect-growing branches which make it columnar in shape.

Var. lutea is similar in shape to the other, but has young shoots and leaves of a delightful yellow colour.

Hillicr’s have a form called Var. guadalupensis, which they describe as CA most beautiful tree for mild localities, lacking the characteristic fragrance of the species. Foliage glaucous sea-green.’

Junipers are lime-loving plants and thus of great value to people who garden on calcareous soils. They grow well in deep loam overlaying chalk, and thrive best in warm sunny situations. All the plants may be increased by cuttings.

One of the best kinds for gardens is the Chinese Juniper (Juniperus chinensis) a native of Japan, Mongolia, and China, where specimens, slender, and pyramidal-shaped, 60 feet tall, are found. In exposed positions in cultivation it is of more shrubby habit. There are many attractive forms offered by nurseries. Of these, the one I have seen most often in gardens is Var. aurea, known as ‘Young’s Golden Juniper,’ a compact, slender variety; the young shoots and foliage are of a lovely golden-yellow colour – delightful to see in the summer. The plant was raised in Young’s Nurseries at Milford, Surrey. It can be bought, pot-grown, for 21s.

J. coxii is known to the Chinese as the Coffin Juniper; the wood is some of the most durable to be obtained and is used by them for making coffins. And it has a remarkable fragrance, apparently when either burned or just simply handled.

The species was discovered in 1920 in Upper Burma by Messrs. E. H. M. Cox and R. Farrer. According to them, the tree, which reaches at least 100 feet in height, grows in rainy, wind-swept mountainous regions 10,000 feet above sea-level, and in places where there is little sun. In Britain it does better in the warm south-west countries, near the sea; but it is perfectly hardy, and good specimens grow in some of our inland gardens. J. coxii has been called the finest of all the Junipers and probably the finest conifer that grows. Its branchlets are a rich dark green and the leaves a glaucous blue-green colour. A magnificent evergreen tree.

J. drupacea is the Syrian Juniper from the mountains of Greece, from Asia Minor, and Syria. It was introduced about the middle of the 19th century and has proved to be hardier and more adaptable to our gardens than most of the other species. Trees will be found 30 feet or more high growing on lawns, where their elegant pyramidal or columnar shape is seen to best advantage. The leaves, dark green and sharply-pointed, are the largest among the Junipers, and the brownish fruits are about an inch wide. A choice evergreen for specimen planting in large gardens.

J. recurva is known as the Himalayan Juniper and was introduced from that region in 1830. It is praised by some growers for its graceful form and moderate size, which make it a good garden tree or tall shrub. Others, however, say that its dull green foliage gives the tree a lifeless look and detracts from its value as a garden plant. This Juniper is quite hardy and does well in gardens around London and in the Home Counties; the finest, tallest specimens will be found in warmer places like Cornwall and the Isle of Wight.

J. virginiana. This Juniper is commonly called the Red Cedar of North America. Growers in the British Isles have found it the hardiest and easiest to grow of the North American species. It does best in a deep loamy soil containing lime and is normally about 50 feet tall, but bigger specimens are known in our northern gardens. It has attractive grey-green glaucous foliage and grows into a broadly-pyramidal tree. Under cultivation it has produced some excellent varieties.

Var. burkji (Burk’s Red Cedar) of dense pyramidal habit is one of the most striking. Its grey-blue foliage turns bronze-purple in winter.

Libocedrus are closely allied to Thuja . The most famous is the Incense Cedar, Libocedrus decurrens, which is one of the finest of all specimen trees. It grows slowly and makes a tall, columnar dark green tree, up to 50 feet high, or more, in many gardens, and has a formal look about it that few other trees have – almost as though it had been clipped to shape, to represent a solid, lofty pillar. It is especially adapted to the formal garden, and few trees give such an air of distinction as this – particularly when planted in a group. It needs a great deal of room of course when used for grouping or even for specimen planting; it is quite out of place in a small garden. In its young state it is almost as elegant as the tall, slender Italian Cypress, which one sees standing out against the sky in warm southern gardens of the Mediterranean. As far south as this the Libocedrus is more spreading in habit and perhaps less elegant. It is a hardy plant and thrives in deep moist loamy soils.

The species is a native of Oregon and California and was discovered by Colonel Fremont in 1846.

There is a singularly attractive dwarf form called Var. intricata, with curiously-shaped branchlets. It is an extremely slow grower and a charming ornament for the rockery.

The few other species are less hardy and flourish in the warmest parts of Britain.

The Christmas Tree is the best known of the Picea family and if it thrives in your garden, in all probability the others will too. They like deep, loamy, moist soils and are a failure on thin chalky ground. They cannot have too much rain and they fail in town gardens and smoky atmospheres. The finest specimens of the Christmas Tree, Picea abies, are found in Norway, where it grows wild and where the rainfall is exceptionally high. It sometimes reaches a height of 150 feet. I have watched the progress of several young plants which were bought as Christmas Trees and after the festivities were planted in the garden – they were of course young trees with healthy roots when they were bought and were given good kitchen garden soil and plenty of water until they were well established. They are all flourishing.

As an ornamental tree this Picea is not as good as several others – not as line a tree as the Serbian Spruce, P. omorika, for instance.

Spruces must be raised from seeds. Raising Christmas Trees for sale to the shops is a profitable hobby for people who have the room and the right soil in their gardens for them. The seeds germinate fairly quickly and the seedlings are planted out in rows in good deep moist soil. Or young trees about 9 inches tall may be bought from nurseries and planted where they are to grow permanently. This Spruce (Picea abies) is something of a failure here in South Bucks. It suffers particularly during the rainless summer months.

Picea breweriana (Brewer’s Weeping Spruce) is a much better garden tree. (It was given an A.M. In 1958.) It is a native of Oregon and Northern California and was discovered by Mr. W. H. Brewer, an American botanist. Although one of the finest of the Spruces, hardy and a slow-grower (quite suitable for a moderate-sized garden) and a really good ornamental tree, it is something of a rarity in gardens. (It is also quite rare in Nature, occurring in small numbers high up in mountainous regions, at an altitude usually of 7,000 feet). Its distinctive character lies in the long, slender, hanging branchlets coming from the almost horizontal branches. They are whip-like, no thicker than a pencil. It is easily raised from seed. Or a pot-grown plant, ready to put out in the garden, can be had for a guinea.

The Yeddo Spruce, P. jezoensis has produced a remarkably fine smallish tree called Var. hondoensis; it is much more suitable for the average garden than the type tree, which grows very tall. The variety has pale reddish brown shoots and attractive dark green foliage.

P. omorika, the Serbian Spruce, a native of Serbia and found copiously on limestone formations in the Drina Valley, Bosnia, does better in the Home Counties and in gardens around London, than most of the others. The young trees are of a slender, very elegant form; and the foliage is a cheerful glossy green colour. The plant grows rapidly and thrives in any good garden soil. (The form Var. nana is a dwarf and makes a dense, rounded bush.)

The Oriental Spruce (P. orientalis) is often used instead of Abies picea for a Christmas Tree and often succeeds where the Abies is a failure. This Spruce comes from the Caucasus and Asia Minor and is of neat, dense habit; the leaves are an attractive brilliant dark green and are the shortest of all the tree Spruces.

Var. aurea has golden-yellow shoots – a favourite conifer for gardens; good specimens, pot-grown and ready for planting out, can be bought for 45J. Each. (Var. gracilis is a pygmy form, recommended for the rock-garden.)

The Blue Spruce, much admired by gardeners and beloved by growers of the Spruces, is P. pungens Var. glauca. Its leaves are covered with a blue-white bloom; this colouring is more pronounced, however, in other forms – Var. argenta is especially striking.

These ‘blue’ Spruces are at their best in their young state. Var. glauca, mentioned above, is a choice conifer for a smallish garden and more suitable than the bigger type plant, which reaches a height of 100 feet or more. This tree {P. pungens) is a native of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and is known as the Colorado Spruce.

Pines are described by Bean in his trees and shrubs thus: ‘As garden or park trees, the Pines are of varying merit, but the best of them are among the noblest of evergreens. They do not need a rich soil so much as an open, well-drained one.’

Pinus balfouriana is the Fox-tail Pine of California and one of the smaller kinds suitable for restricted spaces; it grows very slowly. Its needle-like leaves are stiff and sharply pointed, about 1 ½ inches long and come in bundles of five. They persist often for fifteen years and being closely packed, give the tree a strong, vigorous appearance.

Another small Pine is P. cembra, a native of the Alps of Central Europe and Siberia. The popular name of it is the Arolla Pine and it is especially attractive in its young state -from about 8 feet to 15 feet tall. In its natural habitat, high up in the Alps, it grows to a height of 100 feet or more and is the common Fir-tree of these mountains (the Tannenbaum probably of Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage). It is found at a higher altitude than any other tree, many old specimens having survived the storms of centuries.

The Japanese Red Pine (P. densiflora) is one the plants on which Japanese gardeners practise the curious art of dwarfing -trees in porcelain containers may be 100 years old and only a few inches tall. The species has an attractive reddish trunk and dark green foliage.

Much more frequently seen in gardens is the form Var. umbraculifera (umbrella-shaped), a miniature, flat-topped tree with tiny cones; it is said to take half a century to reach a height of 8 feet. It deserves to be more widely grown in small gardens; it appears to be a favourite conifer for growing in very big rock-gardens.

P. pinaster, the Maritime Pine, is the species one sees growing in plantations around Bournemouth and, as its popular name implies, it is particularly suited to seaside districts, and to sandy soils. In its young state it grows rapidly, often making 2 feet a year; the leaves, which come in pairs and are stiff and dark green (4 to 8 inches long) are the longest of the Pines found wild in Europe. A mature tree, with its long naked dark trunk and a top of dark green foliage, is one of the most picturesque conifers we see along the coast, {pinaster, the Latin for ‘a wild Pine’).

P. ponderosa, known as the Western Yellow Pine, has a wide distribution in Western North America, where it often reaches a height of 200 feet. In cultivation in Britain, it is much smaller, but is among the most imposing of all the Pines we grow; it is very striking, with its long bunches of glaucous green leaves – some 10 inches in length. This conifer needs a deep loamy soil, rather sandy, with perfect drainage. The Italian name of the tree : actually Pino cernbro.

P. sylvestris, commonly called the Scotch Pine, is a native of Britain and probably of most European countries, and found too in Siberia; it is more common in the wild than any other Pine. The Scotch Pine is a tall tree in nature (up to 110 feet high), a valuable timber tree; in gardens it is beautiful, especially during the winter months, with its graceful, red-tinged trunk and its grey-green foliage. The cones are ½ inches long and conical.

There are many garden forms; one of the best is Var. aurea, whose leaves turn golden in November and retain this colour till the spring, when they change to green again. A very beautiful Pine. Called by some gardeners the Golden Pine.

Var. pumilo is a dwarf – a charming bush, densely-foliaged and rounded in shape.

The specific name of the giant Douglas Fir of North America is Pseudotsuga taxifolia, not P. douglasii, by which name it is known to many gardeners; the second is the more popular and likely to continue so among gardeners. This magnificent conifer is found in many regions of the Pacific seaboard and in its habitat reaches a height of 300 feet, with a trunk sometimes 12 feet in diameter. It is too big for most gardens and not suitable for dry climates. The finest specimens in the British Isles grow in the moist valleys of Perthshire.

The variety glauca (known as the Colorada Douglas Fir) is a smaller tree, hardier and more suitable for our inland gardens. It has thicker leaves of a delightful glaucous green colour; and is the best of the many varieties for cultivation in Britain. Good specimens may be obtained from nurseries for about $s.

The species was discovered by Menzies in 1793 and introduced some years later by the famous collector David Douglas.

The Yew {Taxus) is probably the best known of all our evergreen trees; and specimens up to 40 feet or more in height are seen in our old, historic gardens; yet it is much preferred for hedging than for planting as a specimen tree.

The plant no doubt would be more often used for hedging, were it not so expensive and such a slow grower; it stands any amount of clipping and thrives in ordinary garden soils; many fine healthy plants grow on limy ground, both in cultivation and in the wild.

The common species, Taxus baccata, is usually raised from seed; it is collected when ripe, mixed with sand and then sown in light loamy soil.

The numerous varieties are increased by cuttings taken in August, small shoots being chosen and placed under cloches till roots are formed.

The foliage of the Common Yew is almost a black-green -one of the darkest greens in the garden and admirable for a background to precocious flowering shrubs such as Viburnum fragrans, with its small clusters of very fragrant pink-white blossoms, which begin to open in November; and especially for the Flame Flower or Scarlet Flame Nasturtium (Tropaeolum speciosum) to climb over. In shape, the leaves are linear, the largest about i½ inch long and ½ inch wide; and usually a paler green (sometimes yellowish) beneath.

The yellow-leaved variety, which is most often grown in gardens, is Var. aurea, whose leaves are first a golden-yellow, then turn green in autumn.

Var. fructo-luteo is the ‘Yellow-berried Yew,’ very attractive when in fruit.

Var. pygmaea is a miniature Yew, a beautiful little plant for the rockery. And the golden-leaved Var. elegantissima, which has been designated the perfect Yew for growing in a pot, is really one of the best for hedging, since it grows comparatively fast.

The Common Yew is a native of Europe, including the British Isles, North Africa and West Asia. Other species occur in Canada; California; China; Japan.

Taxus canadensis, the Canadian species, is the hardiest of the Yews; it will grow and flourish where the climate is too cold for the Common Yew; but it is seldom much more than a low, spreading bush.

For topiary-hedges the Yews are unrivalled, the close, dense, black-green foliage (especially of the common variety) lends itself well to shaping with the shears and produces the neatest, trimmest forms. Topiary-work, however, is much less fashionable nowadays.

Thuja, like Taxus, is a small genus, comprising about half a dozen species. The best tree form is Thuja plicata, commonly known as the Giant Thuja. This popular name may well deter people, even those with big gardens, from buying it. In the wild (North America) it is a giant: often 200 feet tall, with a trunk measuring 15 feet in diameter. But in gardens in Britain it reaches not more than 100 feet in height and is a slender, pyramidal tree, with branches curving upward at the ends, and dark glossy green leaves (scale-like); the cones are small and egg-shaped.

Some gardeners use this Thuja for hedging, keeping the plants clipped in April or September. (They will stand any amount of clipping). The deep green colour of the foliage is retained all through the year. The habitat of this species is British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington T. orientalis, the Chinese Arbor-vitae, is a native of Oorth and West China and a fine tall shrub or small tree up to about 40 feet high. The better of the two forms in cultivation if a broadly-pyramidal tree furnished with branches from the ground. The cones are roundish, small, erect and purplish in colour.

This species needs a deep moist loamy soil and shelter from cold winds.

Tsuga are the Hemlock Firs or Spruces and in foliage resemble the Yew. They make elegant garden trees or tall shrubs, with usually horizontal branches and drooping branchlets.

Tsuga sieboldii is sometimes planted in gardens instead of the Common Yew; it is of a rather more cheerful hue than the dark-looking Yew tree. It will make a good specimen evergreen up to about 15 feet tall. It is found wild only in Japan. Like the other Tsuga, it needs moist growing conditions: deep, loamy soil which is moisture retentive (it should have a sheltered spot); and it prospers best in districts where the rainfall is high.

T. diversifolia is known as the Japanese Hemlock and, like T. sieboldii, confined in a wild state to Japan. In Nature it reaches a height of 80 feet or more, the reddish trunk being 6 feet or 7 feet in girth. In our gardens it is seldom much more than a tall shrub, neat in habit, with horizontal branches furnished with attractive bright yellow-green twigs during April. The cones are small and egg-shaped.

T. heterophylla, the Western Hemlock, is a native of western North America, from California to Alaska, and in these parts attains a height of 200 feet. Its Yew-like leaves are glossy green above and a pale greyish colour beneath. It is regarded by growers as the best of the genus to plant as an ornamental conifer for a big garden, where it must always be given adequate room to develop unrestricted. In a cramped place the lovely symmetry of the drooping branchlets is not seen to best advantage. Its tapering, conical shape is very pleasing. This magnificent conifer needs rich moist loam and cannot be grown in thin shallow soils. Small plants can be bought for 10s. Each.

There are many conifers I haven’t mentioned, for the simple reason that they are too tender or much too large for the average garden. The ‘Kauri Pine’ (Agathis australis) is suitable only for our warmest gardens in the south and southwest and has sometimes proved a failure even in Cornwall and Devonshire. Similarly the Dacrydium, Yew-like trees from Australasia, which really need a warmer climate than ours. And there are hundreds of course which are far too big: these are mostly grown for their timber in forestland; and some are used for special landscape effects in parkland on big estates. No ordinary pleasure garden could accommodate any of the giant Redwoods of California {Sequoia sempervirens) — these giants are found only in a small region called Redwood Creek Grove, Humboldt County, Calif. (The tallest, measured in 1964, was 367-8 feet high.)

Many of these conifers are listed in current Tree-and-Shrub catalogues, with sufficient information about their specific character and their likes and dislikes.

People who inherit these magnificent evergreen trees from past generations are very fortunate. Many, perhaps planted at the beginning of the century, have reached maturity and are now trees of noble proportions and great beauty.

I think it is likely that young people today are not much interested in growing conifers as ornamental trees for their gardens. Space restrictions anyhow, would prevent them: the small modern garden could accommodate only the dwarf kinds normally grown in the rockery. Occasionally, however, we find young seedling conifers planted in quite small gardens -there are plenty which do not go much above 20 feet in height and are of neat, compact habit. These will be enjoyed by those gardeners who plant them as, say, 2-feet saplings. For some grow reasonably fast and will at least reveal most of their beauty to the people who planted them.

A word of warning to intending growers of any of the deep-rooting conifers, or any tree, for that matter. They must not be planted near the house, since their roots, foraging for moisture, may well in time undermine the foundations and do a great deal of damage. Furthermore, evergreens shut out most of the sun from the rooms they face.

And the great difficulty for people who come into possession of the property later is felling the trees without damaging the house. Often the tree has to be removed by first cutting off the branches and then sawing or hacking off sections of the trunk. And it may not be possible to dig up all the roots, as many will have gone too far under the house.

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