Conifers

Simon Bax, our Senior Plant Adviser, takes a fresh look at conifers

“This is the time of year when we like to have a fresh start and although it may seem too cold to be making plans in the garden there’s a group of much maligned and underrated plants that might be worth considering at this time of year, the Conifers.  I can hear the groans already! But read on and you may change your mind.  They might be worth trying in your garden or containers for a change.

“Often we consider conifers useful for a screen and little else – the top choice is often x leylandii -because it is so quick to grow and tolerant of most conditions, but it often grows away and then is hard to control, and while fast growing may be an advantage early on, it can soon become a burden. This plant has done a lot to colour people’s view of the whole conifer family. If you want a good thick evergreen screen one of the Thujas is a much better bet – slower but ultimately a lot less work.

“It is a huge family of plants and there are conifers suitable for every position and they often look – being structural and largely evergreen – very good in a pot. In addition they get very little wrong with them and, apart from watering and the occasional prune, they need little care.

“They are available in a myriad of subtle colours from silvery blues and greys through every shade of green to yellow, gold and copper. They can be found in many intriguing shapes – weeping (which can be staked to give height or left to form ground cover), bun – shaped, conical, pyramidal, totally flat or gloriously asymmetric. They can also be soft and fluffy or spiky with needles, or drop their leaves shaped like ducks feet in shades of gold.

“I’ll highlight 3 favourites – Pinus mugo ‘Carsten’s Wintergold’ a slow growing pine that makes a broadly bun shaped plant about 2ft tall after 10 years. Its main claim to fame is the winter colour – the colder the more golden, ending up almost orange in a severe winter. Tsuga Canadensis ‘Pendula’ which although large eventually is slow enough to stay in a pot for years with cascading feathery grey green needles and is good in shade and Hoopsii which slowly make tiered ice blue pyramids that double up brilliantly as a Christmas tree.

“So why not take a new look at conifers and see if you can add some evergreen beauty to your garden this year.”