Conifers must be the ultimate plant group for year-round appeal. Any weather, any season, almost any soil, they are there delivering the goods. There is such diversity among conifers, you can get even more visual value by planting species and varieties with unusually coloured leaves. And it isn’t just the benefit of what we see, it has been proven scientifically that the needles of conifers trap and neutralise those deadly disease-causing particulates, thereby improving air quality around our homes and workplaces.
Dwarf species of conifers
Style and fun are the key concepts to have in mind when thinking about conifers. Dwarf species, for example Pinus mugo are full of natural humour. Take ‘Mops’ that almost spherical little tree that works so well in beds and borders, or Pinus pumila (Dwarf Siberian pine) - another star whose diminutive family member ‘Compacta’ will happily slot in to most garden situations. These dwarfs need only a couple of metres of ground and will give so much year-round value in return.
Similarly, many of the golden conifers available in this country are dwarf varieties which makes them highly adaptable for use in smaller gardens, or in areas of special interest such as rock gardens. In these situations they can provide colour and interest, especially when many other garden plants are dormant. The leaves of some take on a bronze tinge in winter which is an added colour bonus and all will look fabulous encrusted with hoar frost or dusted with a covering of snow.
Conifers that deserve special mention
Here are a few species and varieties that deserve a special mention. From the family of the White cedar, Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’ is highly valued for its golden-yellow foliage. Added colour features include the fact that foliage is pink-tinged when young and turns bronze in winter.‘Rheingold’ reaches a height of 1-2m. Another White cedar, ‘Golden Globe’ has lots to offer as a plant for a rockery or small garden. A spherical, dwarf shrub, it has bright golden foliage and grows to an approximate height and spread of 1m.
If you’re looking for a bigger tree with a columnar-conical form to fulfil a particular garden design theme, look out for Thuja plicata, it’s an absolute beauty. From the family of the Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria) you can choose either end of the spectrum: ‘Elegans compacta’ is an attractive conical shrub that has dark green juvenile foliage which turns bronze in winter and will reach 2-4m in height, whilst Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese Cedar) is a handsome tree that can reach 25m!
No survey of ever stylish conifers would be complete without a mention of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) ‘Gold Coin’. This slow growing shrub sports intense golden foliage and achieves a height and spread of approximately 2m.
Grow these conifers in deep soil with good drainage. They will do best in sheltered, sunny positions. Japanese cedars will tolerate chalky soils and are happy in partial shade. Thujas need shelter from cold drying winds.