MANY people shun conifers and their appeal has been in decline in gardens for many years.All of which is unfortunate as they can, as Adrian Bloom – one of the most knowledgeable conifer experts in the world – says, be “essential ingredients to a garden not easily or fully replicated by other plants”.
“I fully appreciate their value as well as their problems; unfortunately, it is the latter which is often highlighted by the gardening media who often feel conifers have no place in the modern garden,” the Englishman says.
The demise of conifers is also partly due to gardeners not checking their ultimate size and, to a lesser degree, by garden-centre staff unfamiliar with conifers.
Most conifer labels state their size in 10 years, not their ultimate size, which is really no use. Growth will depend on the soil and subsequent care and attention to watering and feeding.
For example, 20-30 years ago, metre-tall Golden Cypress were sold by the hundreds in Canberra. Now they have grown to giants of 15m plus with a similar spread and are very costly to remove when in the wrong place.
In the ‘70s, conifers were very popular here, especially with the migrant population from Europe, where they are still very popular.
The other popular but incorrect notion is that “we will trim them to keep them small”. Fine in theory, but forgetting the trunk will still keep growing.
Before taking home a conifer, do some research; try Victoria’s Conifer Gardens Nursery’s website for a start.
THERE is a conifer for every situation. For example, many miniature conifers may take 100 years to grow to just one metre tall while others will reach 40m plus in the same period.
A great place to start is at Cockington Green with their extensive use of small conifers, as illustrated here. One of the most popular conifers sold today is Thuja “Smaragd” from where the jewel Emerald comes from, originally from the Latin smaragdus referring to its dark green colour.
Conifers make an excellent evergreen foil against deciduous trees or shrubs, and can be used as an accent plant or for screening such as a hedge.
I have illustrated screening a building, reaching its full height or could equally be used as a formal clipped hedge.
WITH ever decreasing blocks sizes or for small townhouse gardens, many conifers are suitable for containers. The beauty of conifers is the minimum amount of care required.
In our garden, we grew a small, compact conifer with a weeping habit, namely Picea abies “Nidiformis”. It hasn’t been pruned in 10 years and has retained its neat shape.
The most important point is to lightly trim only in October and March. Never cut back into the old wood as most conifers, unlike other plants, will not grow back from the old wood. Finally, the trimming needs to take place from the very start, and not leaving it for several years when, depending on the variety, it starts to get scraggly.
Work in the garden is now a pleasure as the days warm:
- Check out your local garden centre for conifers.
- Once roses have been pruned, spray with lime sulphur for scale insects and other pests.
- As the flower buds form on roses, feed with organic Neutrog “Seamungus”, a combination of seaweed and chook poo.
- Even though garden centres have seed potatoes for sale, it is better to delay planting for at least another month.
- Spray fruit trees when the first buds show pink (before they come into flower) with Kocide or Bordeaux for curly leaf fungus.
TOP PHOTO: Thuja “Smaragd” for screening or a perfect hedge.