Hiding in Plain Sight

Posted by & filed under Shrubs, Trees.

Erica x darleyensis 'Furzey' Darley HeathIt’s another glorious weekend and I’ve been enjoying the conifer garden – hiding in plain sight.  It’s a little odd for me to be here since I have so little in common with all the conifers. I flower, they don’t.  They are wind pollinated, I need bees (and bees need me – don’t forget that).  Generally they are tall and I’m not.  But here we are together, enjoying each other’s company.

Actually I am sitting near one of the few flowering plants in this garden – the Darley Heath.  It seems a little more at home since it has a needle-like foliage, but its flowers, blooming full tilt right now, prove it is no conifer.  We are enjoying the sunny afternoon, but hidden from most garden visitors by several large shrubs and trees that stand between us and the road passing by the conifer garden.  Personally, I like like the privacy (especially from those gardeners), but it’s a shame more people don’t see the heath with its delicate flowers.  Only those who venture off the road and in amongst the confiers will see its beauty.  All the other folks just don’t know what they are missing.

A variety of shades and shapes in the conifer gardenThe longer I sit here, the more I realize many of the conifers are hiding in plain sight too.  For most people, these conifers are just part of the background plantings, especially in the summer.  In the winter, they are a little more appreciated because they provide the green when so much more is just brown or gray.  Even so, I’ve noticed a lot of people just walk on by and fail to appreciate all the diversity and beauty found in this collection of plants. 

One of the first things to notice is the amazing range of color. Granted green is the dominant hue, but the variety of tones and shades is pretty incredible.  There is some great variation of green, from the dark green of a juniper to the blue green of the Blue Devil Sawara Falsecypress.  Several plants incorporate a golden coloring – the “Blue & Gold” Juniper, a golden Sawara Falsecypress (‘Aurea’) and the Ogon Japanese Plum Yew are just a few to see.  The Atlantic White Cedar has a delicate white frosting while the Black Dragon Japanese Cedar is almost a blackish bronze.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Spiralter Falcata'  Japanese CedarThe variety of form is almost as diverse.  From towering pines to sprawling shore junipers, they come in all shapes.  Very erect and columnar shrubs like some of the common junipers contrast nicely with the Duke Gardens plum yew that spreads low and wide along the canal bank.  Others billow, cascade or spread across the landscape, providing interesting array of shapes to see any time of year.

Don’t forget the range of textures for these plants.  When most people hear conifer, they probably think needles on a Christmas tree.  A walk through this garden would open some eyes.  Some plants have very short stiff needles that threaten a passer-by, others have long soft ones.  But what about the scaly fan of an arborvite, the giant soft-looking pom-poms of a Japanese black pine, the fused, twisted needles of the Cristata Japanese Cedar?  One of my favorites though is the twisting branches on the Spiralter Japanese Cedar.  It looks like green fireworks to me.  What an amazing range of foliage types.

So here I sit with my friends.  All of us are hiding in full view.  The next time you are on the road through the conifer garden, stop for just five minutes.  Take a good long look at these guys.  You might like what you see.

Pinus thunbergii 'Thunderhead' Japanese Black Pine

One final note – These guys are a great bunch of plants, but they seem to be pretty strict.  Apparently one of them, the Wollemei pine, got a little full of himself and thought he was the big-shot new kid in the garden.  The rest of them threw him in a cage.  At least that’s what the Darley Heath told me.  I better keep my nose clean around these guys.