Help Me Stop Buying Variegated Conifers

Pinus parviflora ‘Goldilocks’ — Could I grow this in a pot on my patio, do you think?

Talk about a foolish new fetish!  Since most conifers are sun-lovers, my yard (a haven for plants that love dry shade and poorly drained clay) is an inferior location for indulging my new fascination for these groovy gymnosperms. 

So that’s the first problem.

Second, these specimen conifers are very expensive.  I really shouldn’t be putting off replacing my broken garbage disposal just so I can drop $79 on a 3-gallon Pinus parviflora.

Should I?

Third, if I acquire too many dwarf and/or variegated conifers, I am afraid my garden will begin to take on the dreaded “Disneyland Effect” much scorned by serious designers.  After all, a garden filled with stiff, fussy specimen conifers is basically the outdoor equivalent of your granny’s cabinet of Precious Moments figurines.

I already have a dangerous affection for plants with unnaturally hued leaves.  White or gold margins?  Yes please!  Chartreuse foliage?  I’m in love!  Gold speckles?  Don’t mind if I do!  (The exceptions are Golden Euonymus, which scorches my corneas, and ‘Crimson King’ Norway Maple, the World’s Most Depressing Tree.)

But so far, my taste for variegated/colored foliage hasn’t made my garden look too tacky.  For example, my Light o’ Day hydrangea (white variegation) is clear on the other side of the yard from my Golden Dream Boxwood (gold variegation), so they don’t clash too hard.  That could change, though, if I start hitting the specialty conifer websites as feverishly as I have been this weekend.

P. parviflora ‘Tanima no yuki’

It’s these dwarf Pinus parviflora, especially, that have me enraptured.  They come in all manner of colors and forms, from squat little muffins to windswept sculptures.  Some have needles flecked with gold or cream, some are a lovely bluish-green, many are wonderfully twisted.

Anyway, let’s hope I’m able to keep my new conifer obsession in check before I break my bank account and turn my garden into a giant curio cabinet.

31 thoughts on “Help Me Stop Buying Variegated Conifers

  1. I think you’ve nailed the variegated rule – a few can be ‘in your face’ and light up your life from a distance, but you can sneak in a few others that don’t really look variegated until you get close enough to see the pretty little white stripes or teeny-weeny lemon-yellow polka dots. And who could resist a squat little muffin?

  2. Well, you’ve taken the first step by admitting there’s a problem. Have you looked into any 12 step programs? Perhaps take up a really wholesome hobby, like Midwestern grasses and wildflowers?

    • Cindy, my husband gave me a bonsai ficus several years ago and I killed it within months, so I think it wouldn’t be a great idea. Despite my affection for these dwarf conifer specimens, I think I’m mostly a “Big Picture” gardener and not meticulous enough to be good at bonsai.

  3. Hello Mary,
    Your writing style always makes me smile. You are smooth and funny. Conifers? I say go for it. They are rather cute. 🙂
    -R.T. Wolfe
    “The romance author for people who don’t generally read romance.”

  4. The Disneyland effect – that’s my problem precicely. That and the contorted windswept sculptures I like so much don’t really match the cottage style I have elsewhere. So far I have identified one spot I am considering for, coincidentally a tamina no yuki just like you pictured, but I’m still debating whether a nice astilbe might really fit better, even if it’s less exciting.

  5. You could solve the curio cabinet problem by grouping your curio-pines in one area and calling it a pinetum, which is a valid specific approach in a botanical garden or arboretum. I love the amazing variety of conifers, too. But I have no space for more than maybe one, which is probably just as well…

  6. I enjoyed this post. I was definitely one of those designers that sneered upon the Disneyland Effect, but something’s happening to me lately. I’m tired of plants that don’t stand up and announce their presence. Subtlety is overrated. Lately, I’m all about contorted conifers and fussy foliage. Judiciously placed, they are wonderful!

    I loved the line about Golden Euonymous scorching your corneas . . . sooo true.

    • Funny how our tastes can change so quickly, from plants with quiet dignity, to Liberace style plants that scream, “Look how fabulous I am!” I was all about the quiet dignity, too, until the Great Rose Fixation of May 2012, which caught me completely unawares & from which I have made only a partial recovery.

  7. The specimen garden effect can be sidestepped by planting in odd numbers and with the plants in as distant opposition to one another as possible (though multiples of $80 3-gallon shrubs will keep baby out of new shoes for a long time). The Grandma’s Curio Garden issue can be solved by studiously avoiding Big-Eyed Hummel Tree and Crying Clown Bush altogether.

    • The only conifer that I flat out reject is the ever-popular pom-pom tree, where they prune junipers or chaemacyparis into little balls at the ends of the branches, for that lovely groomed poodle effect. Blech.

  8. Why stop now? There’s a Howell’s Tiger Tail spruce, Gentsch White hemlock or maybe even a Dragon’s Eye Japanese red pine out there with your name on it! Seriously, though, the only way to handle this is to go work for a specialty conifer nursery. Certainly took care of my addiction.

    • I love ALL of those conifers, Karen, at least in pictures. The Gentsch White hemlocks I’ve seen in nurseries have all looked scrawny and sick, but I would love to have a healthy one in my garden, since they tolerate shade.

    • Check out Nk&172#8;s attitude towards the Shoah: The Jews were punished and should have accepted their fate peaceably instead of resisting in any way. Some people can accept such passivism. I cannot. Their objection to Zionism is more in the way of passivism and thus is not acceptable to those who object to passivism.

  9. Oh, trust me. Your addiction hasn’t gotten bad until you start research to see if you can grow a monkey puzzle tree in your back yard. Or trying to find someone in the US who has a Wollemi pine for sale. (Don’t look at me. Bad weather in 2009 killed mine, and I’m looking for one myself.)

    • Oooooh, I like the look of that wollemi pine. I wonder if it’s hardy in zone 7…..

      For me, The potential for serious laceration always outweighed the novelty of the monkey puzzle tree.

      On Aug 13, 2012,

      • I’m jealous. We simply can’t grow them in Texas, at least away from the Big Thicket area east of Houston. Considering that the local humidity dropped to about 20 percent yesterday (on a normal summer, we’re thankful if the humidity drops below 50), there’s no way I could keep one alive without a really big greenhouse.

  10. If you grow them in containers, they don’t really count, so you can have as many as you want. It’s kind of like all Chinese food being kosher or speeding up through yellow traffic lights.

  11. If you really want to see dwarf conifers at their best go to check out the Gotelli Collection at the National Arboretum in Washington DC. There is a companion guide written about it “Dwarf and Unusual Conifers Coming of Age” by Sandra Cutler that is invaluable in giving you insight into what to expect in growth habits and how to intergrate the forms in the garden. I don’t think that conifers add a Disney effect at all, rather, when used to highlight their unique assets, provide strong “full stops” as Christopher Llyod called them to the perennial border.

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