Conifers for a winter profile

Judith Adam

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Potted Hick's yew (Photo courtesy of Willowbrook Nurseries)
Potted Hick's yew (Photo courtesy of Willowbrook Nurseries)
Potted Hick’s yew (Photo courtesy of Willowbrook Nurseries)

September is proving to be such a hospitable month, with warm temperatures and lovely sunlight (and a few big rains), that I don’t have much enthusiasm for cleaning the garden. I like to feel a cold bite in the air, a bit of brisk air current rushing through the leaves, to get me interested in
cutting down perennials and sweeping up debris. But I’m making small efforts to do something each day, and as I cut back the spent plants of a long, hot summer, the winter garden is slowly revealing itself.

The ornamental bark of woody plants and the conifers are important for an attractive winter scene. Making a winter garden is a big topic, and for myself, it always begins with tall and narrow or small-scale conifers planted in perennial beds. If I can insinuate evergreen plants into prominent perennial growing areas, then something will be left standing after the summer plants are cut down. Fortunately, garden centres are stocking evergreens in containers for autumn planting, and it’s still possible to insert some in beds and borders. They won’t show any growth until next season, but their presence will improve the winter picture.

My perennial beds in the front garden are small, yet I’ve managed to put a reasonable number of conifers in place that will be visible at the front door and from windows, standing above the snow. During the growing season, these vertical conifers don’t compete for space with expanding perennials; in winter, they have sufficient size to maintain a garden profile.

Two conifers that are working well are ‘Degroot’s Spire’ cedar (Thuja occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Spire’, 20 inches x 10 feet / 50 cm x 3 m, Zone 4, sun to part shade) with a narrow columnar form, and Hill’s yew (Taxus x media ‘Hillii’, 40 inches x 10 feet / 1 x 3 m, Zone 5, full sun to light shade) with a clump form and pencil-straight branches. (In winter, I weave a hidden spiral of twine through each yew to prevent heavy snow from weighing down their branches.) These are both good vertical accents with similar height; I simply snip their tops to keep them the size I like. The cedar has such a narrow footprint that I have two next to each other, and could certainly add a third. I have two of the yews with a granite boulder between them.

There are other small-scale or vertical conifers that would work well for this purpose. You might consider Hick’s yew (Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’, 40 inches x 10 feet / 1 m x 3 m, Zone 5, full sun to light shade) that is almost identical to its cousin, Hill’s yew. Colourful ‘Golden Globe’ cedar (Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe, 40 x 40 inches / 1 x 1 m, Zone 4, sun to part shade) has golden yellow foliage (darker in winter cold) and a globe-shaped form. Another interesting choice is bright green ‘Fairview’ juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Fairview’, 40 inches x 10 feet / 1 x 3 m, Zone 5, full sun) with silvery blue cones and a narrow pyramidal form. Any of these conifers will be lovely in summer with perennials, and then assume a prominent presence in the winter garden.


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