When there’s a thin blanket of snow on the ground, it’s just enough to put a silvery gloss on the winter garden. This is when I’m grateful for every conifer in my landscape, especially those with soft needles, three to five inches (8 to 13 cm) long. They’re graceful in all seasons, swaying gently in the wind, and have an elegant texture in snow.
There is a big Eastern white pine tree (Pinus strobus, 60 x 23 ft. /18 x 7 m, Zone 4) in the back corner with soft long needles, but it’s too far from the house to appreciate in this season. A neighbour brought it down from the north 60 years ago and planted it here when very young. The white pine is the largest of the northeastern conifers, and this baby is still growing — you wouldn’t want it anywhere close to the house!
Just 10 feet (3 m) from the front door, I planted a hybrid limber pine tree, ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’ (Pinus flexilis ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’, 16 x 8 ft. / 5 x 2.5 m, Zone 5), that’s more upright and narrow than others cultivars of the species, with an open, see-through branch structure. Sunlight falls through the tree, and in summer clematis vines wander around the branches, filling it with flowers. The pine’s long blue-green needles catch falling snow, suggesting an enchanted forest on a Hollywood movie set. This is a fast-growing tree (about 24 in. / 60 cm a year, once established) and doesn’t keep anyone waiting. It has strong vigor and shoots upward, with the branches extended in a relaxed, graceful posture.
In the back garden, there’s another long-needled tree, ‘Chalet’ Swiss stone pine (Pinus cembra ‘Chalet’, 13 x 5 ft. / 4 x 1.5 m, Zone 4). It’s a slow-growing, compact tree and has a dense conical form that makes a prominent winter profile in a perennial border and adds distinction and structure to deep summer borders.
There is also a dwarf version of Eastern white pine. Called weeping white pine (Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’, 2 m x 3 m, Zone 4), it’s trained on stakes in youth to develop an upright leader, and then allowed to cascade in a strong weeping form that’s wider than it is tall. Each has a unique shape, and should be selected to suit its location. The branches sweep the ground and breezes easily catch their long blue-green needles. This is an elegant tree and should be placed where it can be readily appreciated.