form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care

Worshipping at the Iseli Altar


conifers, winter garden, colored foliage, evergreens, Iseli Nursery

The display gardens at Iseli Nursery showcase a wide variety of conifers and companion plantings.

Conifer lovers from all over the world make the pilgrimage to the display gardens at Iseli Nursery in Boring, Oregon, which are immortalized on the company’s website and annual calendars and regularly featured in at least one blog.  As part of our trek to the conifer nirvana that is the Pacific Northwest, we clearly had to pay both a call and our respects.  We were curious as to whether we would find the gardens even more awe-inspiring ‘in the fresh’ than on the page.

Sculpted pines, pines, evergreen foliage, colored foliage, Iseli Nursery

We elected to focus on contrasting colors, shapes and textures, rather than specimens.

Indeed, we were struck with such a degree of sensory overload that we had trouble focusing at first (our eyes, that is, not the camera!)  As we began to take stock of the richness that surrounded us, we realized that there were two ways to view the garden, as indeed there are any garden–by sharpening our focus to pick out the detail of each discreet specimen, a goal already ably achieved by other chroniclers, or by letting our lens go wider and take in the enormous range of textures, colors and sizes with which the gardens abound.

Rich green, Carolina blue and citrine - color-blocking is VERY 2013!

Rich green, Carolina blue and citrine – color-blocking is VERY 2013!

In the photograph above we showcase three common selections in deep hues readily available across a range of genus, species and cultivars.  Skip the taxonomy for a bit and focus on how richly satisfying this simple combination is.

Iseli Nursery, colored foliage, conifers, gold foliage, blue foliage

Add a dimension to the color by varying the textures.

In the next shot, we stick with rich colors but vary the texture of the green specimen. In this case it’s a spiky, starburst shape, but it could be weepy, spreading, lacy or bristly.

Iseli Nursery, colored foliage, conifers, pastel foliage

Color-blocking with pastels.

If you shy from the bold and prefer your colors softer, there are copious choices.  Like the master color mixer who adds a drop of black to a gallon can of paint to produce a smokier hue, plant breeders have combined with nature to create velvety gray-greens, muted yellows and olive tints to satisfy those who seek more subtle statements.

conifers, evergreens, Iseli Nursery

Soft colors create a calmer mood.

In fact, as the photo above demonstrates, a border of mixed foliage need not be strident or harsh.

Iseli Nursery, mixed foliage border, Japanese maples, evergreens, colored folaige

Deciduous plantings add an even wider range of textures and colors to the conifers.

Adding deciduous plants such as Japanese maples or dogwoods softens the look still more and expands the range of colors, shapes and textures.  The grouping above adds a formal note with the sculpted Chamaecyparis in the center.

conifers, Iseli Nusery, weeping conifers

Monochromatic doesn’t mean boring!

If you are not a fan of colored foliage, you can stick with conventional green and vary the shape. Think of yourself as a sculptor, rather than a painter, and go for a dramatic weeper flanked by a shag carpet.  Admittedly, that bronze foliage in the background does a great job of highlighting the green.

variegated dogwood, Iseli, conifers, colored foliage

Once again, we add some deciduous foliage to mix it up even more.

Note how the Cornus contriversa ‘Variegata’ adds a shape, texture and color beyond that displayed by the conifers.  We love the way this ‘living room’ is decorated with a lemon-yellow carpet and a fuzzy green hassock.

Iseli Nursery, conifers, colored foliage

A velvety swath of turf grass soothes the eye and sets off the rich colors of the specimen plantings.

We will close with one of our favorite shots – a limited palette but a wide variety of shapes, sizes and textures, including the dramatically pendulous Picea abies ‘Cobra’, on the right, one of Iseli’s newest introductions.

Next stop: Buchholz & Buchholz!

22 thoughts on “Worshipping at the Iseli Altar

  1. Just beautiful….finally got the 2 smoke bushes planted and the Rusti…waiting for Peacock Nursery to call me back!


  2. Sara…I love it!

    Janice M LeCocq Sent from my iPad

  3. Boring, OR? Can that be real? This is a “display garden”?? It looks like the adult version of a ranch I’ve visited in Petaluma. It’s fabulous. The colors! The textures! Amazing. Thank you for going to these places I probably never will.

  4. I was sure sorry to miss meeting you two ladies that day. It looks as though you had a wonderful visit to our little Boring place. :^)

  5. Lucky you to visit Iseli! I’ve drooled over their pictures, catalog and plants many times and hope to visit someday. Gorgeous shots, thanks for the tour!

  6. amazing color and texture as usual ! Your blog will one day become my retirement travel itinerary …..

  7. I am not known as a woman of few words, but today, all I can say is, ‘Wow.’ As always, thank you for this wonderful post.

  8. Oh my gosh… I’m in love. I have been adding 15 or so new ones each year hoping to have year round interest here at the lake. It is slowly starting to take shape…
    Thanks for sharing!
    God bless….Brooke
    My home and garden site…
    My Vintage Art and Printables site…

    • Thanks, Brooke! We know what that’s like…transitioning a seasonal garden to one that has year-round appeal is not an easy task. Everyone goes about it a bit differently, and everyone finds their garden ‘balance’ in a slightly different spot. We’d love to see some photos of yours if you have any to share. You can post them on our Facebook page, or send us a reminder if you post them on your blog!
      Jan and Sara

  9. As always, beautiful photography and great commentary. I envy your trips! What is the yellow ground cover conifer in photo 5 and 9? I might need one!

    • Jan, that is Juniperus horizontalis ‘Motherlode’ and we have some here in the garden and guess where it came from? That’s right, Pond and Garden! It’s a great foil for darker foliage.

  10. Wow and wow!! Really fabulous trip….

    Sent from my iPhone

  11. The Iseli Nursery in Boring, Oregon is truly amazing. You post is an amazingly enjoyable walk through the garden. I certainly needed that at this time of year. Thank you.

    • Charlie you are most welcome! AS your email suggests that you are in the PNW, consider adding Iseli to your bucket list. You can stay at the Oregon Garden Resort in Silverton and visit Iseli, Buccholz and a number of others as well as the Oregon Garden (which has a fabulous conifer collection – we’ll be featuring it shortly).
      Jan and Sara

  12. Fantastic photographs, what a gorgeous place. I’ve been tending a patch of NW forest and clearing for the past two and a half years, restricted to native plants only. I am about to embark on a new gardening adventure, and these photos (and many others on your blog) are a great reminder and inspiration of what can be done with native plants in addition to analogous non-natives. Looking at your site reminds me of just what and how much I have been missing just having what I want! I subscribed right away! Best, Calvin

    • Calvin, thank you so much for such a nice note! We like natives, too, and use a lot in our gardens. However, serious plant-geeks have a hard time restricting themselves…If you’re up in the PNW you have the perfect climate to grow conifers and the best growers in the country nearby. Now what you have to do is learn how to practice self-control!
      Best wishes,
      Jan and Sara

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