form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care


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Winter Finery – Bright Spots on Dull Days

lecocq_20161225_1077-edit

Colors pop in the low light and overcast skies of winter days.

We love the soft light of winter and how it shows almost everything to advantage. In the shot above, conifers, yucca and the lingering leaves of a mix of deciduous trees illuminate the landscape. It put us in a party mood, so we thought we’d check out what’s being worn this season.

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Juniperus cedrus foliage has a distinctly two-toned tweedy look.

Tweeds are always a favorite in the winter months, and Canary Islands juniper wears a blue-green version, with a double-white stomatal band which acts like flecks of white on the darker cloth. If you suspect hyperbole, compare to the ‘real’ thing:

tweed

Harris tweed

The subdued, workmanlike tweed needs a bit of livening up, so we looked for something peppier to pair it with. Perhaps the tapestry of winter-tinged leaves of Hydrangea quercifolia? The oak-leaf hydrangea is the only member of its clan that can take full sun and doesn’t require a lot of water, making it suitable for drought-tolerant gardens. We think that the winter foliage beats the summer bloom:

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Hydrangea quercifolia (oak leaf hydrangea) in winter.

Is nature imitating art or is art imitating nature?

tapestry

Damask upholstery fabric

What accessorizes the garden’s tweeds and damasks? A winning strategy is to seek contrasts of color, form and texture. A shiny patent leather would work well with the soft, light-absorbing fabrics.

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Coprosma repens ‘Plum Hussey’

The shiny purple-burgundy foliage of the mirror plant, Coprosma, would certainly do the job. ‘Red Jewel’ barberry’s brighter, glossy foliage also caught our eye:

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Berberis x media ‘Red Jewel’

Decisions, decisions!

patent-leather-shoes

What to wear?

While we’re enjoying the finery, we thought we’d do our hair. Banksia spinulosa ‘Schnapper Point’, or koala blooms banksia, has candle-like (or curler-like!) blossoms that stick out through the foliage. This year it was extremely floriferous so we can cover ourselves in curls.

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Banksia spinulosa ‘Schnapper Point’. Loofahs? Curlers?

curlers

We’re going for a pre-Raphaelite look.

So what about jewels? We found that Ilex x attenuata ‘Longwood Gold’ has lovely orange beadlike berries. This natural hybrid of two native North American hollies is rarely seen in cultivation and we don’t know why. It makes a perfect pairing with orange libertia.

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Perfect pair: Ilex ‘Longwood Gold’ and Libertia peregrinans.

Now we just have to collect and string the beads:

beads

Beads or holly berries?

Now that we’re all dressed, a bit of cosmetic enhancement is in order. Lipstick, nail polish and blush, in the wintery shade of brilliant red.

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Leucadendron ‘Jester’ wears scarlet-tipped fingers.

nail-polish

No gardener has hands like this, however.

And now, the finishing touch. We’re completing our outfit with a fan. We just have to choose which one. This Brahea armata is simply loaded with them.

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Mexican blue palm (Brahea armata) is loaded with fan-shaped fronds.

Here’s the one that we finally chose:

fan

Understated but elegant.

Now there is nothing left to do but to wait for Prince Charming. It may be a long wait. The coach is simply not materializing.

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Still looks like a pumpkin…

What kind of finery do you have in your winter garden?

 

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A Berry Happy New Year from Form and Foliage!

foliage gardening, broadleaved evergreens

California buckthorn (Rhamnus californica) ‘Eve Case’ has deep purple berries in winter.

The solstice has passed and the new year is upon us. This is supposedly the drabbest, dreariest time in the garden. To disabuse all of the belief that that must be so, we present a gallery of berries to enjoy as we wave farewell to the old year and welcome the new.

malus, ornamental fruit

‘Professor Sprenger’ crabapple is known for its lovely springtime apple-blossom pink flowers, but oh the fall and winter fruit!

Malus

‘Professor Sprenger’ fruit up close

 

crabapple, Malus

Even the immature fruit of ‘Professor Sprenger’ is decorative.

 

Berberis wilsoniae, Berberis wilsonii, ornamental berries

Wilson’s barberry berries range in color from flamingo to salmon, and contrast beautifully with the glaucus foliage.

The genus Berberis, or barberry, has some of the most ornamental berries of any group of plants. From the subtle tones of the Wilson’s barberry pictured above, to much larger, robust fruit on our native California Berberis aquifolium, these plants decorate the winter landscape. When lacquered by raindrops even the berries of the most common species, Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), are strikingly beautiful. (note: Japanese barberry is invasive in many areas. Seek sterile cultivars if you wish to add this plant to your landscape.)

American barberry, foliage gardening, ornamental berries

The berries of Berberis aquifolium (formerly Mahonia aquifolium). It’s easy to see why the common name is Oregon grape-holly!

 

Berberis thunbergii, berries, foliage gardening

Japanese barberry fruit on a rainy winter day.

Berries are a great way of adding purple to your fall and winter garden, and there are a variety of trees and shrubs that bear berries of regal hues.

Chilean myrtle, foliage gardening

Luma apiculata has shiny purply-black berries that last for months.

 

'Profusion' beautyberry

For purple punch, though, it’s hard to beat beautyberry! (This specimen is Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldi ‘Profusion’).

 

foliage gardening, evergreen plants

California native Heteromeles arbutifolia (toyon) can hold its own in a berry contest.

 

ornamental berries, foliage gardening

Cotoneaster berries can be very decorative, but make sure to select only non-invasive species.

 

foliage gardening, ornamental berries

Cotoneaster buxifolius is commonly called bright bead cotoneaster. It has an attractive low, spreading habit and wears its berries for months in winter.

 

foliage gardening

Sarcococca ruscifolia (sweet box) is grown primarily for its fragrant flowers, but don’t forget the ensuing berries !

 

Nandina domestica is overplanted, and paradoxically, under-appreciated. Try the ‘Compacta’ version for a more manageably-sized shrub. The cultivars with dramatic foliage generally do not bear fruit, so go with the old standby for winter berry interest.

Heavenly bamboo

Berries on Nandina domestica ‘Compacta’ last for months in the garden, weeks if brought inside as holiday decor.

 

And of course we cannot leave out the traditional holiday berry, the holly! There are many kinds of holly, most with red berries, but some have golden or yellow fruit. Some even have variegated leaves.

Ilex, foliage gardening

Holly is the traditional winter holiday berry.

 

So if your garden is dull on a winter’s day, put ‘berries’ on your gardening shopping list for spring. We have a tendency to buy plants when they are in bloom and most of us don’t visit nurseries during the off-season, so you need to think ‘winter’ even when you’re shopping in April. You will be rewarded when December rolls around.

Here’s to a berry wonderful 2016 from Form and Foliage!

(Note: some berries are poisonous to humans or certain animals. If you have concerns about children or pets, please read about any plants that you are considering.)

 

 

 

 

 

 


13 Comments

Jan Takes the Wheel

conifers, garden photography, foliage gardening

Every time I go through Sara’s garden I see new vistas with mind-boggling color and texture

Our posts have always had their inspiration in Sara’s garden. The concept of ‘form and foliage’ comes from her particular gardening focus. Jan attempts to capture this concept and as she has become more familiar with both the garden and her craft, she has had more of a tendency to go rogue and resist direction. Thus, we bring you some of her favorite images, unrestrained by Sara’s prejudices or guidance. Her comments follow.

Every photographer interprets light and color in their own way, and photographers develop a style or a ‘way of seeing’ that they present in their photographs. Sara wants the photographs to ‘look real’, i.e. the way SHE sees the scene. My reality is not always the same as hers.

succulents, garden photography

Agave ‘Blue Glow’ beginning to flower

The phenomenon of ‘digital darkroom’ technology provides so many tempting opportunities to play with images and take them beyond what the eye sees. The Agave above is a good example, tuned up with Trey Ratcliffe’s Aurora HDR (Macphun) and Adobe Lightroom software.

Senecio 'Staghorn', Pinus contorta 'Spaan's Dwarf', Spirea 'Goldmound', garden photography

I’m always fascinated by color repetition, which leads the viewer’s eye through the scene.

One of the photographers who has inspired me is Dewitt Jones. He doesn’t go out capturing images, he waits for the images to capture him. The above shot caught me due to the wonderful repetition of the steely blues in the Mexican pebbles, the succulent, the copper top of the lamp and the spruce in the distance, all complemented by the vivid red and green.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Elegans Compacta', garden photography

This is an exquisite plant with soft colors, enhanced by the bejeweling water droplets.

Close-up photography is challenging, because composing an image with the right “depth of field”  (how sharp the image is throughout) is very challenging.  In this case, I want to capture the delicate shape and coloration of the foliage while keeping it in the context of the overall characteristic of the plant: an explosion of clouds of needles in shades of burgundy, mauve and pink.  I strive to have just enough background to give context without overpowering the delicate subject.

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When I take close-ups of plants, I am aware of the life that exists in a garden

Our objective on this day was to photograph yellows and blues, both in landscape shots and close ups. I am always attracted to spider webs, because they demonstrate that the garden is teeming with life, much of it hidden. This ladder-like structure is particularly distinctive.

Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca Pendula', conifers, garden photography

I love the structure of the blue Atlas cedar, but it was the combination of colors and shapes on the ground that caught my eye

I concentrate on our focus, which is woody foliage plants, but I can’t control how my eye is drawn to other aspects of the garden. Just as with the spider web, the garden is home to many other forms of life, which ebb and flow with the seasons. The cedar’s bristly, blue needles interact with the fragile mushroom and the rusty leaves to create a completely different perspective. Dewitt Jones has always counseled ‘the first image that you see may not be the one that is most distinctive. You need to move around and look at the subject from different perspectives, and maybe change your lens. In doing that, you may discover something more beautiful than you thought you saw originally.’

Brahea armata, garden photography

Sara wanted a photo of her favorite palm tree. She was startled when this is what I produced.

Sara expected a shot of the graceful blue-gray fronds that fan out over the succulent garden. When I went out to shoot the plant, I found myself fascinated with the yellow teeth along the stems and the fibrous trunk. I ignored the fronds and focused on what spoke to me. It took her a while to understand what I saw. This image now hangs in her home, because the plant took on an additional dimension for her once she understood my perspective.

garden photography, Brahea armata

The Mexican blue fan palm provides a fantastic opportunity for a classic graphic image.

I threw Sara a bone and focused on the leaves. Once again, I produced a different image than the one she expected. I was struck by the color and the steely structure. The pleats emanate from the stem dynamically, creating a sense of movement that I could not ignore. The imperfections make it more interesting.

Mangave 'Macho Mocha', succulents, foliage gardening, garden photography

I’m fascinated by this plant; it’s an amazing combination of reptilian marking and metallic texture, complemented by beautiful colors

I’m really drawn to agaves because of their structure and their prehistoric aspects. This agave hybrid is particularly compelling, and I love the explosion of the lime green from the center to the mottled leaves. If you’re any good at photography, you’ve learned early that you need to go beyond what first captured your attention and seek alternative views.

Mangave 'Macho Mocha', succulents, foliage gardening, garden photography

Complementary colors and contrasting textures make for a pleasing combination

The colors of the mangave are echoed in the colors of the restio, giving the image integrity and continuity. The image is strengthened by the contrast between the broad, strappy leaves of the mangave and the wispy, threadlike stems of the restio, capped with the burgundy seedheads.

Phormium 'Dusky Chief', garden photography

Sometimes I just can’t help myself

I recently got an ‘infrared kit’. I love the way shooting in infrared reveals aspects of the image that conventional photography does not. If the palm shot nonplussed Sara, what do you think this one will do? Stay tuned….

 


14 Comments

A Berry Happy New Year from Form and Foliage!

foliage gardening, broadleaved evergreens

California buckthorn (Rhamnus californica) ‘Eve Case’ has deep purple berries in winter.

The solstice has passed and the new year is upon us. This is supposedly the drabbest, dreariest time in the garden. To disabuse all of the belief that that must be so, we present a gallery of berries to enjoy as we wave farewell to the old year and welcome the new.

malus, ornamental fruit

‘Professor Sprenger’ crabapple is known for its lovely springtime apple-blossom pink flowers, but oh the fall and winter fruit!

Malus

‘Professor Sprenger’ fruit up close

 

crabapple, Malus

Even the immature fruit of ‘Professor Sprenger’ is decorative.

 

Berberis wilsoniae, Berberis wilsonii, ornamental berries

Wilson’s barberry berries range in color from flamingo to salmon, and contrast beautifully with the glaucus foliage.

The genus Berberis, or barberry, has some of the most ornamental berries of any group of plants. From the subtle tones of the Wilson’s barberry pictured above, to much larger, robust fruit on our native California Berberis aquifolium, these plants decorate the winter landscape. When lacquered by raindrops even the berries of the most common species, Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), are strikingly beautiful. (note: Japanese barberry is invasive in many areas. Seek sterile cultivars if you wish to add this plant to your landscape.)

American barberry, foliage gardening, ornamental berries

The berries of Berberis aquifolium (formerly Mahonia aquifolium). It’s easy to see why the common name is Oregon grape-holly!

 

Berberis thunbergii, berries, foliage gardening

Japanese barberry fruit on a rainy winter day.

Berries are a great way of adding purple to your fall and winter garden, and there are a variety of trees and shrubs that bear berries of regal hues.

Chilean myrtle, foliage gardening

Luma apiculata has shiny purply-black berries that last for months.

 

'Profusion' beautyberry

For purple punch, though, it’s hard to beat beautyberry! (This specimen is Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldi ‘Profusion’).

 

foliage gardening, evergreen plants

California native Heteromeles arbutifolia (toyon) can hold its own in a berry contest.

 

ornamental berries, foliage gardening

Cotoneaster berries can be very decorative, but make sure to select only non-invasive species.

 

foliage gardening, ornamental berries

Cotoneaster buxifolius is commonly called bright bead cotoneaster. It has an attractive low, spreading habit and wears its berries for months in winter.

 

foliage gardening

Sarcococca ruscifolia (sweet box) is grown primarily for its fragrant flowers, but don’t forget the ensuing berries !

 

Nandina domestica is overplanted, and paradoxically, under-appreciated. Try the ‘Compacta’ version for a more manageably-sized shrub. The cultivars with dramatic foliage generally do not bear fruit, so go with the old standby for winter berry interest.

Heavenly bamboo

Berries on Nandina domestica ‘Compacta’ last for months in the garden, weeks if brought inside as holiday decor.

 

And of course we cannot leave out the traditional holiday berry, the holly! There are many kinds of holly, most with red berries, but some have golden or yellow fruit. Some even have variegated leaves.

Ilex, foliage gardening

Holly is the traditional winter holiday berry.

 

So if your garden is dull on a winter’s day, put ‘berries’ on your gardening shopping list for spring. We have a tendency to buy plants when they are in bloom and most of us don’t visit nurseries during the off-season, so you need to think ‘winter’ even when you’re shopping in April. You will be rewarded when December rolls around.

Here’s to a berry wonderful 2016 from Form and Foliage!

(Note: some berries are poisonous to humans or certain animals. If you have concerns about children or pets, please read about any plants that you are considering.)

 

 

 

 

 

 


23 Comments

Bleak Midwinter….but wait! It doesn’t have to be! (Part II, non-Conifers)

As we noted in Part I, conifers provide the vast majority of golden winter foliage, especially in colder zones.  Anyone who thought that ‘conifer’ was synonymous with ‘Christmas tree’ should have a new idea from our photos of the numerous golden varieties lighting up the winter landscape.

Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’ in foreground and Phormium ‘Golden Ray’ in background provide gold in winter

However, even those of us that use conifers extensively in the garden enjoy the variety of texture and shape that other plants provide, so here we share those that add a golden glow without the needles.

Phormiums add color and structure with their strappy, evergreen foliage

In USDA zones 8-10, Phormiums add color and drama to the foliage garden. Many of us have a love-hate affair with the genus, as Phormiums are the over-used, poorly maintained staples of many commercial plantings.  In addition, many grow far larger than their tags indicate and reversion to the green is deplorably common in the most attractively colored varieties.  In fact, one plantsman we know is fond of saying that if you have a colored Phormium that hasn’t reverted, you just haven’t had it long enough.

A Cryptomeria j. ‘Elegans Compacta’ is flanked by Phormium ‘Golden Ray’

Happily, a few varieties manage to transcend the sins of their relatives and perform as good garden citizens, and one is P. ‘Golden Ray’. True to its name, it provides a ray of sunshine in the winter landscape, doesn’t get enormous and, at least so far (it was first grown in the U.S. in 2006), appears to be stable.  An added benefit is that it is easy to groom, as the old blades can be tugged gently for removal, rather than requiring weaponry to dislodge them. The strappy leaves provide wonderful contrasting structure to the softer, more rounded shapes of the conifers.

Yucca ‘Walbristar’, aka Bright Star, adds a burst of color to the winter landscape

Yuccas also add sunshine to the winter garden, with structure similar to Phormiums.  They are related, although not as closely as they were once thought to be, when both were in the Agave family.  Phormiums have recently been moved into a family of their own.  Yuccas come in a variety of greens and golds, and our favorite is ‘Walbristar’, patented and sold in the U.S. as Bright Star.

Yucca ‘Walbristar’ (aka Bright Star) close up in winter sunlight

In summer Bright Star is crisply green and gold, but colder winter temperatures bring out a pink blush.  It is a strikingly beautiful plant. Pam Pennick, of Digging, reports from Zone 8b that “‘Color Guard’ yucca looks great year round and is a nice medium size that doesn’t try to swallow a garden.”  She also likes ‘Bright Edge’ and we love ‘Tiny Star’.

Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’ is a broad-leaved evergreen with golden variegated foliage

If grass-like leaves are not to your liking, or your winter temperatures are too low for Phormiums and Yuccas, Abelia Kaleidoscope is a wonderful choice.  This A. grandiflora variety is much more compact than the species and has buttery golden winter foliage with highlights of red, orange and chartreuse.  It grows beautifully in Zone 9b and is evergreen to Zone 7.  This is one of our favorite shrubs year-round, and it can take full summer sun here without burning.  The shadier the spot the greener it grows, so for maximum sunshine in winter, plant it in full sun or under a deciduous tree.

Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’ paired with Coprosma ‘Evening Glow’ and Euphorbia c. wulfenii

See how well ‘Kaleidoscope’ pairs with greens and reds?  Its compact form means low maintenance, although it can withstand shearing if it gets rangy.

Cornus sericea ‘Silver and Gold’ has lovely variegated foliage but really pulls its weight in winter with its bare stems

We read a lot about red-twigged dogwoods and don’t understand why their yellow brethren don’t get more respect – or attention.  Yellow-twigged varieties such as C. ‘Silver and Gold’ and C. ‘Flaviramea’ glow with golden intensity like so many high-wattage filaments in the winter landscape.  Much as we love it, we don’t plant a lot of it: the yellow color is brightest on the youngest wood, which means that yearly pruning of older branches is necessary to keep it glowing.

Libertia ixiodes ‘Goldfiinger’ is our favorite golden grass-like plant

We’ve even prospected for gold amongst the grass-like plants and found Libertia, which is woefully underused, given its attributes.  Not a true grass but a member of the Iris family, Liberta is evergreen, low maintenance and drought-tolerant in Zones 7-10.  There are several varieties – we’ve used L. ixiodes ‘Goldfinger’ and L. peregrinans.

Try Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’ for its shiny, golden variegated leaves

This small specimen of Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ shows off its golden new foliage

There are also variegated hollies or holly-look-alikes.  Try Ilex ‘Ferox Argentea’ or Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’.  Both supposedly grow to Zone 6.  Their shiny, toothy leaves add structure year-round but their golden variegation is most appreciated in winter on cloudy days.

Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ glows golden in winter, here interplanted with S. spurium ‘Voodoo’

For those of you in the coldest zones, Sedum ‘Angelina’ is hardy to -40° F.  We’d call it chartreuse in summer, but in fall and winter it takes on a ruddy hue and shines gold from underneath shrubs or across open spaces.  Be careful about adding ‘Angelina’ willy-nilly; it roots seemingly overnight and some may consider it invasive.  If you use drip irrigation, it won’t take hold where there is no water.

Meyer lemon fruit – a cross between lemon and orange gives this fruit a golden tone

And finally, even though we’re cheating by including this on a foliage blog, what would the winter landscape be in California without citrus?  Meyer lemon (Citrus limon ‘Meyer Improved’) is the only citrus that we can reliably grow here in 9b, and it supposedly grows in Zone 8.  The golden fruit add ornamentation to the winter landscape, with the added bonus that you can use them in baking, juices, etc.

Doesn’t this make you want to go for the gold?

Copyright 2012 by Form and Foliage


8 Comments

Bleak Midwinter…but wait! It doesn’t have to be! (Part I, Conifers)

The subject of the winter garden has attracted numerous writers, including such luminaries as Rosemary Verey and Val Bourne.  While their books abound with beautiful photographs of snow-laden boughs and ice-encased berries, they tend not to get at the heart of the winter garden’s real bugaboo: drabness.

The Golden Glow Awards go to Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Citriodora’ and Thuja plicata ‘Sunshine’

Fresh snowfalls are lovely sights, with the world encased in forgiving white.  And it is a rare gardener, indeed, who secretly doesn’t appreciate the fairytale magnificence of a good ice storm, even while bemoaning the damage done to trees and woody shrubs.  For sheer beauty, ice is hard to beat.

Admittedly, gardening in Northern California does not subject me to the degree of grayness that other parts of the country endure in winter, but I did my time in New Jersey and, far worse, Poughkeepsie, NY.  Jan grew up in the Pacific Northwest, which is famous for its cloudy days, which can sometimes drag into weeks.

Golden chamaecyparis light up this Bellingham, Washington garden in winter

So for all that berries, bark, dried seed heads and the like add interest to the winter garden, what trumps all of them?  Gold!  Make sure that your garden has at least one golden evergreen shrub or tree to provide sunshine on dreary days.

See how the golden Thuja (‘Malonyana Aurea’) immediately draws your eye

Most golden evergreens are conifers, and there is a seemingly endless array of choices.  Those that follow are selections that we have grown and know well; there are many, many others, so use these as suggestions and explore the available offerings in your area.  We have tried to include a little something for everyone: large and small, upright and weeping, bold and demure.  Many of our choices will grow in zones with much colder winters than our Zone 9b.

Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Citriodora’ is a beacon on a cloudy winter day

The most brilliant winter beacon in the garden is the citriodora Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Citriodora’, at least for now – it’s in the process of being reclassified), which has not only dramatic color but also strongly lemon-scented foliage.  ‘Citriodora’ gets quite large, however – up to 30’ tall – and is a rapid grower by conifer standards.  So, it may not be suitable for every garden.  It can tolerate winter temperatures down to about 15°F and in hotter areas does better with a bit of shade in summer.

Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Saligna Aurea’ is one of the most delicate full-sized golden conifers

If you prefer a weeping habit, nothing is as graceful as the golden weeping Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Saligna Aurea’).  ‘Saligna Aurea’ is another lemon-scented specimen, with delicate, cascading thread-like foliage.  You can stake it to the desired height and then allow it to weep at will.  ‘Saligna Aurea’ is a stunning specimen planting and can handle center stage with practically no supporting cast.  However it also works well when surrounded by complimentary foliage colors.  It is hardy to zero°F and can tolerate full sun if it gets enough water, otherwise give it a little afternoon shade.

Thuja plicata ‘Sunshine’ is aptly named; it adds solar power to your landscape

Another breathtaking golden specimen, that takes on an orangey cast in winter, is the sunshine Western red cedar (Thuja plicata ‘Sunshine’). ‘Sunshine’ tolerates colder temperatures (zone 5), and does not burn in full sun.  It lights up the garden on cloudy days and when caught by the weak winter sun appears to spontaneously combust.  ‘Sunshine’ is another large specimen, ultimately even larger than ‘Citriodora’, but slower growing.

Pinus zebrina ‘Wallichiana’ glows softly on a cloudy day in winter

Another glorious yellow tree is Pinus wallichiana ‘Zebrina’.  ‘Zebrina’ has long, drooping needles in groups of five, striped green and yellow for dramatic effect.  It grows in full sun to zone 6, and its yellow color is more pronounced in winter.  There is no plant for brightening up a cloudy day like ‘Zebrina’, and she does it so gracefully.

Thuja ‘Malonyana Aurea’s maize foliage is echoed in the frosting on Juniperus communis ‘Gold Cone’ (in front)

What if you don’t have the space for one of these behemoths?  There are some lovely, smaller choices that can squeeze into almost any garden.  A golden variety of the American arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis ‘Malonyana Aurea’ is daintily columnar, generally not exceeding 10’ tall.  With such a slender growth habit, it fits nicely into a mixed border or bed.  Don’t let its apparent daintiness fool you, however; ‘Malonyana Aurea’ can withstand the tough winters of zone 3, yet also grows happily in zone 9.

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Lemon Thread’ provides a softer glow than some of the other choices

Another toughie (zone 4) is ‘Lemon Thread’ Japanese false cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera filifera ‘Lemon Thread’), which has a graceful, upright habit with softly arching branches.  Lemon yellow rather than brilliant gold, it provides a softer glow than some of the other choices.  Very slow growing to 3-5’ tall and wide.

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Goden Mops’ is finely textured garden spun gold

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mops’ is a close relation that has golden-yellow mop-like stems and a weeping habit and is another slow grower, maturing at about 5’ tall and a bit wider.  This variety will hold its golden color through the summer if it gets full sun, although then you have to watch out for winter burn if you’re in a cold zone (this one can grow as low as zone 4).  Try planting it with some protection on the south side.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Kojolko hiba’ is a golden dwarf with lacy foliage

If you want a true dwarf, try Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Kojolko hiba’, which stays under 2’ tall and has a spreading habit.  Its lacy foliage is bright gold.  We find it does better here with a bit of shade, and holds its color in the shade, (unlike C. obtusa ‘Gold Fern’ which is lovely but very green in shade.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Mariesii’ is a dwarf and its gold is 24-karat

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Mariesii’ is also a dwarf, and grows in either sun or light shade.  More sun brings out more gold; if grown in shade it has white frosting.  ‘Mariesii’ is spreading when young but will become more upright.  You can trim the leader to keep its shape lower.

Pinus wallichiana ‘Zebrina’ with two Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Golden King’ on a misty winter morning

The most asked-about plant in the garden has to be the Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Golden King’, a bicolor specimen whose dark bluish green foliage is frosted with deep, bold yellow.  While this plant can get quite large eventually, that isn’t likely to trouble anyone who plants it, as it is extremely slow growing.  It can also be pruned gently.

Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’ is a dazzling groundcover

And finally, how could we not mention at least one ground cover conifer?  While we have and love Juniperus ‘Golden Wiltonii’, it just doesn’t pack the punch of J. conferta ‘All Gold’, which glows across the garden with a chartreuse-gold intensity that is hard to beat.  Can take full sun and extreme heat (supposedly over 100°F with no problems) and makes a great skirt for deep green foliage.

We invite anyone with a favorite golden evergreen conifer that we didn’t mention to nominate a favorite.

And, there are wonderful golden evergreen plants that are not conifers.  Stay tuned for Part II, coming soon!

Copyright 2012 by Form and Foliage