form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care


Coenosium Gardens – A Conifer Laboratory!

Bob Fincham, evergreen foliage, designing with evergreens, conifers

Bob Fincham has a worldwide reputation as an conifer expert, with a list of introductions and publications to his name of which any plantsman would be proud.  Coenosium Gardens, the 5.6 acre property that he and his wife, Dianne, have developed in Eatonville, WA over the last few decades, is a virtual laboratory of conifer grafting, breeding and experimentation.  Their website explains that that they focus on plant introductions and that they are the ‘go to’ site for those wanting to locate rare conifers, read articles about conifers or just generally find out what is going on in the conifer world.

evergreen foliage, conifers, designing with foliage plants

A dazzling array of evergreen and deciduous foliage incorporates many colors and textures

When Form and Foliage made the pilgrimage to Coenosium in September, we found all that we had been expecting…and more.  What the articles and the Fincham website don’t convey is what a beautiful spot the couple has created, by having an eye for color, shape and texture combined with deft plant combinations.  The word ‘Coenosium’ comes from ancient Greek and means ‘plant community’.  Plant community, indeed!  A virtual wonderland of the principles that F&F holds dear: interesting plant material, combined to enhance the attributes of each plant, not detract from them, planted with regard to the shapes and sizes so that each plant can do its part and not get lost in a shapeless mass.

evergreen foliage, conifers, foliage gardening

Beds of foliage combinations flank mature trees in a woodland setting

Bob and Dianne run a successful mail-order nursery from their home, but the majority of the acreage is given over to expertly landscaped plantings, with a focus on pleasing combinations of foliage.  Deciduous trees and shrubs (especially beeches and maples) are interplanted with the beloved conifers to provide contrast of both color and texture.

Japanese maples, fall color, conifers, foliage gardening

Fall color is shown to advantage against the conifer specimens

Our visit coincided with peak fall color, but the huge variety of plant specimens at Coenosium guarantees a show at any time of year.  As the photo above illustrates, conifers come in many different shapes, sizes, colors and textures.

dwarf conifers, evergreens, foliage gardening

One of the newer gardens, planted with dwarf conifers of every imaginable color, shape and texture

The grounds range from more mature plantings around the house to newer gardens that focus more on dwarf varieties.  Bob has written a book about dwarf conifers, entitled ‘Small Conifers for Small Gardens’, that is a must-read for anyone wanting to learn more about incorporating conifers into the home garden.

Dwarf ginkgo, foliage gardening, conifers

While strictly speaking not conifers, Ginkgos are gymnosperms like conifers and are closely related

Many of the gardens have an Asian feel, with plants such as Ginkgos and pines that are associated with Asian gardens and statuary and hardscape distinctly Asian in design.  The dwarf Ginkgo above is suitable for even the smallest gardens, and contrasts beautifully with its conifer cousins.

gold foliage evergreens, golden conifers

Gold foliage brightens cloudy winter days

Bob has made somewhat of a specialty of gold-foliage conifers, perhaps because the Seattle area is known for its share of overcast winter days.  The sunny foliage of the spruce in the photo above shines like a beacon even when the sun is nowhere to be seen.  It also contrasts beautifully with the maroon and blue foliage in the background.

A fine grouping of conifers with deciduous trees in the background

Bob also uses conifers in containers – a practice that those with small gardens (or even those limited to terrace gardening) can adopt.  Many of the dwarf and miniature varieties are so slow-growing that they can exist happily for years in containers, sometimes even sharing space with others.

conifers in containers, container gardening

Conifer container gardening is the ultimate in easy plant care

Bob and Dianne’s mail order nursery is the place to go to find rare varieties and a good selection of garden-worthy dwarfs and miniatures.  Their stock is healthy and well-cared for and we confess to falling victim to the wide array of choices available and picking out a boxful for shipping.  Needless to say, the plants arrived in perfect condition.

conifers, foliage gardening, evergreens

The nursery stock is healthy and gorgeous – we couldn’t resist!

Finally, the following photos show that the ‘mad scientist’ is at work in the ‘laboratory’! Bob is continually fascinated with what he can do using his grafting skills and his imagination.  Whether the gardening world is ready for some of his creations remains to be seen, but no one can accuse him of not pushing the envelope!

grafted conifers

Two spruces grafted to produce one plant with contrasting form, color and texture

grafted conifers, evergreen foliage, gold conifers, blue conifers

Another ‘twofer’ – blue and yellow spruces are combined to provide sunshine and shadow in one plant

Check out Coenosium Gardens on line, with information about ordering plants – and the book!  Meanwhile, stay tuned for our next stop: the demonstration gardens at Iseli Nursery in Oregon.

Copyright 2012 by Sara B. Malone and Janice M. LeCocq