National Conifer Week

by Adam Pasco

I find it surprising that while most of us love seasonal colour in our gardens, conifers don't feature more highly on the shopping list. After all, they deliver on so many counts...

Conifer hedgeThere are days nominated to celebrate apples, festivals for tomatoes and chillies, and whole weeks to inform us about bird nesting boxes, trees, allotments and composting ... and this week it's the turn of the conifer.

The Association of British Conifer Growers are trying to persuade us all that there's a conifer for every garden, and we should all be growing more. National Conifer Week started last Saturday 3 October and runs through to Sunday 11 October, with a message to everyone that conifers are 'creative, colourful and convenient'. In other words, they'd like us all to buy and plant more of these valuable evergreen shrubs.

I find it surprising that while most of us love seasonal colour in our gardens, and invest a great deal of time and money in pot displays and mixed borders, that conifers don't feature more highly on the shopping list. After all, they deliver on so many counts, and provide striking structural building blocks in any garden.

Perhaps their reputation for growing too large puts people off. Going back 25 years or so, I remember a craze for dwarf conifers. However, although many varieties were sold as small plants, in small pots, they gradually grew larger by the year. What started as perfectly proportioned small conifers gradually grew, and eventually grew too large.

Let's be fair. All plants grow, and many trees, shrubs, perennials and climbers can grow too tall or wide for their site, so this isn't just a 'problem' with conifers.

As always when choosing plants, do your homework, get advice from an expert, and choose the right plant for the position and space you can provide.

Reading news of declining house sparrow populations over past years, I only have to look out into my garden to watch them flock to my bird table each day. And which plants do they choose to nest and take shelter in? Conifers of course.

Having started my own horticultural training by working on a nursery, growing hardy nursery stock including conifers, I still remember encountering superb varieties for the first time. Please don't be put off by their Latin names but take a closer look at Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Boulevard' and Cryptomeria japonica 'Elegans'. These conifers love to be touched and stroked.

When did you last get close-up and personal with any plant in your garden? Conifers are truly tactile plants crying out to be fondled ... but gently, of course.

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Talkback: National Conifer Week
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Gardeners' World Web User 05/10/2009 at 12:36

hi i have lots of conifers in both front and back garden i think they are a beautyfull plant while workink on road works i thought it a sin to see them being being taken from the ground and dumped as a wild plant i could not take any of them

Gardeners' World Web User 06/10/2009 at 12:03

We have some Cana lillies in our greenhouse and still producing flowers. How do you overwinter them and when do you stop watering and prune

Gardeners' World Web User 06/10/2009 at 21:06

Nice try Adam, but you are still going to have to work a bit harder to convince me. One of the problems is that they are hard to combine with other plants and people often seem to go mad and plant too many together. My small son planted a dwarf conifer in his window box but I have refrained from passing judgment.

Gardeners' World Web User 07/10/2009 at 10:10

Reply to Lila: What good taste your son has. I regularly use conifers to provide the main permanent plant in patio pot recipes. Its companions can change with the seasons (summer bedding out, and bulbs and winter bedding in) but the conifer remains. Amazing the value you can get from a single plant!

Gardeners' World Web User 07/10/2009 at 10:16

Reply to byeshome: It sounds as if your canna lily is growing in a pot, so leave it well alone for now, and just stop watering. The dormant rhizome will be fine over winter in dry compost. What you need to avoid is the dormant rhizome sitting in cold and wet compost, as this could induce rot. Once water is withheld the top growth will gradually die down, and once it is dead you can cut it all away just above compost level. When spring arrives you have a couple of options. The first is to simply start watering again to encourage new growth as conditions warm up. The second is to knock teh whole thing from its pot, clean off old compost, and replant in fresh compost. I've done both. The choice is yours!

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