U.S.A., Washington State. USDA zone 8b. Sunset climate zone 5

Friday, June 3, 2011

Garden of the Conifer Collector. Part 1

Conifer and maple lovers, embrace yourself! I am inviting you to take a look at a very unusual garden. I am glad I was warned by its owner about the garden being different. And, how different it is! Trying to describe my feelings during and after visiting the garden, the most suitable words could be the following:  amusement,  astonishment, blown away, bewildering, astounding... I visit on average 15 gardens a year, plus or minus. This garden is truly one of a kind with 2250 conifers (1300 of them of different cultivars), 450 Japanese maples (150 different cultivars) and 500 hostas (250 different varieties).
  The number of plants itself is very impressive. Each of them is a star. Each one has its own space and a neat label. At some point, I felt like I was in a museum. Sometimes, I felt overwhelmed and needed a short break, but not for a split second did I feel myself  the least bit bored. Entertained, surprised and excited - yes!
And what a guide I had! William, the owner, is as entertaining as he is knowledgeable. I know, you want to see his garden. Let me tell you just one more thing and we will get to the photographs.
William started his garden just 3 1/2 years ago. I couldn't comprehend this fact. How much time, sweat and passion should a person with a full time job have to create such a collection of plants and acquire a keen knowledge of them!   
This is the first batch of pictures. The commentary is by William himself. 

Conifers are a mainstay in the garden. Wide varieties of colors, shapes, sizes and forms provide year-round interest as they are not only interesting to look at but also they get better as the years pass. They require no watering, no fertilizing, no pruning and they mulch themselves and block out weeds. In this bed by the front door, miniature conifers are highlighted. These plants range from 5-10 years old and most grow under an inch a year.
 Part of the front rock garden. Nestled in amongst rocks are three conifers, notably(front left) Picea glauca 'Daisy's White', a miniature spruce that produces bright white new growth in spring.  

 A center island is surrounded by the only patch of grass in this garden. Conifers, heather, maples and lilac create a wave of color and texture.
 This very rare and coveted little conifer will make a splash onto more gardens in the years to come. Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker', this small gem grows about two inches a year, forms a compact bun of foliage, and the needles twist inwards showing their bright undersides. This Korean fir is about four years old and the size of a grapefruit.
 Conifers aren't as dull as the Bigbox stores make them out to be. This dwarf Japanese white pine (Pinus parviflora 'Blue Lou') has silvery-blue foliage, grows slowly, and the purple/red pollen cones held in masses on the upper branches contrast strongly with the blue needles.
 Two Japanese maples soften this corner of the house. The bright green maple is a very popular cultivar, Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium', renown for both its lacey, upright habit and its stunning fall colors. The variegated maple is Acer palmatum 'Beni Schichihenge'. Individual leaves can sport orange, peach, pink, green and white tones, sometimes a mix, sometimes just one color, but always striking and unusual.
Brunnera, variegated Japanese maples, ferns, hosta and some shade annuals fill in the shadier spots.
 The backyard garden is a mixture of mass plantings, sun, part-sun and shade areas with a dry creek bed winding here and there.
Heavy use of local Kennedy creek basalt rocks continues in the back as well. This creates the illusion that the plants have been there awhile, despite the fact most were planted in the last two or three years.
Where most gardens have a handful of conifers mixed with mostly perennials, I have done the opposite with numerous conifers and rock garden plants mixed in with some flowering perennials and annuals.
 A small bridge allows visitors to cross the dry creek bed.
To the right are plants that enjoy more sun, while on the left, dappled shade encourages the planting of many hostas, columbines, Japanese maples and rhododendrons.
The large rhoddies in the back were originally in the garden, along with the backdrop of enormous Douglas firs. Color and contrasts are the most important thing to me in a garden and Acer palmatum 'Otome Zakura' helps provide the brighter colors.
 One thing I am proud of is that all of the design work, all of the maintenance and planting and all of the heavy-duty work was done by myself with only a wheelbarrow and elbow grease. The many rocks for the paths and the gravel walkways were difficult(but enjoyable) to create and though hardly professional, should last for years and years without too much upkeep.
 The very back of the garden is one massive planting of trees, shrubs and hostas. Sunnier spots (usually towards the front) were reserved for conifers and other plants that needed more sun, while several types of hydrangeas, many hostas and over 100 Japanese maples and Dogwoods create a wave of foliage and dense pockets of comfortable shade.
 More color and contrast here. Bright heuchera 'Marmalade', Picea omorika 'Nana'(center) and Picea sitchensis 'Bentham's Sunlight' are all very different in color, shape and texture.
The samaras and huge leaves of Acer japonicum 'Ed Woods #2'. Happy trees produce leaves close to one foot wide.
 Spring has been hard on some of the pink/red leaved maples (the pink plant here is Acer palmatum 'Shin Deshojo') but their color is still a welcomed show from a deciduous tree.
 Acer palmatum 'Corallinum', another Japanese maple with pink spring foliage.
 The deeper parts of the backyard mass planting still receive dappled morning sunshine and this allows many part-sun plants to flourish.
 Picea pungens 'The Blues', a new weeping variety of Colorado blue spruce grows upright at an angle and the branches cascade downward creating the look of flowing water.
 Small corners and pockets of the garden allowed for the use of various groundcovers and small flowering perennials. Pelargonium "Vancouver Centennial", a geranium with great foliage, is snuck into this spot.
Conifers can present the answer to gardeners looking for plants that will stay small. While most dwarf conifers grow 2-6 inches a year, this tiny Norway Spruce (Picea abies 'Wichtel') grows about 1/8th of an inch a year. This tiny specimen, easily mistaken for a moss-covered rock, is a decade old now and about three inches wide(see the pen?).
  Columbine, heucheras, hosta, Japanese maples and even shade-tolerant conifers fill the dappled shade gardens.
Heucherella 'Sweet Tea', a newer introduction, brightens this spot with peachy tones.
The golden dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Gold Rush') is one of my (and visitors) favorite plants. Lacy, soft, chartreuse foliage lightens to bright gold anywhere the sun touches this tree, creating a wonderful beacon of color in mid-summer. Fast growing and appreciative of some afternoon shade, this deciduous conifer also has interesting fall color as the needles change to a red-russet color before dropping by winter.
Clematis growing up and around trees is a common theme in my garden. Here vigorous clematis climbs all over Acer circinatum 'Little Gem' and Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira' (Lions Head maple), both in pots. The clematis provides flowers to otherwise green trees while not hurting or hampering the growth of these Japanese maples.
Now that  you have seen part of the garden, let's look at what it was in the beginning:
 Front yard
To be continued.
Photographs and introduction by TatyanaS, commentary by William.
***Copyright 2011 TatyanaS


  1. What an outstanding collection of conifers, Tatyana! I am expanding my collection this year, including several very dwarf forms and some oddities for our zone. It's good to see more and more people embracing these fantastic plants, isn't it?

  2. This garden is amazing. It's hard to believe it is so young and William did all the labour himself. I enjoyed Part I of this tour immensely.

  3. Love the weeping forms. I can't imagine what it will look like in 10 years!

  4. an amazing garden Tatyana, he's done an impressive amount of work and created a lovely garden, BUT yes for me there's a but, all the way through reading I kept trying to get my head around the cost, he must have spent a tremendous amount, many of the trees are quite large and as they were only planted in the last 2-3 years they must have been fairly big when planted, I'm glad you showed before photos too as I get down heartened when I see 'look what has been done in a few years' seeing that he started with bad turf helps me feel better about my work as I have finally got most of the grass areas to that stage and I still am amazed at how easy it is when you don't have to clear 2-3 foot of grass, roots and moss just to find the soil,
    I have only this year started to take more interest in conifers as I feel for my garden and weather it is the way to go, I have been amazed at the variety, I'd need to remorgage my house to buy enough to fill just a quarter of my garden though,
    thanks I look forward to part 2 and won't write such a long comment, promise, Frances

  5. AnonymousJune 03, 2011

    That is truly amazing. The nursery where I work from grows conifers on 300 acres (some are miniatures) and this garden far exceeds the varieties on the farm.

  6. That is an amazing garden--beautiful, well-planned, and unique. I enjoyed the tour very much. Tatyana, you always bring us such lovely gardens...thank you!

  7. I absolutely love gardens where you can see how they incorporate trees and evergreen is an amazing work of art....not something I have learned or mastered...but I love it

  8. What a difference from the before pictures. Amazing! I love conifers, and if I lived in a different climate, I would grow lots. He has done a wonderful job of incorporating them in a very interesting way. Very peaceful. The backyard garden pic is fabulous!

  9. What a striking combination of plants! It is a real collectors garden. I have always loved the colors and textures that conifers offer. It will be interesting to see how the garden matures through the years!

    I almost purchased a 'Sweet Tea' heuchera a few weeks ago. Seeing it growing in this garden convinces me I should have bought it!

  10. Interesting. I guess for every plant there is a gardener that loves and collects it. A very unusual garden, thanks for the tour.

  11. I couldn't leave a comment when I visited earlier. Glad whatever was wrong is fixed now.

    This is an amazing garden. I love everything about it.

  12. Tatyana, What an amazing garden! It must have been such a treat to tour this garden with the owner. Thanks so much for sharing it with us, and for posting his comments on your blog. He has created something really special.

  13. How beautiful!! It would be so very interesting to see similar pictures taken in various seasons. Unlike other gardens, the main structure of the evergreen garden stays the same. Sweet Tea really jumped out at me, I have wanted one for some time and finally found one a few weeks ago! :)

  14. A great set of very beautiful and colourful juniper! What a beautiful Japanese maple!

  15. Tatyana, thanks for bringing us this incredible garden to tour virtually. My hat is off to William, I love his gardens, so interesting and lush. I especially love that he did all of the work himself. His path is very sweet and I love that it is hand built!

  16. Tatyana,

    What a great garden gives me hope that I could use some of the small ones in my garden.


  17. Beautiful collection of conifers, and what a treat to see them all, thank you for sharing.

  18. Beautiful garden. Most of the conifers don't grow here very well so thanks for showing how great they can be.

  19. This garden is amzing!I love the bridge corner !
    Happy Sunday!

  20. AnonymousJune 05, 2011

    Hi Tatyana! What an amazing garden and its brings back wonderful memories of when I used to garden in the PNW - the Portland area. At that time, I was obsessed with perennials and such an didn't pay much attention to conifers, but now I have evolved and am really getting into them. I have a handful of interesting conifers and a Japanese maple so this post is extremely helpful to me as I look for more of these gorgeous specimans to add to my garden. I reside in a dryer, hotter area now so I have to be careful of the right spot. Again thank you for this amazing post. I'll be referring back to it and look forward to the next part...

  21. What a transformation! Beautiful paths and dry stream bed (having built both myself, I can appreciate the amount of work this takes). I like the placement of the weeping cedar by the bridge. And I'm resisting the urge to say how cute all the baby conifers are. But they are cute.


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