What are Conifers and How to Choose the Right One
What are Conifers? The name “Conifer” comes from the latin and means “cone bearing”, so although it is often thought that all conifers are evergreen, some such as the larch drop their leaves in autumn.
Among the conifers are some of the smallest and certainly the biggest of living woody plants.
Conifers will often live to a great age and such is the variety of colour and form available that they can provide a valuable and fascinating addition to any garden.
LARGE, SLOW GROWING AND DWARF CONIFERS
Because of the great range in size and rates of growth it is necessary to point out in this conifer section of this website the approximate growth of each conifer after 10 years and its ultimate height. For this reason I have graded the conifers into 3 main groups:
1. LARGE, ie. growing 3m. in 10 years, or ultimately over 12m.
2. MEDIUM, ie. growing between 1.50-3m. in 10 years. It is more difficult to determine ultimate height here as some may eventually reach 12m. or more after 30 or more years.
3. DWARF, ie. growing less than 1.50m. in 10 years. Among this range there are quite considerable variations.
Further to these 3 categories there are PROSTRATE and SEMI-PROSTRATE forms in which a 10 year growth span can also be estimated. These figures of course can only be approximations as, aspect, climate and rainfall are all contributing factors on growth.
This breakdown into categories is necessary with conifers because it is important to know when choosing these plants what size they will attain. For instance it would be quite out of keeping, apart from being unwise, to plant Sequoiadendron giganteum in a small suburban garden. And yet this sort of thing is often done where an unwitting customer has picked a plant from a catalogue or garden centre without examining its credentials. This section of the website attempts to show what range of conifers is available to achieve the right effect for any given site. We have all seen an old yew (Taxus) a “Monkey Puzzle” (Araucaria araucana) or Christmas Tree (Picea abies) almost blotting out the light from the front windows of a house; one imagines that this was planted out of ignorance and not choice. Often enough the person who has planted the offending tree has since moved on! It pays to plan ahead outside just as much as inside the house. With the wide range of plants available it is important to choose carefully.
HOW TO SELECT YOUR CONIFERS
With conifers as with all other plants it pays to buy from a reputable nursery or garden centre. Beware of conifers advertised at very low prices. These will often turn out to be poor quality which, if they grow, will prove to be varieties quite unsuitable for the averageof today.
The advantage of buying plants in a garden centre is that a personal selection can be made and the plants are usually grown in containers so will mostly transplant more easily than those dug from the open ground. On the other hand the choice may be more limited from a garden centre than from a specialist grower. From whatever source a plant should look healthy and preferably be well shaped and “furnished”. This latter term means that it should have foliage to the base of the plant.
Many conifers, particularly cultivars oflawsoniana, once having lost foliage at the base will not regain it. Most nurseries and crarden centres include a range of conifers in their catalogue or on their premises, but it would be advisable, in fact necessary, to go to a specialist to obtain many of the species and cultivars shown in this section of the website To my knowledge all of the specimen plants shown in the colour pages are available in this country, although to find some of them may take a little searching through specialist catalogues. A few of the more unusual plants are included because I feel they are worthy of wider recognition, but it is far beyond the means and aims of this conifer section of this website to be a complete reference on all the species and cultivars of conifers grown. It is hoped rather to stimulate and interest the gardener in conifers as garden plants and show what can be achieved within this range.