It’s December so let’s talk about conifers…
Doesn’t really sound that sexy does it? In fact, conifers get a bad rap for conjuring images of socks and sandals and 70’s interiors where you are led out of French doors (prawn cocktail in hand) to island beds with miniature evergreens in every size, shape and variation.
Another grumble with the conifer is: “How can I (surreptitiously) get rid of my neighbour’s leylandii hedge?” Either way I’m not selling them. But actually I do. I sell them every Nov/Dec, the Nordmann Fir and the Norway Spruce and they people our homes as a symbol of everlasting hope at Christmas tide.
So, as it is that happy month and I’m feeling festive and charitable, I wanted to look a bit closer at the great variety of this plant group and how to care for them. Conifers include cedars, firs, cypresses, junipers, kauri, larches, pines, hemlocks, redwoods, spruces and yews.
Some of the oldest plants on the planet. Technically named gymnosperms, from the Latin meaning naked seed (getting sexier!) The majority are wind pollinated and bear pine cones as their fruiting bodies. But some like Junipers have fruit that are great for infusions in gin (now we’re feeling festive). Oh and there’s always Heston Blumenthal’s pine flavoured mince pies (though they are an acquired taste!)
Taxus too has a distinctive seasonal red casing to the seed though this is very poisonous! Do not eat or infuse your mince pies with these even for neighbours with the aforementioned hedges. Though this plant has lots to recommend it too. Taxus are often found in Churchyards, where they were placed as pagan talismans at the centre of the community before Christianity came to these shores, and their bark is used in the life saving cancer drug Taxol. My family knows all about that, and we are very grateful for it. “Cheers Taxus bacata, to your good health!”
Conifers are shallow rooted plants and so dry out quickly, you may have lost newly planted specimens this summer as the lack of available water in the soil will affect these plants first. All evergreens are slow to show the signs of drought having a hard cuticle layer to the leaf which means they won’t drop or wilt and instead will just turn brown and then it is too late.
Also you have to consider pruning, I can hear the happy firing of hedge trimmers! However hold your horsepower, Arborvitae, Juniper and Chamaecyparis will not regrow from old wood. So prune regularly as cutting back hard into dead wood will leave a bald patch! Others will respond well to pruning and should be cut in spring. Here heading cuts are sufficient. An anathema for most plants but the shaggy evergreens soon conceal these blunt cuts.
The beauty of a conifer is the colour even when deciduous as with Larix decidua they really are a beacon in the border, or the gold of Taxus Baccata fastigiata ‘Aurea’ perfect to give depth in the garden. So bring out the fondue set it’s time to bring the conifers in for Christmas.
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