A growing love of conifers

carolomeara0125If you try a new conifer in your garden this year, what would it be, and why?  If your mind wanders to Austrian pines, Ponderosas, or Colorado blue spruce because those are all you know, you’re missing out on a palette of plants that will make your garden beautiful year round.

Weeping, dwarf, towering, or cascading, conifers are an underappreciated tree that Pat Hayward, conifer guru and Executive Director of Plant Select, is on a mission to correct.  Join her for a six-hour workshop devoted to identifying and exploring these evergreens on Saturday, April 20, at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

“We have so many Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea punjans) and Austrian Pines (Pinus nigra) everywhere.  They’re fabulous, beautiful, but so overplanted we’re doing ourselves a disservice by limiting our landscapes to a few good conifers,” says Hayward.  “Conifers are a necessity for diversity, and they can be really fun; they’re never boring.”

The self-proclaimed perennial person was introduced to the diversity of the prickly trees 20 years ago when her husband, Joel, interviewed for a well-known nursery in Oregon.  Tagging along for the interview, Hayward impressed the company with her horticultural knowledge and both she and her husband were hired.  Surrounded by conifers in a state that produces a large share of them for the nursery industry, Hayward fell in love with them.

“Actually, it’s more lust than love,” Hayward said, laughing about her insatiable desire to bring each new variety home.  Since returning to Colorado, they’ve planted hundreds of conifers on their 4-acre property west of Fort Collins.  “I’ve killed half of them, too, but I know why.  I share the mistakes with the class, so that I can serve as an example of what not to do.”

Primary to her wisdom is the importance of a strong, healthy root system for supporting the evergreens in our semi-arid, windy region.  Roots can be the last thing some out-of-state nurseries pay attention to, since the majority of their trees find their way to more hospitable soils of Midwestern or eastern states.  But the cement-like clay of Colorado is unforgiving; gardeners need to check out prospective purchases from the roots up.

Hayward spend the first half of the workshop day covering conifers A-Z, giving students a hands-on lecture in how to identify the different trees from one another.  “They’ll be able to feel the branches, touch them, smell them,” she said.  In addition to learning how to identify the conifers, Hayward also takes the group on an exploration of new or underused varieties, such as Weeping White Spruce (Picea glauca ‘Pendula’) with its bicolor needles, Bosnian pine (Pinus leucodermis), or the weeping Larch (Larix decidua ‘Pendula’).

Following a brief break for lunch participants will be treated to a walking tutorial, where the showcase collection of conifers at the Botanic Gardens becomes a living classroom.  By the time they leave, students are confident in conifer identification and have a new appreciation for the trees.

Conifers for Colorado Gardens
Saturday, April 20, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York St., in Denver.
Admission: Members $90; non-members $100.
Information: 720.865.3500; catalog.botanicgardens.org

Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238.

 
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