GBFD July – Any Port in a (Winter) Storm

I almost thought that I wouldn’t have much to share this month as the snow was quite stubborn to melt in many places: with a new garden and small plants, nothing is as uninspiring as snow-covered blobs for a post 🙂

The garden has taken a real beating this winter.

Even typical structural plants like Buxus have turned a horrible straw colour from the cold. Hard frosts have killed many plants; wild temperature swings have caused others to behave like it is spring (only to be wrecked by subsequent frost) and then heavy snow that turned to ice snapped shrubs and trees, so ANYTHING that is looking fresh and green at the moment is exciting to me!

Of the evergreen things in the garden not frost-bitten or snapped, it is hardly surprising that this post is about conifers and grass-like plants.


In one corner of the garden there were already a couple of conifers: Cupressus sempirvirens ‘Swanes Golden’ and Chamæcyparis obtusa ‘Nana’.

Both of these were about 40 years old. All of the conifers that I inherited with the house have shades of yellow. Wanting to introduce blue tones, I found a couple of dwarf species that can fill the spaces:

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Juniper and Chamæcyparis

The conifer on the left is Juniperis chinensis ‘Pyramidalis’ and is the taller of the two, topping out at 1.8m (6’0″). It is normally a silvery-blue, but in winter adds a bit of purple to its coat.

The conifer on the right is Chamæcyparis lawsoniana ‘Elwoods Gold’. It should reach 1.5m (4’9″). This Chamæcyparis is interesting in that it is flushed with gold on the sunny side and this will help tie these different colours together.

The fence behind it will ultimately be removed as it isn’t on the property line (I am waiting for a hedge to grow before tackling that job).

Over on the newly constructed terrace, I have added another dwarf conifer: Chamæcyparis pisifera ‘Boulevard’.

This should reach 1.2m – 1.5m (3’9″ – 4’9″). Unlike many conifers, it’s a really tactile plant, with soft, touchable needles. It is placed near the steps that cut through the terrace will make quite a feature in time.

Again, with the cold of winter, it goes slightly purple (much like us if we stay out too long)!:

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Chamæcyparis pisifera ‘Boulevard’


Grasses are also very, very on trend in the design world, and, being able to bend, they don’t snap in wind or snow.

However, the Blue Mountains is a world heritage area and grasses with their trillions of wind-dispersed seeds can quickly become unwanted weeds in this delicate eco-system. Therefore, I have had to be a little more creative in getting the effect of grasses with species that have been around for some time and have not proven weedy here.

Sisyrinchium bellum is one such strappy plant and has the added benefit of spot-flowering for much of the year. It has breezed through the winter so far:

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Sisyrinchium bellum

Another plant that has taken all of the snow and ice in its stride while still providing good form is the Autumn Crocus, Zephyranthes candida:

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Zephyranthes candida

These are lining both sides of the steps down the garden and in time I will be able to divide these for a really bold effect, similar to Mondo Grass, but with pretty late summer/early autumn flowers.

There are also plenty of Australian Native grasses which are hardy. Here is a variegated Liriope, Liriope muscari ‘Alba Varieagata’:

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Liriope muscari ‘Alba Variegata’

There is a pair flanking the bench: these will get to about 30cm (8″) or so and in summer are covered with little clusters of white flowers which then turn into shiny blue berries.

Other grass like plants unscathed are the Dutch Iris: before they flower they have the most wonderful metallic sheen – seen here with a clump of freesias:

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Dutch Iris

BUT, probably the most surprising of all is the Cymbidium Orchid. This is in a well-rotted, bark-filled pot buried in the ground (Cymbidiums don’t grow in soil as a general rule) and it is completely unscathed by the bitter weather.

A friend gave me this division from her Katoomba garden, where she has grown them outside for the past 15 years….these are one of the plants that are much hardier than most give credit for:

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Cymbidium Orchid

Happy Gardening, and Happy GBFD, hosted by Christina at My Hesperides Garden: do check out what other gardeners around the world are showcasing in their foliage gardens!

 

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64 thoughts on “GBFD July – Any Port in a (Winter) Storm

  1. You’ve highlighted a lot of interesting conifers Matt and you’ve definitely made me realise that I should plant some more and not just the usual Italian cypress. You have had a lot of snow, do you get this much every year or am I right in thinking that it has be heavier this year? Thanks for joining GBFD this month, it’s always great to hear about different seasons and wonderful for me to imagine it being cold!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Christina! I do like the conifers, if for no other reason than the fact that the bluer varieties hold their colour in the cold. The golden varieties often go a strange brown colour at this time of year.
      We normally get about 6-12 snowfalls each year, and at least two should be very disruptive (such as closing the highway/schools etc), but for the last 20-30 years, the winters have been much milder, so events like these now seem uncommon.

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  2. I wish someone would write a good book about conifers that change color in winter.

    I love seasonal change and especally enjoy our (mostly) mild winters. July is the low spot in the year for me; it is typically so hot, you can’t be outside for any length of time, so I’m always glad when the month is over. Sounds like you feel much the same way, but for a different reason.

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    • That is a really good idea. I don’t really know of any single compendium for the changes that conifers make during winter….I like the crispness of July, but the only thing I don’t like about winter is the dark mornings 🙂

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  3. I hope most of your plants spring back into life once your snow has gone. It sounds as though you have done the right thing in planting conifers, they are interesting all the year round and provide much needed structure in the winter when everything else is asleep. Hope your weather soon warms up for you.

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    • Thanks Pauline – the weather is warming up and we had some more rain last night, so I think the last patches of snow should be gone by now!
      Conifers aren’t especially fashionable at the moment, I think their misuse in 70’s had a lot to answer for 🙂

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  4. patsquared2 says:

    I love the Chamæcyparis pisifera ‘Boulevard – looks like you could reach down and pet it! It may be snowing there but you still have beautiful plants and beautiful garden plans.

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  5. I’m not surprised that your garden is interesting all 4 seasons. Your knowledge of plants and attention to detail ensure that. That is pretty cool, having a Cymbidium orchid outside over the winter. Very surprising!

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    • Thanks Cynthia – I was surprised when I saw them as well, but as long as they are under trees they seem to be happy down to very low temperatures around 15F. This one was covered in a foot of snow as well!

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    • I know, especially with conifers there was so much mis-labelling in the nursery trade that supposed ‘dwarf’ conifers ended up being 30′ monsters. At least this one takes some light pruning if it starts to get out of bounds

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  6. We can’t grow Chamaecyparis here as the wallabies hoover them up for some reason. They don’t touch our pines, just the Chamaecyparis and they chew them down to the ground. You either love liriope or hate them. I am in the former camp and love their hardiness and their flowers. I haven’t seen a variegated variety like yours however. “Noice”. I am with you on the orchids. We inherited pots and pots of them. We only knew about them when we dug them out from underneath the blackberries and honeysuckle and jasmine. They never got (if I am being honest “get”) watered and they flower profusely. They are all tumbling out of their pots but every year they live. Hardy buggers for sure ;). Good to see your garden hasn’t turned to mush. Best you don’t convert to an all succulent garden just yet… 😉

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    • I’m so grateful the wallabies stay out of the town gardens – they do so much damage to gardens on the edge of the escarpment. I’m jealous you inherited pots of orchids…I only inherited weeds in this yard! I never water the orchids either, as long as you give them piles of leaf litter and sharp drainage, they are one of the ultimate easy-care plants

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    • Thanks! It can be shaped and cloud pruned as well, which is good for making sure it never outgrows its space. There are a couple of Liriopes native to Australia, but I think the bulk of the ones grown in gardens do come from East Asia – certainly those growing in the Northern part of the US would be as I doubt ours would survive your winters 🙂

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  7. That Chamaecyparis ‘Boulevard’ is a beautiful plant amd your post adds further proof to my contention that Cymbidiums aren’t the prima-donnas many people think they are. I sympathize with the problem of dealing with volatile weather conditions – even though that volatility expresses itself differently in our areas of the world, we’re also dealing with it here (e.g. in the form of winter heatwaves and summer rainstorms). If this becomes the “new normal,” It’ll be interesting to see which plants can adapt to that degree of unpredictable variability.

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    • I often wonder what the new ‘normal’ will end up looking like, certainly the weather around the world seems to be having conniptions at the moment. Thankfully most plants have a fairly adaptable climatic range, but I do worry about slow-to-establish plants like trees and whether they will cope in a hundred years time….

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    • Thanks – it certainly is selective…other parts of the garden look like a bomb has gone off! There are a few liriopes native to Australia, but I think the bulk of the garden ones come from East Asia. They are lovely (and easy) plants, regardless!

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  8. I love the Chamaecyparis – the soft-textured conifers are still favorites of mine! I’m totally unfamiliar with Sisyrinchium bellum; it looks like a great plant. And the Cymbidiums must be very exciting; I suppose they’re like roses – no matter how many you’ve seen or how sturdy they are, they’re still thrilling 🙂

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    • Thanks Amy – the Sisyrinchium bellum is a US native (West Coast I believe) and has pretty little blue flowers.
      I am happy that the Cymbidiums are cold hardy as I still have one in the pot out of the weather….at least now I know it can live in the garden!

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      • OK, I just have to play dumb and ask! Would Cymbidiums stand a chance here with the high heat and low humidity? I can provide shade and water… (That is, do they stand more than the proverbial chance of a snowball in Hades…?!)

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      • I reckon it would be really difficult to keep them happy, but it is of course possible, and they would probably flower quite well. Good luck!

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  9. I am not always a great fan of conifers but ‘ Boulevard’ is lovely. I might plant one myself, I love blue foliage.I am amazed about the Cymbidiums, I never dreamt that they could be hardy. They are far too big for the house so I think I might risk some outside too.

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    • I’m still nervous, as my garden is slightly colder than Katoomba (where these came from), but near the warmth of the house and sheltered by overhanging evergreen trees both the one in the ground and in the pot have done well this winter.
      It was a case of either survive outside or be munched on and shredded by the cats inside….(!)

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  10. It is very tempting to try Cymbidiums outside.. but despite being in the mild south west we’re in a valley so it’s probably not such a good idea here. In general I’m starting to lose interest in houseplants. Cottages tend to be dark so they don’t do very well and they’re a bit of a faff to look after.

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    • Houseplants just get destroyed by my housepets, so I gave up long ago! The literature states Cymbidiums are only rated to RHS H3, but I’m definitely in Zone H4 and they are fine. If they weren’t so expensive, I’d say go for it, but seeing I got these for free, it’s not the same if they don’t thrive 🙂

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  11. Sorry about your crazy weather! Your days are getting longer now so spring can’t be far away. That orchid – WOW! Evergreens are so welcome in the garden, especially in winter. Turning purple as we do if we stay out too long had me laughing!

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    • It’s great to be able to have these outside, even after quite a lot of time at around 10-15F, they’ve shown no sign of damage (mind you they are in a very sheltered, shady spot)!

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  12. Last year, I forgot to bring a Cymbidium in until a day or two before we had our Arctic dip into the teens (15F). I stuck it in a relatively dark and cool spot inside, and couldn’t believe my eyes when a couple of months later, it sprouted FIVE (!!!) stalks, completely weighed down with flowers. Wow… clearly this plant is a lot hardier than I would have ever thought. Glad to hear spring is coming your way, Matt!

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    • We’ve had the temperature dip to 15F this winter and they have survived outside (although they are under an evergreen tree on one side and the polycarbonate roof of the sunroom on the other side). The one that I have in a pot has just added a flower spike, so it shows how tough they are!

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      • Wow – that’s amazing! Hmm, wonder if I dare leave it outside this winter… Maybe in the potting shed? It would get plenty of light – more so than in our house… It just might like it! Something to think about, for sure…

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  13. I learn much each time I visit your blog, Matt! I’m envious of your conifer knowledge and would love to pick your brain to help identify specimens here. Any online resource that I might find helpful? Spring and fall are knocking at our garden gates once again…

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  14. I’m sorry to hear about your hard winter, Matt, but before too long things will look brighter, I’m sure. Interesting to hear about your point of view ref. to grasses. Would you see many gardens planted with grasses in your area? Would garden centres sell lots or rather not? You seem quite an expert on conifers. Having trouble with my recently planted Cupressus sempervirens – if I’d known they’re so delicate I’d have planted something else.

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    • Thanks Annette – the days are already looking much brighter and warmer (snow is forecast this Wednesday, but that’s a different story!)
      You do see so many grasses being used, especially in the ‘instant’ gardens of new homes – and they are all the usual on trend ones like miscanthus, pennisetum etc. At the moment these are still new in the landscape and their weed potential is unknown, but I have already seen patches of foreign grasses along creek beds while on bush walks (to be fair the area had many other weed species as well), so for me the jury is still out….
      I’m sorry to hear about C sempervirens; I normally associate those with being quite tough. Is it the hot summer you are having that is causing so many issues?

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      • It seems to have been a fungal infection. One died already. Shouldn’t think the heat caused it because they’re usually grown in the South. Bad luck maybe and my general reluctance to let conifers into the garden 😉

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      • That’s not good to hear: many in the cypress family (and especially C. sempervirens) are vulnerable to soil-borne viruses and cankers. I know Europe has been plagued with these problems for about 80 years (the pathogens arrived with the introduction of the Californian Monterrey Cypress).
        You could try saving the remaining ones by spraying with a phosphoric-acid based chemical or copper oxychloride, but it could end up becoming an annual ritual until the trees get too tall, and then they’ll succumb to the disease again…. 😦 It might be better trying to replace it with a different species with a similar habit (like Thuja occidentalis, fastigiate Holly or the Irish Yew) which will lend a similar look without the risks

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      • pity, I didn’t know this before. planted yew in another area and it’s looking so good. if the cypress don’t recover they’ll have to go…can’t bear looking at anything sick in my garden

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    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who has hesitated with the grasses trend. So many plants that were once the height of fashion have ended up becoming environmental disasters….
      All the bulbs are starting to pop up: it will be spring before I know it!

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