When winter snow lasts for half of the year, conifers are a remembrance that the white doesn’t last forever, and that buried underneath there are dormant green plants that will emerge eventually. Without the conifers, winter would be a vista of twigs and houses. I enjoy walking down the street and admiring the pretty sight of snowy evergreen branches on front lawns. They create a verdant background all year, provide privacy, and are an excellent habitat for birds.
Here are my large spruce trees, filling most of the front yard with green boughs. My spruce wear their branches right down to the ground, which makes a natural and full silhouette. The grass doesn’t grow underneath them, but the snowy boughs look much better in the winter than snow-covered grass. Natural spruce trees, with all of their branches, make a very tall groundcover.
These trees tower over the house. From a landscaping point of view, they are out of scale, and obscure the view of the house. However, from a forest lover’s point of view, I enjoy the woodsy atmosphere in the middle of the suburbs. I am thankful the previous owner had the foresight to plant trees for the future.
When I look out my front windows I can imagine that I live in an evergreen forest. I can watch the birds on the branches, blue jays scolding, or chickadees chattering and flitting from branch to branch. In the fall, the squirrels are very busy storing away the spruce cones. One squirrel made a precariously balanced pile of cones under the willow in the backyard. I’m not sure why he bothered running back and forth to the backyard, instead of just storing them conveniently under the curtained safety of the spruce tree.
The spruce produce numerous cones at their top, which scatter around the tree on windy days. I gather the cones and use them to mulch a hidden area to the east side of the house, about 6 m (20 ft) long and 1 m (3 ft) wide. Perhaps the squirrel has admired my large stash of cones. Maybe he’s even raided it for his own supply. The spruce and pine needles fall onto a narrow sidewalk that leads to my backyard. I often sweep the needles off the walk into the adjacent north facing garden area, making a natural and easy woodland mulch for the front bed.
There is the base of an overgrown Pinus mugo (mugho pine) in my front yard. It is taller than the house, and forms a green curtain between the street and my front window, blocking noise, attracting birds, and presenting another forest view. The mugho pine has a tangle of lower branches, and long, soft needles. The dwarf mugho pines, that have been kept small by breaking the outer third of their new candles, look neat and cute in a garden bed, like small green statues. This older, taller Pinus mugo has not had its candles cut back, and the inside lower trunks make a forest of their own. The curved multiple trunks arising from the base form a living woodland sculpture.
While the front of the pine has a wall of green needles, the lower needles at the back are mostly gone in this shady spot, making for easier viewing from the house of the birds, which like to flit about on the protected branches. There are small middens of cone scales under the tree. The branches make a comfortable place for an animal to break open cones to get at the seeds, and the scales fall in small piles beneath.
A tall straight pine grows in the corner of my backyard. Its branches are lacy, casting a partial shadow on the plants below. The long needles are attractive. This evergreen gives me something green and beautiful to view, when I look out on the bleakest winter days. The pine also gives some privacy, when all of the deciduous trees have dropped their leaves to survive the winter. Sometimes in summer, a robin likes to perch on the topmost branch, proclaiming its territory from the tallest point around.
This upright evergreen is Taxus media ‘Hiksii’, one of the many small yews in the garden. In summer, they practically disappear in the garden, serving more as a green backdrop. However in winter, they are the little green jewels, rising above the snow. While the yews are tolerant of shade, the ones in deeper shade are about half the size of the ones in medium shade.
I also have some Taxus media ‘Nigra’, which are a darker green yew, and a bit more spreading than upright. The soft needles are particularly attractive. There is less browning and die back on the yews over the winter than on junipers. The yews also fill in their bare patches, maintaining a more attractive shape. Taxus media are a good yew for zone 3, since some other yews are borderline or not hardy here.
I love my conifers. They bring wildlife, privacy and beauty to the garden year round. I most appreciate conifers in the winter garden, when the colour green is rare, and especially treasured.