Conifers come in many shapes and sizes and choosing the perfect one can be difficult – but rest assured, there’s a conifer to suit any garden
- Cupressus sempervirens ‘Strica’ (pictured above) or churchyard cypress has dark green foliage and is perfect for framing views, making gardens appear larger by lifting the eye up in small spaces, defining areas and adding a real Tuscan feel. ‘Shave’ the sides to keep it neat and compact; it can be topped to maintain it at a particular height. Loose side growth can be confined by twining fishing line around the tree. Size: about 10m.
The following pencil shapes are good alternatives for smaller gardens:
- Juniperus scopulorum ‘Skyrocket’ makes an excellent ‘exclamation mark’ or accent in big or small gardens. This tall, narrow conifer, with blue-grey foliage is also good in containers. Use it as a single specimen, group in threes or stagger in a row along a narrow driveway or behind a swimming pool. ‘Shave’ the sides to keep it neat and compact. Size: 4-6m x 30-50mm.
- Cupressus sempervirens ‘Swane’s Gold’ also makes a good accent plant. Slow growing, use it to take the eye upwards, especially in confined spaces or townhouse gardens. Its dense, golden-yellow tipped green foliage is most attractive and makes an effective contrast when grouped with other foliage plants. Size: 5-6m x 75cm-1m.
Groundcover or spreading
- Juniperus conferta (pictured above) is a spreading, mat-forming groundcover with appealing spruce or needle-like leaves of blue-green. It’s ideal for slopes and to soften retaining walls. It can be mass planted as a groundcover in large gardens. Size: 30-50cm x 2m.
- J. horizontalis Icee Blue ‘Mober’ has silver-blue, scale-like foliage that sets this evergreen, ground-hugging conifer apart from others like ‘Wiltonii’, a blue-grey slow grower that reaches 40-50cm in height. ‘Mober’ retains its cover in the centre of the plant. Size: 10cm x 1,5m.
- J. horizontalis ‘Prince of Wales’ is a spreading carpet-like groundcover with soft-looking foliage which becomes tinged with purple in winter. Size: 30cm.
- J. chinensis ‘Plumosa’ is similar, but in cold regions, its grey-green foliage takes on a pleasing purplish hue in winter. Size: 1m x 1m.
- Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Wilma’ (pictured above) has delightful, fresh lime-green, dense, almost crinkled foliage and a lemon fragrance. It becomes golden yellow in winter. Fast growing, it’s a good candidate for topiary and clipping and is suitable for townhouse gardens and containers in sun and semi-shade. ‘Wilma’ is a more conical, dwarf version of the popular ‘Gold Crest’ which needs regular clipping and can reach over 3m. Size: About 2,5m x 1m.
- Juniperus chinensis ‘Variegata’ is slow growing and good for smaller gardens. Use this fairly loose, upright, conical variety as a contrast plant in the border where the creamy tips and speckles, which show up well against its grey-green foliage, will add a light touch. Size: 3-4m x 1,5m.
- Platycladus orientalis ‘Aurea Nana Compacta’ is a smaller conifer which is ball shaped rather than conical with golden-yellow foliage which bronzes in cold winters. Size: 70–90cm.
Vase or cup shaped
With its rich minty-coloured foliage, Juniperus x ‘Mint Julep’ (pictured above) has an interesting wide-spreading vase shape as do its golden counterparts, J. ‘Gold Coast’, ‘Old Gold’ and the smaller ‘Gold Star’. The layering of the branches and its particular form make it a good choice for contrast. It’s best in suburban gardens. Size: 1,2m x 1,5m.
- Juniperus scopulorum ‘Wichita Blue’ (pictured above) is an exciting, blue to silver-grey compact form of an American conifer recently released in South Africa. Size: 3m. Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’ has dark emerald to light bottle-green leaves. It’s ideal for small gardens and containers. Size: 1,5m x 60cm.
- Cupressocyparis leylandii (pictured above) are popular for hedging and windbreaks. Take care when selecting them as they are fast growing and can reach great heights. They have a loose habit, and unless kept clipped, are pyramid shaped with grey-green foliage. They are hardy to cold and frost and water wise. Several forms with golden yellow foliage are available. Size: 5m to well over 8m, if left untrimmed.
Did you know?
- South Africa’s only true conifers are the Widdringtonia spp. cedars, one of which is the endangered Clanwilliam cedar, W. cedarbergensis.
- The coniferous redwoods, or Sequoias, from California, are the world’s tallest living trees. One nicknamed ‘Hyperion’ in the Redwood National Park in California is over 115m high.
- Conifers are enhanced when planted with ornamental grasses.