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The Backbone of a Winter Garden

by CountryLife Gardening | Dec 21, 2015
Conifers offer great structure to a garden

For gardeners there is nothing better than walking around other people’s gardens to gain inspiration on garden design and planting combinations. After all they do say copying is the sincerest form of flattery!

When you walk around other people’s gardens or even around public spaces you can get good ideas that can be recreated in your own garden and you also see ideas or concepts that just do not work and you know to avoid them. I find that often you can learn the best lessons from other people’s mistakes and often find an alternative to try in your own garden.

At this time of the year you can really find great examples of how other gardeners have worked to try and keep interest in their gardens during the winter months. When the flowers and colours have faded from the borders you really get to see the backbone of a garden. For many this will be evergreen shrubs.

Conifers in particular are coming back into popularity hugely with gardeners over the last number of years. They were once extremely popular but fell out of favour for almost a decade. Now, with newer varieties which are better behaved, they are becoming more and more versatile in the garden and more people are returning to them.

Conifers offer great structure to a gardenOn a recent garden visit I was struck by how elegant a pair of Irish Yew trees looked. During the summer months they are almost lost in the border with the masses of vibrant herbaceous flowers around them. With the flowers cut back now however the yews really come into their own and offer great structure and a focal point to the garden.

I have always been interested in Irish Yew trees because of their unusual backstory. The story goes that saplings of the tree were first found by a farmer called George Willis who collected them from the slopes of the Cuilcagh Mountain in Fermanagh. He brought one sapling back for his landlord and one for his own garden. His landlord planted it on his estate Florence Court. This is why the plant is sometimes referred to as the Florencecourt Yew.

As the plant is female it means the only way to propagate it is by cuttings which means all Irish Yews are part of the same original tree so if you have one in your garden you could say you have a piece of plant history in your garden.

One of the most common conifers that Irish gardeners will encounter during the winter is Cypressus Goldcrest. Small Goldcrest will commonly be found in containers with winter bedding. They offer great height to containers and their bright yellowish green foliage is a bonus.

However it is important to remember that they are simply just young plants and they will eventually grow into large trees so if you are planting them into your garden it is important to pick a suitable spot for them. They are a great shrub to have in a garden once they are maintained and shaped once a year.

While many people think conifers are just green this is simply not the case anymore. With careful selection a conifer bed can have a great deal of colour throughout the year. Thuja Forever Goldy is a great compact shrub that is yellowish gold tinged with copper at the foliage’s tips. Pinus winter gold is another rather interesting variety which goes through a colour transformation as winter sets in. Throughout the year it is a vibrant lime green colour but as the cold weather approaches it turns to a golden yellow colour. 

In terms of maintenance conifers are pretty much carefree. It is important to give them a trim at least annually to maintain their height and over all shape. If you leave it they can grow too much for the space you want them in. They will benefit from a good quality slow release fertiliser in spring which will give them a boost for the growing season ahead. During very hot dry weather it is important to give them a good amount of water to ensure they do not dry out. 

Written by Malachy

Here to help! - remember if you have any questions feel free to pop into one of our garden centres or you can contact us on our Facebook and Twitter pages and email us at: hello@countrylife.ie

Malachy's Bio 
I have been gardening since I was 5 years old when my mother gave me a part of our garden as my own. I have studied horticulture in the National Botanical Gardens in Glasnevin and was a winner in the young horticulturist of the year competition. I have worked in Several plant nurseries and garden centers such as Mount Congreve in Co. Waterford. My special interests are plant propagation and Cacti!

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