Conifers, as we all know, come in all shapes, sizes and many colours.
The most familiar ones range from shrubs to gigantic trees. Not so well known is the fact that there are many which are low-growing ground covers, and these can give year-round colour.
Most ornamental conifers belong to two families, juniper and cypress.
You’ll be bewildered by the botanical names on conifer plants in garden centres.
If you’re looking for ground covers watch out for junipers with the names horizontalis, depressa or prostrata.
Juniperus communis depressa aurea is a good example. It spreads outwards, with curved branches drooping at the tip. It changes colour charmingly through the season. It starts with bright gold in spring, fades to green and gold for summer and takes on beautiful silvery purplish hues, flecked with bronze, for winter. It will thrive in poor soil.
For a fast grower, try Juniperus horizontalis douglasii. It is steel blue in summer, purple in winter and has stiffish, spreading branches. Even more attractive is Juniperus horizontalis glauca, which grows closer to the ground and has blue berries. It is blue-green.
Juniperus conferta has soft, green billowing foliage, but this can be damaged by frost. One with an absurdly long name is Juniperus taxifolia lutchuensis. This is completely prostrate and has really beautiful, thick pale green foliage, similar to the yew. Its new growth in spring is particularly attractive.
All of these plants are not fussy about soil or even about rainfall. They will do wonders hanging down over the top of a retaining wall or softening sharp corners in the garden. A great bonus is that weeds won’t penetrate their thick growth.
Once upon a time the vegetable garden had to be quite separate from the flower garden – preferably screened off out of sight. What a quaint idea! Not only are vegetables attractive in their own right, but they can enhance the appearance of the garden by being interplanted with flowers.
Consider decorative cabbage, for instance, with its colourful, frilly leaves. Red Swiss chard too, and globe artichokes. Scarlet runner beans, climbing up their support at the back of a flower bed, look stunning covered in their display of red flowers. The feathery foliage of carrots growing here and there among flowers is attractive, and gives the bonus of an edible crop. Parsley, too, makes a great contrast among a bed of annual flowers such as phlox or petunias.
All walls and fences should be utilised for climbers such as cucumbers, pumpkins, zucchinis, as well as runner beans. These make a delightful covering over pergolas and archways.
Rose bushes can be moved to a different place in the garden while dormant in winter. This can become necessary if trees have grown to overhang them and keep the sun off.
Prepare the new spot thoroughly, working in plenty of organic matter such as compost. Prune the bushes back hard before moving them. This will reduce stress. Keep them well watered as they start shooting. And don’t apply any fertiliser until October.
What a magnificent sight autumn colours have been this month.
Maples in particular are scene-stealers with their vivid scarlets and gold, so bright from a distance that the smaller ones can look like flowering azaleas.
There are smaller varieties of maple that are ideal for the home garden. They have an attractive shape even after they have lost their leaves.
So does the rhus. The feathery leaves, which ripple in the breeze, are lovely all summer and when autumn comes it really puts on its glad rags with a show of vivid crimson. One word of caution – some people are allergic to rhus leaves and come out in a rash on contact.