PoTM: Pines, Cones, and Needles

I wonder how many of us planted a ‘conifer’ hedge back in the ‘80s? x Cupressocyparis leylandii seemed the perfect solution to screen an ugly view, divide us from our overly close neighbours; and they grew fast. And then they grew more. Slowly it dawned that this by-generic cross had hybrid vigour and just kept on growing like a triffid. Eventually many ‘Leyland’ hedges had to be grubbed out. At vast expense. Leaving a view of the eyesore beyond, and bare, exhausted soil. The net result was a distrust and dislike of all things coniferous.

But like all babies thrown out with the bathwater, there is much more to the world of conifers than instant hedging and Christmas trees. It is large and eclectic. And slowly, slowly they are coming back into fashion.

Of late I have bought two, seriously beautiful new conifers, neither with the vigour to achieve more than 2 metres in 10 years. They live in pots by the front door in winter. And in summer they holiday in a sunny corner of the nursery. One is Pinus strobus ‘Tiny Kurls’ with silvery, twisted stems and needles that look as though it’s having a bad hair day. The other, Abies pinsapo ‘Aurea’ with fat primrose and grey shoots, look like prickly sausages waiting for the barbeque. They both make me smile. And they always draw comments from our visitors.

In order to screen our ugly greenhouses from the rest of the garden, about 7 or 8 years ago I planted a magnificent specimen of Pinus wallichiana. Now it is a very big tree. I have already cut off the lower branches at the main trunk so that we can all squeeze past. It has long, silvery needles that are as tactile as a cat. Everyone pauses to give it a stroke. Otherwise known as the ‘Bhutan Pine’, for me it commemorates a plant-hunting expedition to the Himalayas. Mr Wallich was curator of the Botanic Garden at Darjeeling which we visited on our travels, and the garden boasts a giant specimen. If you have room for just one, truly big conifer, I would heartily recommend this beauty.

Sally Gregson




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