The unspoken glory of the conifer
Gardeners who love a riot of colour throughout the seasons may dismiss conifers as dull, boring specimens that add little to the glory of the garden.
Indeed, some of us will only really come into contact with a conifer in the form of a miniature type that we use to gain height in our summer or winter containers, surrounded by much more colourful bedding or shrubs to fill the pot.
Yet the conifer has a much wider use than the fill-in specimen in containers. It is also invaluable in beds and borders, providing structure, texture and colour when everything else has died down and looks stunning in winter when its foliage is whitened with frost or dusted with snow.
Conifers can work as a backdrop, standalone or in a border with other plants, from making effective screening to creating the perfect background for flower borders or accents in rock gardens. They are extremely versatile, coming in an amazingly diverse range of shades, textures, shapes and sizes, says the Horticultural Trades Association.
They are low-maintenance, suit contemporary and traditional settings and provide all-year-round interest.
They come into their own in the winter and early spring, when they are unchallenged by the green of deciduous shrubs and perennials, and come in shades of green, gold and brown.
Most conifers look best planted where their individual shape and colour can be enjoyed without competition from other show-stopping plants.
Good plant partners include heathers, grasses, phormiums and dwarf hebes.
In formal settings, they can boast stunning architectural value. The biggest problem is that they can grow too large for their site.
If you buy a dwarf conifer, be aware that in many cases it won’t be dwarf but will be slow-growing.
However, in time it will outgrow its space, although to some extent you may be able to keep it under control by trimming.
If you can’t, you may have to dig it out and start again. Now is a good time to prune fruit trees to prevent disease, which can become worse over the winter. With apple and pear trees, cut out any branches that are dead, diseased or crossing over. However, do not prune trees that bear stoned fruit such as plums, cherries or apricots as this can cause disease rather than preventing it. To prune fruit trees, shorten the central shoots by a quarter and cut the sideshoots back to three buds to boost the chance of them changing into fruiting spurs.