It was bound to happen some time. Like that boy in 8th grade algebra class who was always sitting there, but suddenly became cute. That's how it is with these conifers. OMG, they're beautiful, how could I have missed them?
It could have been the shock of moving that made me mistake them for just evergreen screen savers in the background of my busy life. Frequent moving will do that to you, it keeps you a little off-balance, a little disoriented. And the learning curve for living up north has been steeper than most.
Then again, I guess I have thought the constantly-green conifers to be dark and dusty affairs, a musty mash-up of prickly needles and dry-shady inaccessible recesses. Yet, I'm the one who always wants the most fragrant tree for Christmas, forget about the gifts.
Having lived twice in Kansas, which is two times more than I ever imagined I would, you tend to tune out the pine trees. Kansas is the only state that has no native pine and even the red cedars are considered woody weeds on the tallgrass prairie, worthy of burning. Throw in the deadly Scotch Pine Wilt that has devastated so many of the introduced species around the midwest and you see why I denied myself the delights of these gorgeous trees.
Then I happened to see this wonkety, Hansel and Gretel in the woods-like tree at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Besides the whimsical growth habit and manageable size, it had these bright purple-pink cones! It was love at first sight. Piceas abies, Norway Spruce "Acrocona", I gotta have it. I'm looking for a suitable site, so any plant in my garden performing poorly had better watch out.
Have you seen those bumper stickers that admonish you to "Start Seeing Motorcyclists", well, I started seeing conifers. And living up north, that's a lot of seeing. Conifers are any tree with thin leaf needles bearing cones; fir, spruce, larch, pine, juniper, yew and cedar, most but not all evergreen.
The dark green color helps to absorb energy from weak sunshine at high altitudes as does the plane-shaped sloping fans of foliage to maximize the capture of that same sunlight. The boreal forests are the dominant plants that cover huge areas of land in the Northern hemisphere, and make up the largest terrestrial carbon sink.
Closer to home, I've found that there are cones of all colors, besides shapes and sizes. I've realized the new spring growth on the tips can define or decorate.
They come in so many sizes, diminutive to majestic, there's one for every garden. And the towering ones have personalities, the tallest seem like wizened souls with their green-cloaked, drooping arms and pointed wizard hats.
First, Abies aureana, "Aurea", or Golden Korean Fir, I selected for its narrow habit and medium height at maturity. (Be careful of this, humongous trees were just once little guys). New needles emerge golden and give the tree a subtle chartreuse color. The cones are more violet than purple and sit in rows near the top branches.
Second, Picea amorika "Pendula" or Weeping Serbian Spruce has dark green needles with a silvery underside. It's so charming with branches that twist and turn up to make for an unusual specimen in the garden. Taller and wider than the fir it's just what I needed to fill in a large blank wall at the back of our house. I've added grasses and upright chokeberry varieties to offset the drooping forms of these adorable storybook trees. I'd love to find an alpine-like daisy (but non-invasive) for this new area.
Oh, yeah, do they have wildlife value? While deciduous trees provide more food value, conifers do produce cones that release seeds for birds and deer to browse. But more importantly they provide thermal cover and nesting sites for birds and mammals.
So now that I'm cuckoo for conifers, I've even gained a new appreciation for the white pines that frame the driveway to our home. I've noticed while working outside that they do indeed whisper. I think I heard them say they're worried that this newfound fondness for northerly landscapes will lead to an invasion of gnomes. Hmmmm...