The so-called false cypress, chamaecyparis, covers those species of conifers with flat branches and small cones. It is known mainly for the Lawson cypress, C. lawsoniana, with its long list of invaluable varieties, some dwarf, some tall, some quick growing and some slow. Most dislike strong winds and hence exposed sites and enjoy a moist but well-drained. C. lazusoniana ‘Elwoodii’ is a slow growing, upright tree with dark green foliage which turns almost glaucous in winter. It will grow to about 2m (6ft), as will the attractive C.l. ‘Minima Aurea’, which makes a dense cone of soft, golden-yellow foliage. Because they are slow to grow, this does not mean that they will not become large in time, so make sure before you plant. Other chamaecyparis species include obtusa and its varieties, usually but not always growing to larger trees, conical in shape.
This family, derived from a cross between the cupressus and the chamaecyparis, is known mainly for the important and useful C. leylandii, a large tree but nevertheless used frequently for tall hedges simply because of its extremely rapid rate of growth. It is said to be the fastest growing conifer, putting on more than lm (3ft) a year. The varieties usually grown are those with a fastigiate or narrowly columnar habit of growth. This is an easy species to grow.
This branch of the conifer family is generally rather more tricky to grow. They are apt to suffer in cold winters and can be difficult to transplant and care for when very young. It is best always to buy pot-grown plants and when planting them to make sure that the root ball is undamaged. Most soils are tolerated except those that are very wet, but strong or salt-laden winds can damage young plants. C. macrocarpa, the Monterey cypress, may still be seen in some gardens but because it loses its lower branches easily and suffers from cold, it is grown less often than in the past. Travellers who have seen so many cypress trees in the Mediterranean regions will often try the Italian or Mediterranean cypress, C. sempervirens, a medium-sized tree with a narrowly columnar habit and dark green foliage. It is subject to some damage in colder districts but if planted sensibly will prove an asset to the garden. There are two varieties, ‘Gracilis’, even slimmer than the type, raised in New Zealand, and ‘Swaines Gold’, a more compact form.
This is a large genus of useful garden conifers ranging from prostrate plants to thick shrubs and tall. Columnar and conical trees, all of which have aromatic foliage and grey-green berries. J. virginiana ‘Skyrocket’ is said to be the slimmest of all columnar conifers. It grows to about 3m (10ft). It is in the rock garden and the erica bed that junipers fit most neatly, for some of the low and slow-growing specimens complement the other small shrubs around them; colours blend as well as the textures. The common juniper. J. communis, presents a number of interesting and useful varieties, of which J.c. ‘Compressa’, dwarf, compact and slow growing, is one of the best. Another is J.c. ‘Depressa’. The Canadian juniper, spreading and ground hugging, with brownish-red foliage in winter. There is a golden form. Depressa aurea’. TheJuniperus macrocarpa ‘Pfitzeriana’ is said to be one of the most commonly planted of all conifers. It is spreading, making a good ground cover, yet grows sufficiently tall for it to make a good specimen for the lawn or to be used as a focal point in a border. ‘The Pfitzer Juniper is a friend of the landscape gardener’, says Hillier’s famous manual. ‘It never lets him down, it marries the formal into the informal. It embellishes his layout and hides his errors.’ What a tribute!
The spruces present a wider range of sizes and shapes in various tones of green, a little more choosy and temperamental when it comes to planting soils and conditions than some of the other conifers. The first to be mentioned should, of course, be perhaps the most famous tree in the western world, the Christmas tree, Picea abies, not one of the best trees for the garden. The dwarf variety, P.a. ‘Pygmea’. Is compact and globular, said to grow at a rate of less than 1cm (1/2in) a year. ‘Brewer’s Weeping Spruce’. P. brezueriana, makes a small to medium conical tree with spreading branches from which droop and hang a veritable curtain of smaller blue-green branchlets.
The yews, a comparatively small genus, appear to be confined to ancient churchyards, where they have certainly proved their worth. They are excellent slow-growing trees and shrubs, unusually tolerant of shade and able to grow well in almost any soil. One reason for the neglect of this useful tree is that the bright red berries are said to be poisonous to humans. It is not the berries or the fleshy part that is poisonous but the seed, which humans naturally enough do not eat. The foliage will poison cattle, particularly when it is dry or withered. T. baccata, the common yew, is said to live for more than 1000 years. T.b. ‘Fastigiata’, the Irish yew, is upright, columnar, highly architectural and T.b. ‘Fastigiata aureo marginata’ is even more beautiful with its yellow-edged foliage.