Friday, June 29, 2012

I've got a Chamaecyparis Jones

Sometimes when you love a plant, it can get a little crazy when you visit a nursery and they appear around every corner.  Chamaecyparis obtusa and its many cultivars are just a wonder to me and I often can have a Chamaecyparis Jones.  Yesterday while visiting Stonegate Gardens in Lincon, MA, I had to stop and take some photos so I could share my passion for this beautiful plant.

Chamaecyparis obtusa comes from Japan and has been used commercially for centuries as the wood is beautiful and straight grained.  It is often used in traditional structures such as temples and shrines. More recently hundreds of cultivars of the species, obtusa, have been developed for ornamental uses in the garden.  The species can grow to 50-60', but most of the ornamentals are under 20' with many under 10'.  They are hardy to zone 5 and very easy to care for in the garden.  As a conifer and member of the Cypress family, they will prefer soil that is leaning to the acid side with some organic matter, but for the most part are not fussy.  Since most are dwarf forms, they will grow quite slowly and don't require much pruning, but some pinching and nipping will help to accentuate their unique form.

The real beauty in these plants are the fans of foliage.  As seen above, they can vary from quite open on the right to very dense and tight on the left.  From a distance, this variation shows in the overall structure of the plant.  The other aspect of Chamaecyparis that makes it such an intriguing specimen, is the way in which the branching can become irregular.  Their beauty is often in their lack of symmetry and in the awkward branching patterns.  You will see this in many of the nursery specimens below, but for a more complete gallery, go to Iseli Nursery in Boring, Oregon to see more images.  Along with shape and density of their branching, their color can vary significantly.  Not only can there be varied shades of green, but yellow and variegation can vary in the different cultivars.

From a design perspective, these dwarf cultivars are not, necessarily, for massing, but utilized for their individual characteristics. That said, I have used several different sized specimens together, but it is critical that you know their true form and size. They are popular by entryways either individually or paired on either side.  Because of their structural qualities, they can go into formal gardens or be used in areas where sculptures or other forms of art are used.  They can also be used in beds with other dwarf evergreens and plants, but  be careful not to make a bed of just specimen evergreens with nothing to tie them together.  Since they can vary from 1' to 20', the options are infinite.

Below is a selection of Chamaecyparis that were on display yesterday, I have provided a little info on each so you can understand their diversity.  Smaller faster growing plants can be inexpensive, $50-$75, but large forms of true dwarf plants like the one immediately below can cost thousands of dollars.  Miniature refers to plants under a couple of feet, while dwarf is under 10' and intermediate is under 20'.

Old dwarf Yellow, very slow
Dwarf, upright and variegated
Torulosa - Twisted and pyramidal dwarf
Golden Nymph - Upright, broad dwarf
with irregular foliage

Nana Lutea- Upright, broad dwarf with
bold yellow sprays of foliage

Verdoni- Dwarf, upright with yellow fans
of new growth.
Kosteri - Broad, dwarf that turns upright
with some age.

Goldilocks- Large, upright broad and open

Nana Gracilis - Dwarf, upright and broad
with lots of irregularity
Wyckoff- Intermediate size that gets more
upright with age.

Nana- A true miniature