A Rocky Dwarf Conifer Garden

A Rocky Dwarf Conifer Garden

Part of Ep. 901 Personal Spaces, Public Spaces

Explore Emily Hickey's steep cliff garden in Bailey's Harbor, Door County.

Premiere date: Mar 03, 2001

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
This is a truly special treat. We're in a private garden in Bailey's Harbor, Door County, Wisconsin. This is the garden of Emily Hickey, a truly great plants person of Wisconsin. Emily, I have to start by asking, whatever made you think to turn this very steep cliff into such a beautiful garden.

Emily:
Well, when we first moved here, Shelley, this was a real eyesore. And I had grown up on a beautiful farm. My dad landscaped. And among other conifers, he had blue spruces. So, that's why you'll see several varieties of blue spruces in my garden. I started out here with rock garden plants and roses. But I soon found that the roses didn't live through the winters. So, I had to find plants that were easier to grow and would provide year round interest and that I could like. And I fell in love with hostas and dwarf conifers.

Shelley:
How old is the garden?

Emily:
It started in the middle '60s.

Shelley:
So, you've had a lot of time to work on it. Why would you pick dwarf conifers? What's special about them?

Emily:
They're beautiful. They provide year round interest. They have different shapes and textures, the different colors. And they contrast so well with other plants.

Shelley:
I have always thought of them as a very slow-growing plant. Is that true?

Emily:
Some of them are. I have some that will never need to be pruned, which I will show you. But there are others that I must prune every year. Some can be used as ground covers. Some of them grow to be only 20 inches tall in 40 years. Then, others are quite large.

Shelley:
Tell me about one of your favorites, one of your favorite dwarf conifers here.

Emily:
My first rare dwarf conifer is Chamaecyparis obtusa "Nana."

Shelley:
What's special about it?

Emily:
It is so beautiful. I like the way the branches are layered. There's something about it that makes you want to touch it. As you see, I have other Chamaecyparis here. And there are two of these conifers that are dwarf Hemlocks. I wanted a variety, different textures and different colors.

Shelley:
Now, you have another dwarf one just behind us. Tell me about this one. It's got this golden yellow color.

Emily:
Oh, yes, that's another Chamaecyparis obtusa "Nana Lutea." Lutea means yellow. That one will hold that gold color all year. I've had it for over a year.

Shelley:
It contrasts so nicely with the Artemesia. And it looks like Calamintha you've got there, too.

Emily:
There is Calamintha nepetoides there. And the Artemesia "Silverado" I think is a nice contrast, don't you?

Shelley:
Really. Especially when you've got the evergreen of these conifers all winter.

Emily:
And when everything else is gone, I still have that gold-- I call it the star of this part of the garden.

Shelley:
It's beautiful. Thank you. You've got so many plants in this garden, not just dwarf conifers. Tell me about this shrub. I recognize it from my own back yard.

Emily:
That's an Arrowwood Viburnum. That is the favorite shrub of the birds. If a flock of robins comes in or cedar waxwings, those beautiful berries will last only two days.

Shelley:
One thing I've noticed from my own back yard is I don't get the berries, because I have it in such dense shade. It needs a little bit more sun to get this glorious show of berries. You said that was one of the first shrubs you planted here.

Emily:
That's right. I have a whole border of it back there.

Shelley:
Now, you also have some grasses near it, which are providing some interest late into the season.

Emily:
I like the Calamagrostis "Overdam." And in front of it, the Pennisetum "Hameln," that is a Dwarf Fountain Grass. That one is more hardy here than the big fountain grass.

Shelley:
That's good to know. Some of ours tend to die out very quickly over the winter. You've got too many spots to even talk about, but one of my favorite shrubs that's just glowing is the Smokebush. Tell me how you've come up with this lovely combination here.

Emily:
That is Cotinus "Royal Purple." And one of my favorite dwarf conifers in front of it is a Scots Pine called "Albyn Prostrata." It is such a healthy looking green, isn't it?

Shelley:
Well, especially contrasted with the burgundy of the Smokebush leaves. They both stand out like this perfect little grouping. This whole garden is lovely. Emily, thank you very much for sharing it with us.

Emily:
You are very welcome, Shelley. I hope you'll come again.

Shelley:
I'd love to.

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