Use small changes to anchor changing vignettes
Year-round anchors. A creeping blue juniper cascades on a rocky slope and serves as a centerpiece among seasonally changing plantings.
I think of dwarf conifers as garden stalwarts. One way to capitalize on these evergreens is to make them anchors in mixed plantings that change from season to season. Compact evergreens provide attractive stability in a bed or border as bulbs, perennials, and annuals come and go. Conifers with all types of contours, from low mounds to pyramids, can be used in this way.
A planting with year-round appeal is a great way to enhance the entrance to your home. Two avid gardeners I know in Milwaukee, Steve Bialk and Angela Duckert, created just that. A dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca var. albertiana ‘Conica’, USDA Hardiness Zones 2–6) serves as the central figure in their front-yard vignette, providing soft texture and a pyramidal shape that balance the low heft of a large boulder. In summer, the bold, blue-green leaves of a Hosta cultivar (Zones 3–9) contrast with the spruce’s fine needles. Two golden Eastern arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Sunkist’, Zones 4–7) and a low-growing juniper round out the scene. Behind the spruce, a variegated miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’, Zones 6–9) adds a bright accent with its narrowstriped leaves, which repeat the variegation of a deadnettle (Lamium maculatum cv., Zones 4–8). In fall, the hosta turns a beautiful yellow, echoing the color of the arborvitae foliage. The evergreens continue to add colorful structure in winter.
In another mixed planting, a dwarf mugo pine (Pinus mugo ssp. mugo, Zones 3–7), a ‘Rheingold’ arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’, Zones 2–7), and a daylily (Hemerocallis cv., Zones 3–10) create an appealing vignette. The green needles of the mugo pine contrast with the color and texture of the apricot-tinged arborvitae. The arborvitae foliage forms a pleasing color harmony with the melon-colored daylily blossoms. The planting is completed by a skirt of the foliage of a bigroot geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum, Zones 4–8).
Dwarf conifers also mix well with roses and deciduous shrubs. In another part of this yard, an established dwarf blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’, Zones 2–8) serves as the steadfast element of a mixed planting along the corner of a slope. A dwarf Norway spruce (Picea abies ‘Mucronata’, Zones 3–8) adds textural contrast next to a hardy shrub rose that blooms throughout the summer. The rose’s attractive hips add to the winter interest provided by the conifers. A yellow barberry (Berberis thunbergii cv., Zones 5–8) contrasts with the blue spruce and harmonizes with the chartreuse blooms of lady’s mantle. Hostas, daylilies, and other perennials provide interesting foliage and seasonal blooms.