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or just about any other place where concrete consumes

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Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

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Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

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Plant Profiles

Fernspray Gold hinoki cypress

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Here's the conifer that looks good with everything, Winter and Summer.  Coral twigs of 'Pacific Fire' maple are just one plant I'm partnering with 'Fernspray Gold'.

 

In Summer, the delicate stems of this helianthus make a pale filigree. 

 

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Its palest-yellow flowers are the subtle end of the spectrum of plant partners. 

 

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Change the center of the flowers to yellow, though, and the petals can be red, orange, or even pink:  They all work.

 

The secret is the foliage.  'Fernspray Gold' is so ferny, so soft, so full and yet not so dense, that it coordinates just as well with ferns as with big leaves.  The tree's overall color reads as green around bright and solid-yellow neighbors, because its older and more interior foliage is green, with the yellow being the highlights from the new foliage.  Whereas near plants with deep-green foliage, the entire palette of 'Fernspray Gold' reads as yellow; even its darker foliage pales—attractively—by comparison.

 

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'Fernspray Gold': The conifer for almost all plant partners, all year long.

 

 

Here's how to grow this remarkably flexible and appealing evergreen:


Latin Name

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Fernspray Gold'

Common Name

'Fernspray Gold' hinoki cypress

Family

Cupressaceae, the Cypress family.

What kind of plant is it?

Coniferous tree.

Hardiness

Zones 5 - 8.

Habit

Single-trunked and upright, with arching branches densely clothed in lemon-yellow foliage that's soft, like that of arborvitae, not stiff or sharp-tipped, like that of pines and spruces.  Gracefully irregular even when young, with openings between the branches extending inward almost to the trunk; conical only in its overall form.  

Rate of Growth

Medium.

Size in ten years

Ten feet tall and seven feet wide. 

Texture

Ferny, indeed.  The cultivar name, 'Fernspray Gold' is unusually accurate.

Grown for

its foliage: Dense ferny foliage is lemon-yellow in full sun, greener towards the interior of the plant or if there's some shade.

 

its bark: Cinnamon-colored and in vertical strips.  Even though the overall habit is open, foliage on the individual branches of 'Fernspray Gold' can be so dense that the bark is obscured.  It's worth revealing; see "How to handle it" below.

 

its habit: 'Fernspray Gold' is upright, not too tall or wide, and more open than many Hinokis.  It grows fast enough to become a mature partner in mixed plantings but, unlike, say, 'Crippsii', slows down before it gets too large.

Flowering season

Neither the flowers nor the pea-sized cones are showy.  Chamaecyparis is planted for foliage, form, and bark.

Color combinations

'Fernspray Gold' is the natural partner to green, white, yellow, orange, and burgundy.  Red would be energetic but successful if the red partner had yellow details, as would be the case with, say, single red roses with prominent yellow stamens.  In a similar case, even pink could work.   

Partner plants

'Fernspray Gold' is unusually versatile.  In addition to its ability to coordinate with almost any color, its ferny foliage is a satisfying contrast with almost any other foliage, large as well as ferny.  The foliage color and the tree's overall size ensure contrast even with literal ferns, whose foliage, while often a yellow-green, isn't nearly as bright as that of 'Fernspray Gold', and whose height isn't likely to be more than half the tree's.  In a nice "outfern-the-fern" move, plant a few royal ferns, Osmunda regalis, near 'Fernspray Gold'.  Its leaflets are unusually large, (especially by comparison to the foliage of the tree) and its overall habit is big enough that it would, on both counts, look more like a shrub than a fern.

 

But the most tempting possibilities are for plants whose colors and shapes are frankly contrasting, not subtly coordinating.  Large-leaved hardy partners that also enjoy steady moisture, full sun, and rich soil include hostas; herbaceous aralias (A. cordata or A. racemosa); and tall iris (such as I. ensata) or, for those gardening in Zone 7 and up, Phormium.  Exciting large-leaved seasonal options from Zone 9 and warmer include bananas, elephant ears, gingers, and cannas, various of which can be had in purple or variegated forms, too.  

 

I'm still hoping to establish the purple-leaved grape, Vitus vinifera 'Purpurea', whose modest (for a grape) growth and softly-burgundy large leaves would be marvelous climbing through the 'Fernspray Gold' branches.  It, though, needs better drainage than is usual in my gardens; I'll try again this Spring, planting it atop as much of a mound as can be discretely located at the backside of the tree, perhaps a yard across and eight inches high.

 

I'm hard-pressed to think of any clematis whose flowers wouldn't be even more lively in closer company with 'Fernspray Gold'.  Clematis also enjoy the same moisture-at-the-roots, sun-at-the-grown conditions, too.  The challenge is to choose cultivars that are enthusiastic but not enveloping.  Those of Group A—the varieties of such modest growth they don't need pruning at all—would be safest.  These, though, bloom in Spring, whereas my gardens need to be at their fullest show in August and September.  So I'd think of one of the Group C clematis, which get cut back to the bottom buds in Spring.  'Romantika' has exceptionally dark burgundy flowers, with prominent creamy stamens, too.  Ultimate size of Group C clematis is affected by individual conditions; in truly ideal conditions, some of cultivars can grow ten or even twenty feet after their  Spring pruning.  That's too large for even the biggest and oldest 'Fernspray Gold'.  You'd need to experiment to see which cultivars would be restrained enough in your gardens.

Where to use it in your garden

'Fernspray Gold' is a pleasure to look at year-round.  It's just as showy from a distance so, unlike some other shrubby Winter-interest plants (Hamamelis, Helleborus, Corylopsis), you don't need to site it near pavement.  You can enjoy it whether or not you could easily walk over to the plant when the weather's muddy or the snow's high.

Culture

Any decent moisture-retentive soil as long as the drainage is reasonable.  Full sun except in the hottest climates, when afternoon shade would help prevent scorching.

How to handle it: The Basics

Plant and enjoy; it's possible to grow 'Fernspray Gold' for years with almost no tending.  But the foliage, while evergreen, isn't immortal, and dead foliage can accumulate near the trunk.  A minute or two of grooming will really help.  The foliage is soft, and even a pleasure to be in contact with, so take off your garden gloves and give 'Fernspray Gold' some stroking.

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

'Fernspray Gold' is more open than other gold-leaved cultivars, such as 'Crippsii', and dramatically more open than the usual congested semi-dwarfs like C. obtusa 'Gracilis Nana'.  Whle the straight species of Chamaecyparis obtusa shows a lot of trunk and bark, it's too large for most gardens, and its foliage and overall habit aren't distinctive enough.  'Fernspray Gold' is a Goldilocks solution: Not so dwarf and congested that the bark and trunk is totally obscured, nor so tall or loose that the trunk is exposed but the foliage and habit are boring.  So I'm going to clip away the foliage near the trunk of mine, and possibly at the base of some of the side branches, too.  This will have the added benefit of reducing the accumulation of dead foliage, too.

Quirks or special cases

None.

Downsides

Chamaecyparis species are not plants for drought, low humidity, or dry soil, and will let you know that by scorching.  You can help, somewhat, by providing some afternoon shade, but that usually tones down the yellow of the foliage.  With reasonable soil, sun intensity, and moisture, 'Fernspray Gold' doesn't scorch a bit. 

Variants

As is usual for Japanese natives that have been cultivated with reverence, delight, and alert observation for centuries—think of azalea, camellia, ginkgo, aucuba, Japanese maple, cryptomeria, Japanese white and red pines, hosta, aspidistra, rohdea, rhododendron, cherry, and bamboo—there are a host of cultivars of Chamaecyparis obtusa

 

Habits range from bun-shaped micro-dwarfs that are, literally, the size of buns, to "full-size" dwarfs of only a foot or two, to "mediums" of eight to thirty feet.  At any overall size, cultivars can be had with foliage that can vary from sulphur yellow (sometimes highlighted with orange in cool weather) to a discrete mid-green.  In any color, new foliage is brighter than old and beautifully highlights the depth of the growth, which is usually foliaged well into the interior of the plant.  Interior foliage, or foliage that receives less fun for any reason, is darker than surface foliage, to the same depth-enhancing effect.

 

The foliage itself becomes more and more congested and tight, as well as smaller, as the overall size decreases.  Smaller dwarfs, therefore, are notably more rigid, with growth that's similar in gestalt to brain coral.  Ferny and frondy growth is normally only available in the mid-size cultivars and up, including, of course, the full-size species.  'Repens' is a welcome exception; it's low and somewhat spreading, but also has the ferny and frondy growth.

Availability

On-line and at retailers.

Propagation

By cuttings and by grafting.

Native habitat

Chamaecyparis obtusa is native to Japan.  'Fernspray Gold' originated in New Zealand.

 
 
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