Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

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

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Vermont Gold dwarf Norway spruce

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Ah, youth.  'Vermont Gold' is a tuffet-forming Norway spruce, at least when it gets a little older.  Mine is still in its loosey-goosey phase.  In a few years, it will settle down to dense-but-still-dwarf rigidity.  And if I'd give it a bit more sun, brighter yellow coloring, too.

 

The tiny needles really want to be yellow—but the bush also needs a bit of afternoon shade if it isn't to scorch.  Clearly, I'm overdoing the shade!

 

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Fuller sun is just inches away:  The bush is getting ready to grow outward onto an adjacent west-facing terrace.

 

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In fifty years, maybe it will have grown the five feet needed to reach that whisk broom.  

 

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For (I hope) thirty of those years, maybe more, I'll be here to watch its progress, and to cheer it on.

 

 

 

Here's how to grow this bone-hardy and adaptable shrub:

 

Latin Name

Picea abies 'Vermont Gold'

Common Name

'Vermont Gold' dwarf Norway spruce

Family

Pinaceae, the Pine family.

What kind of plant is it?

Evergreen coniferous tree.

Hardiness

Zones 3 - 7.

Habit

Dense and biscuit-shaped: full to the ground, fairly flat on top, with nearly vertical sides. 

Rate of Growth

Medium: four to six inches a year.

Size in ten years

A foot or so high, four feet across.  This cultivar used to be known as P. abies 'Repens Aurea', which implies a prostrate but ultimately wider-spreading maturity than if the cultivar were dwarf in both height and spread. 

Texture

Dense and rigid when mature; looser in youth.

Grown for

its foliage: The needles can be bright yellow with full sun, and tone down to yellow-green with afternoon shade.  My young plant is getting too much shade.

 

its habit: low, dense, and only slowly spreading, 'Vermont Gold' is a bush to grow when you don't want to have to prune one, ever.

 

its hardiness: Norway spruce has no problem with the Winters in Quebec.

Flowering season

Late Spring: Late May into June here in Rhode Island.

Color combinations

Given even moderate sun, 'Vermont Gold' is yellow-green; with nearly full sun, it's a frank yellow.  So this is a shrub to mix with white, blue, violet, burgundy, green, and still more yellow.  Red and orange would be mighty lively—too much so for me.  And pink would be just plain queasy.

Partner plants

The challenge with dwarf plants that are not primarily shade-lovers is to keep their neighbors from overwhelming them.  Keeping the neighbors themselves dwarf only avoids the problem.  Unless you live in a doll-house, sooner or later, plants in your garden need to be of normal size; unavoidably, some will be even larger.

 

Siting dwarf plants at the south and west edges of beds is great, when possible.  Afternoon sun is the hottest, longest, and most conducive for growth.  But any garden only has so many south or west edges to its beds.  'Vermont Gold' is, then, unusually helpful.  Although the straight species of Picea abies is only interested in full sun, 'Vermont Gold' prefers some afternoon shade.  So you can plant it at the east side of beds, too, or have notably taller plants to the west of it.  

 

Its stiff, needly, and colorful growth is a good anchor for plants whose larger foliage or greater height catches the breeze.  Mid-size ornamental grasses could provide some lacy shade as well as motion.  'Sentry' palm sedge, 'Carex muskingumensis 'Wachtposten', would be a lively and, at two to three feet, a not-too-tall partner; like the Picea, it thrives in any soil that doesn't dry out. 

 

At the upper end of height and foliage size, as long as you didn't plant purple-leaved rhubarb so close that one of its platter-sized leaves would smother the Picea, the contrast between the two would be intense, indeed.  Look for Rheum palmatum 'Red Select', whose foliar and flower coloring is actually burgundy; the burgundy foliage of 'Ace of Hearts' would be dynamite, too, but its flowers are definitely pink.

 

A foolproof partner on all counts would be any daylily whose flowers would associate attractively with butter-yellow.  Its green foliage is an excellent counterpart in both form and color to the rigid needles of 'Vermont Gold', and the easy and large flowers bring more contrast in size along with great harmony in color.  Delightful! 

Where to use it in your garden

Unless you're adding it to a rock garden or planting it atop a wall, 'Vermont Gold' is happy only at the very front of beds.  If possible, plant it almost abutting a wide walkway; as the young plant matures, it will slowly grow out onto the walkway.  "Debouche" is the verb to use when speaking admiringly of plants that are spilling out onto pavement.  'Vermont Gold' debouches with style as well as consideration: It doesn't get so wide that the walkway would ever be blocked.   

Culture

In any moisture-retentive soil, full sun as long as the bush isn't drought-stressed.  In warm Zone 6 into Zone 7, some dappled afternoon shade might be needed to prevent scorching.

How to handle it: The Basics

Picea abies 'Vermont Gold' just needs decent soil that doesn't dry out, and plenty of sun as long as it doesn't become baking in July and August.

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

All Norway spruces, from the tiniest dwarf-dwarf buns to the full-size species (see "Variants" below) are equally hardy: Zone 3; some sources list Zone 2.  As long as the 'Vermont Gold' doesn't lack for water and doesn't get fried by hot sun, no location east of the Rockies is too exposed, too far North, or at too high an altitude.  Gardening in the far north of New Hampshire?  Creating a terrace garden on the 80th floor of a skyscraper in Chicago?  Norway spruces should be on both garden's lists.  Here's a shrub hardy enough to grow in containers year-round, be they on the ground or the terraces of that 80-story Chicago skyscraper.  Just be sure to water the container faithfully, Winter and Summer. 

Quirks or special cases

None.

Downsides

'Vermont Gold' can scorch if the soil's too dry or the sun's too intense.  But since it only gets a foot or two tall, ever, providing something big enough to cast shade after, say, 1 PM could just be a matter of planting a medium-sized miscanthus five feet to the southwest. 

Variants

So, so many.  Looking through catalogues, I get the sense that everything that could be done with a Norway spruce has been.  Size can be "dwarf-dwarf" (under a foot tall and wide after ten years), merely dwarf, or merely smaller than huge.  Habit can be as rigidly congested as brain coral, or as a loose-growing and totally prostrate groundcover, endless degrees of moundedness and tuffetitude, or a moderately-dense conical Christmas tree shape, an irregular upright shrub with strongly-weeping branches, or tall but narrow like an arborvitae. 

 

Needles can be minute, medium, or full-size, and in green, blue, or yellow—and sometimes with ephemeral Spring colors of white, yellow, or red, too.  Cones can be colorful or not, small or full-size.  Although spruces don't have flowers with petals, like those of daisies and roses, they do bloom as part of separately-sexed structures called inflorescences.  The female ones are at the top of the tree and point skyward to receive the (air-born) pollen drifting about.  And even they can sometimes be showy.  

 

Now that I think of it, the only feature of a spruce that, so far, is not part of the swirling constellation of possibilities is the bark.  This is partly because when the tree is dwarfed—which is almost inevitably the case in a species that can top a hundred feet—the foliage becomes more congested and dense than ever, obscuring still more densely the bark of the trunk and even the smaller twigs.  If the bark did mutate, who could see it, anyway?  And the bark just might not be that variable; the one constant in a tree that is, otherwise, always open to new possibilities.

Availability

On-line and at retailers.

Propagation

By cuttings. 

Native habitat

Picea abies, the Norway spruce, is, indeed, a Norway native.  'Vermont Gold' originated in Vermont.

 

 
 
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