|Sonia Uyterhoeven is Gardener for Public Education.|
The Benenson Ornamental Conifer Collection has over 400 specimens in a 15 acre area. While a few of the conifers such as the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), dawn-redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) and larches (Larix sp.) are deciduous most of them are evergreen making this part of the garden an ideal visiting spot during the winter months.
Conifers bear their seeds in cones. Most of them have needle or scale-like leaves. This feature gives their leaves a low-surface area that helps them conserve water and allow them to thrive in difficult situations.
While our Ross Conifer Collection features species, the Benenson Ornamental Conifer collection offers examples of cultivated varieties. Some ornamental conifers are ubiquitous in the nursery trade and others are rare finds that are generally worth searching out. They often have interesting forms, textures and foliage. They offer the homeowner much needed winter interest, add to the architecture of your garden and are great additions to any landscape.
Let’s start with the entrance of this garden and look at a few of its residents. At the entrance off to the side are two young cedars. One is a cedar of Lebanon named ‘Beacon Hill’ (Cedrus libani ‘Beacon Hill’). This is a dwarf specimen that has bright green foliage and a lovely sprawling habit that gracefully contorts itself like a ballerina.
Adjacent is a Himalayan cedar named Cedrus deodara ‘Shalimar’. This cedar has blue-green needles and light and airy branches that stretch outward in a raised horizontal fashion, drooping slightly at the tip. The shape of the branches looks like angel’s wings taking off in flight.
Two Sargent’s weeping hemlock (Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula’) line the face of the rock wall. This graceful hemlock has no dominant leader like the Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and the branches grow horizontally in an arching manner. It was originally discovered growing as a seedling near Beacon, New York. The Benenson has several fine specimens gracing the entrance of the garden.
One of my favorite additions to the collection can be found right near the rustic stone seating area at the entrance to the garden. It is the variegated Himalayan pine (Pinus wallichiana ‘Zebrina’). The variegated Himalayan pine has incredibly long 7 inch needles that are covered with alternating stripes in green and gold. The needles look more like a porcupine’s quill then a conifer’s needle.
These are just a few highlights that decorate the entrance to the collection. Enter the garden and you will find a vast collection of interesting ornamental conifers – some ideal for homeowners with small spaces – others specimens best left to the expansive grounds of a botanical garden.