Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens

Archive for December 2009

Ever Green

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Jack Frost has been sure to let us know it is officially winter in our great state of Iowa.  So much snow!  It is this time of year that I am most thankful for conifers in the garden to give us a bit of texture and color interest.  For most of the growing season, they often act as the backdrop to our deciduous shrubs and perennials.  Now it is their time to shine!

What exactly is a “conifer?”  Dictionary.com explains conifers to be mostly needle-leaved or scale-leaved, cone-bearing gymnospermous trees or shrubs.  (Gymnosperm is the collection naked seed-bearing plants; also includes ginkgos.  This is opposite to flowering plants known collectively as angiosperms.)  For the sake of simplicity, we won’t go into any more depth than dictionary.com’s description.  But I will say the taxonomy and history of this collection of plants is incredibly interesting and encourage you to research more.

Typical examples of Iowa conifers include cedar, fir, cypress, juniper, larch, pine, spruce and yew.  In the next few blog posts, we are going to delve more into each of these examples.

Here’s an interesting fact about conifers.  Did you know that the world’s tallest, largest, stoutest and oldest living trees are all conifers? 

Tallest Living Tree = Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), with a height of 115.5 meters found in the USA

Largest (in terms of volume) Living Tree = Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) with a volume 1486.9 cubic meters  found in the USA

Stoutest Living Tree = Cypress (Taxodium mucronatum) at 11.62 meters found in Mexico.

Oldest Living Tree = Norway Spruce (Picea abies) at 9,550 years old found in Sweden

Pretty impressive, I’d say!  Next week we’ll talk more about the wonderful world of conifers.  Until then,  a very happy holidays to you and yours! 

See you in the gardens.


Written by cedarvalleyarboretum

December 22, 2009 at 6:29 pm

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Ornamental Horticulture

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With only a few days left until Christmas, most tree trimming has been done.  But keeping in our December decorating theme, I thought I’d pass along a few tree ornament ideas …. or at the very least, get the creative juices flowing for next year!

The best thing about decorating “naturally” is that there is often little cost involved.  Who doesn’t like that?  Wouldn’t it be fun (Well, “fun” for us gardeners at least!) to decorate a whole tree with dried flowers and fruit, nuts and pine cones?  Two wonderful flowers to use dried are Amaranthus (left photo) and Allium (right photo).

Amaranthus is grown as an annual in Iowa, often from seed sown right into the garden.  The variety grown at The Arboretum is a taller variety that often reseeds from year to year.  Their flashy blooms stand boldly in the garden throughout the season, true to their name as Amaranthus means “one that does not wither” in Greek.  Common names for the flower are Love-lies-bleeding and Tassel flower.    To get an idea of the wide variety with this plant family, search online for images of Amaranthus.  Definitely a fun old-fashioned flower for your garden and will dry lovely.

Allium is probably one of my favorite flowers.  Found in the onion family, this perennial bulb comes in many heights, flower sizes and shades of (mostly) purple.  After the color fades, you are left with this beautiful seed head that will stand in the garden throughout the summer.  They would be beautiful nestled into your tree.  But to add a bit of extra flash, try spray painting the seed head! 

These dried flowers aren’t just for your Christmas tree, either.  You could also make a lovely table centerpiece, winter wreath or present topper … the possibilities are endless.

Happy holidays to you and yours.  See you in the gardens.

Written by cedarvalleyarboretum

December 18, 2009 at 9:49 pm

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Decking the Halls

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I’m all for saving money.  That’s why I decided to make my own holiday wreaths this year.  And not only did I make my wreaths at no cost, but it was a lot of fun!  Being crafty and hunting/gathering from my garden are two of my favorite activities.  And with a bit of trial and error, I’m confidant you could also jazz up your front door (or a friend’s!).


There are three main ingredients to a successful wreath: a sturdy frame, generous amount of green floral wire (or any thin wire) and, of course, your wintergreens. 

Let’s start with the frame.  The photo on the left shows two different shapes: the circle is the top of a plant stand with legs removed (what you would use to keep your floppy peonies upright) and the square is sticks I fastened together with wire.  If you had really flexible sticks, I think you could also fasten together and bend to make a circle (or any shape, really!). 


After you have the frame ready, it’s time to gather your wintergreens.  I like to pick a variety of textures and colors, as shown in the photo on the left.  Any combination of long and short-needled pine branches, spruce, arborvitae or cedar can add great depth to your wreath.  Even branches of boxwood could be really cool.  There is no set way – whatever combination you like best and whatever is available. 

And since we are collecting such a small amount of wintergreens, it’s ok to clip a few branches from your trees.  Just make sure to not leave any bare spots and, of course, ask first before cutting branches from neighbor’s trees!

If you don’t have wintergreens at your fingertips, consider buying a few feet of garland from the store.  You’ll likely spend less than ten dollars and you can just clip the branches from the garland.  (Or if you are really strapped for time, you could wrap your garland around your frame and fasten with wire!)

It’s important to not be stingy with the wintergreens when making your wreath – fuller is always better!  I like to grab a handful (photo on right) that can comfortably fit in my palm.  And in each bunch, I grab one to two branches of each variety I’m using.


Fasten the bunch on your frame by wrapping wire around several times.  You can continue around the frame one bunch at a time until the whole frame is covered.  For a full wreath, it is important to space bunches fairly close so the wire does not show.  All the wood ends should also be facing the same direction.


And in just a short time, you have a beautiful wreath worthy of any front door!  For a few extra touches, you could add pine cones, branches of crabapple (red berries), ribbon, dried fruit, branches of juniper (blue berries) … you get the idea.  The options are endless!

Happy holidays to you and yours.  See you in the gardens.

Written by cedarvalleyarboretum

December 3, 2009 at 6:29 pm

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