Homeowners and gardeners are taking a fresh look at conifers thanks to the current craze of fairy and miniature gardening as well as the decline of the once popular Blue Spruce and other evergreen trees in Michigan’s lower peninsula.

The early spring issue of Country Gardens magazine (on newsstands until March 10) includes the fascinating feature “Downsizing the Forest,” the story of a how a magical garden of more than 300 conifers in a 1/4-acre lot in Ohio came to be and highlights the versatility and what seems like an almost unlimited variety of specimens.

While some choose to use low-maintenance conifers as a background and filler for a flower crowded extravaganza, others may wish to use them to create a serene backyard haven. Yes, you can create an Up North Oasis in in your backyard. And lack of room is no excuse; container gardens filled with miniature conifers are perfect accents in small spaces.

There is a difference between filling a landscape with conifers and designing an artful garden. Too often poor choices of plant material result in overgrown evergreens obliterating facades and eating up walkways.

“Designing With Conifers: The Best Choices for Year-Round Interest Is Your Garden” by Richard L. Bitner (Timber Press) is about using confers as garden plants and how to select them for growth habit, textural interest, color and size. It’s a great winter read to get you started on a new and exciting adventure in gardening.

For a quick look at the possibilities check out Bitner’s website If Richard Bitner’s photo of a fabulous conifer garden on his homepage doesn’t blow you away, I suggest considering moving to a high rise. Scroll over the photo and take in the impact of the conifers in the winter garden. Breathtaking.

Other titles by Bitner include “The Timber Press Pocket Guide to Conifers” and “Conifers for Gardens: An Illustrated Encyclopedia” (Timber Press). Bitnar will speak at the annual Master Gardener’s of St. Clair County Spring Symposium in Port Huron on March 21.

The St. Clair Master Gardeners’ symposium “Tree: I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree,” also features presentations by Panayoti Kelaidas on alpines and rock gardens; Sean Hogan on new introductions of hardy broadleaf evergreens trees and shrubs; and Susan Betz on phenology, the study of nature’s timing. For more information and to obtain a brochure about the March symposium, contact Lisa Sharrow at (810) 329-3722 or email her at

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at

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