Something that may have escaped your attention is that this is National Conifer Week - yup, till 7th October. It's been going for seven years and its aim, according to an article in Hort Week last year, is:
For those of us who remember 1970s gardens, this is the horticultural equivalent of the return of flares. You saw them everywhere, and were glad when they'd gone. As I recall, they were particularly present in the gardens of boxy new-builds with no chimneys (hmm, a physical expression of a subconscious loss?).
to showcase the modern-day conifer, highlighting the structures, styles and colours available and the suitability for conifers in all types of garden.
"It's time to challenge the view that conifers are old-fashioned," say the organisers.
Still, I suspect, however groan-worthy some of us find them, we do recognise their usefulness in creating structure in a winter garden, and punctuation in a summer bed. Go and get one and you'll be bang on trend. Conifers are making a comeback.
According to an Ipsos Mori poll commissioned by the Horticultural Trades Association (who'd have thought?), nearly a third of garden owners have a conifer in the garden (though I can't help feeling that a lot of those might be left over from the 70s)
If you're tempted but fed up with the same old garden nursery ranks of Juniperus communis Compressa and Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Ellwoodii', then the Encyclopedia of Conifers gives a wider perspective, covering 615 species and 8000 cultivars. (Try a library - it's £149!)
It also explains why you possibly associate conifers with heather. According to the Encyclopedia's foreword, "During the 1960s and 1970s the popularity of dwarf and slow-growing conifers had reached a peak due in part to their increasing use as companion plants to heathers and other dwarf shrubs. This coincided with an increase in the number of smaller gardens available." (Hence those new-builds.)
It was also because of grower and plantsman Adrian Bloom, who, say Hort Week, had a mantra that conifers were great when planted with heathers. Since then, we've pretty much linked them in the same thought.
Meanwhile, the encyclopedia's co-author Derek Spicer has recommended his 5 best conifers for the small garden. For some reason only 4 are listed here, but the fifth is Picea glauca J W Daisy's White, which is rather fetching, with young growth showing a creamy yellow against the older greener needles.
Before you rush out in an enthusiasm of 70s retro planting, just bear in mind that, although the conifers sold are generally slow-growing, they do, nevertheless, grow. Near where I live is a bungalow which went for the low-maintenance evergreen approach a couple of decades ago at least.