Lorton
Lorton

When I see someone point to any evergreen conifer and call it a pine tree, I’m always slightly annoyed. The person making the statement is just not paying attention. It’s telltale of a lazy mind. As if there were only one genus in this family, one foliage form!

Pines have straight clusters of needles, some long and willowy, some short and stiff. Most firs and spruces have foliage that is uniform and dense as bristled brushes. Cedar greenery develops in shapes akin to flat fans. And within all these groups there are subtle variations.

Threadleaf Cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifer) is pretty much in a class by itself. The threadlike branchlets droop like coniferous lace or, massed and hanging, produce a visual effect like cascading water. This is a beautiful plant, rarely seen and under used, especially in small urban gardens.

The tree in the photograph is one of a pair, flanking a garage door in Madison Park, a perfect choice for this location. It dresses the opening without taking up too much space. Likely these trees are 40 to 50 years old. They’ve grown relatively slowly, been pruned to the trunk and trained up as they’ve grown. Now the crown sits atop a handsome standard of rugged bark, a somewhat semi-formal sentinel at an entry that could not be more Pacific Northwest in spirit.

The straight, rich green genus and species is not easy to find. Native to Japan, it will eventually reach 20 feet, perhaps a bit more. I’ve grown one from a cutting and it has graced a container at my entry for 10 years now. At some point it will outgrow the pot, and go into the ground, perhaps when my grandchildren inherit the garden. For now, it’s a somewhat sprawling, totally inviting, bouquet of year-round greenery.

More common are the cultivated varieties of this Chamaecyparis. Prized for their greenish gold to yellow foliage, they mound up, 1-4 feet, then the branchlets arch out and spill down. The effect is one of a golden fountain. In a bed or container, this plant is an excellent focal point, for its near-symmetrical shape as well as its bright color, especially welcome in the Winter garden. These gems are relatively easy to find in nurseries. Two to look for are Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mop’ and C.p. ‘Filifera Aurea.’

Give these conifers loose, rich acidic soil in containers or in the ground. They’ll need good drainage, but are happiest in continuously moist soil. Two or three light feedings spaced throughout the growing season will ensure steady, robust growth. If a branch shoots out, cow-lick style, clip it off, take it inside and enjoy it in a vase in water.

You can dress it up with a single-cut blossom or two, changing the cut flowers out as they fade, but leaving the evergreen in place. It will last a very long time. And you may be surprised if, in time, roots emerge on the cut stem. That is how I got my cutting. When the roots are well developed, pot up the Threadleaf Cypress to embellish your garden with a bit of living lace or a dripping pot of gold.