the Urban Forest

the Urban Forest

Do you have any notion of the percentage of evergreen versus deciduous trees in your area? I hadn’t given it much thought. I’ve been wanting to add conifers to my garden, not too big–and I want them to have an open canopy. But other than that, what I don’t know is a lot.

How about you. What’s your sense of trees in the Urban Forest?

This came on my radar when I actually left the house Thursday for a free lecture on trees in the Portland area. I saw it on Facebook, scheduled for a couple days hence at McMenamins Kennedy school, a quarter mile from home. It didn’t hurt that Happy Hour was available before the lecture–and I’m fresh out of dinner ideas. It turned out, the gluten free bun was not available on the Happy Hour menu. But that’s okay. Because I’m accustomed to hardship.

Fyi, bloggers love McMenamins. There are several in the area, and their gardens are fabulous. We’ve all photographed and written about them because they are a great source of inspiration. See a few articles here and here and here.

Before I get too carried away and start telling you a long family tale, I’m going show a few of the recommendations. First, Magnolia grandiflora ‘Edith Bogue’. And lucky us, one was planted in our garden when we moved it. Good for the environment and gorgeous. It’s covered in ice as I type, but so far, it’s taken ice storms with aplomb.

Magnolia grandiflora 'Edith Bogue'

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Edith Bogue’ with drunk bee.

The last photo in the gallery above was taken our first year here, I’ve been widening the beds a bit more each year. The white peony was here as well. I think it’s Paeonia lactiflora ‘Krinkled White’. (The roses have been located–to another gardner’s yard.)

White Peony I think is Paeonia 'Krinled White'

White Peony is, I think, Paeonia ‘Krinled White’

Another suggested broadleaf evergreen is Arbutus unedo aka Strawberry Tree. I’m happy to say I have that tree as well though a smaller variety. Mine is Arbutus unedo ‘Elfin King’ which should stay under 12′.

Arbutus unedo 'Elfin King' is a compact version.

Arbutus unedo ‘Elfin King’ is a compact version.

How crazy good are those fruits. I still remember the first one I saw, and I thought, those look like strawberries.

A third recommendation is Quercus hypoleucoides aka the Silverleaf Oak. This one was not on my radar, but now it is. The indumentum is silver. I don’t have a personal photo of one, but I’m on the hunt.

Also recommended, Thuja plicata or Western Red Cedar, a Pacific Northwest Native. Amy Champion just wrote about it on The World’s Best Gardening Blog, along with her current crush, Thuja plicata ‘Whipcord’. (Seriously, who wouldn’t want this plant?)

One interesting note, even with the message that we need more evergreens, most on the were deciduous. So that was curious. Perchance an availability issue. (An inventory of my neighborhood trees can be found here. I love this.)

Recommended street tree list available from Friends of Trees in PDX.

Recommended street tree list available from Friends of Trees in PDX.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some terrific deciduous trees suggested, e.g., Continus aka Smoke Bush. The fall color really glows: I did not fake it with photo adjustments, I swear.

Cotinus 'Grace' (I think) at Gossler Farms

Cotinus ‘Grace’ (I think) at Gossler Farms

Other deciduous Magnolias were on the desirable list. There were a couple trees in the presentation that I know personally. Am I a nerd, or what?

I know this tree too, Pistacia chinensis–included in the speaker’s presentation.

Pistacia chinense aka Chinese Pistachio

Pistacia chinense aka Chinese Pistachio

I keep saying I’m going to learn more about conifers, and hoped I’d hear more at the lecture. So many good trees, and so little time. I saw some good ones a couple years ago at Boring Bark. I like the open structure of that beauty in the center. Pinus? Until I know better, I’m calling it Pinus Cutie Pie. I didn’t realize when I initially saw their display gardens that they’ll dig trees right up and sell them to you. Next time!

Conifer display garden at Boring Bark.

Conifer display garden at Boring Bark.

The upshot, it’s going to be a while before I can write the definitive guide on cool, open-structure, smallish conifers. But while I’m studying, I’d love to hear about your any and every conifer crush.


  • Loree

    I think the first garden in this post should look familiar to you, even though they’ve added a fence I think the silver Oaks are still there in the hell strip, if you want to take a look-see:

    • Patricia L Cunningham

      Is that the place at about NE 44th & Stanton? I liked the trees, and never came up with an i.d. I should probably add that Sean tome to my permanent collection. thx

      • Loree

        Nope, Prescott and Cesar Chavez ish.

  • Alyson CooperWilliams

    At a recent Master Gardener class here in Vancouver WA we learned that our area was woefully short of tree canopy, in spite of being a “Tree City USA.” Boy was I surprised. I’m on .5 acre with some native shrubs/trees so as I take out old, diseased trees (or that hussy Tree-of-Heaven) I’m replanting with several natives in the ‘wild’ area. Thinking about a couple of Stewartias in a front lawn entertaining area although your magnolia photos are making me think again. I do have a Cotinus “Grace” purchased from Portland Nursery. It grows larger than the purple variety. I hack it down low every winter to keep it as a shrub.

    • Patricia L Cunningham

      Right? I thought we had so many trees. Though the ones they counted here are all in the public right of way. That .5 Acres must be nice. And you’re so right about the hussy tree. It’s fooled me a couple times, because it’s nice looking–if it weren’t for the obvious invasive problems. I like the Chinese Pistacio as a much better alternative.

      Have you been to Gossler Farms in Springfield–where I photographed the Continus? Their gardens are fabulous, and also of course, their wares.


  • Tim Vojt

    I’ve definitely been of the mind that I need to keep more winter interest and structure in my garden, which means hardscape and evergreens. I’m settling on dwarf evergreens or at least smaller ones. Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’ has been thrilling me since I bought it several years ago. Growing a little faster than I anticipated, but I de-candle to try to control it. Pinus leucodermis ‘Compact Gem’ is relatively new in my garden and so far I love it.
    There aren’t many broad-leaved evergreens that do well in the cold here. There are a few cultivars of the fabulous Magnolia grandiflora that will grow here, but they are generally pretty stunted; nothing like the magnificent monsters under which I used to walk when I lived in Baltimore, MD.
    That’s a great conifer display. I think I’d like them to dig some of them up for me, and throw in a largre, moss covered stone as well!

    • Patricia L Cunningham

      Well who knew they’d dig up their displays? I only realized when I went back and they were gone. I like P. ‘Thunderhead’. Those pines always get me–and are one of the conifers I can regularly identify. I’m so sorry you can’t have Magnolia grandifloras. They never fail to thrill me with the preposterousness of their beauty.


  • Evan

    I always feel sorry for urban trees. Most of them are stuck into narrow strips or little squares or circles, with pavement, cement, or whatever impermeable surface all around, with barren, compacted soil underneath. It’s amazing how they can persist in such harsh conditions.

    Last year, I became enamored with the many broadleaved evergreens we can grow in the PNW, especially the evergreen oaks, many of which are drought-tolerant and good for wildlife in addition to just being beautiful trees. Since I’m surrounded by Douglas firs, I don’t have that many conifers in my garden, but for smallish conifers with open structure, my favorites are the smaller selections of Cedrus, like C. atlantica ‘Horstmann’ or C. libani ‘Aurea Prostrata and Podocarpus macrophylla (for part shade). Some of the other more upright Podocarpus have a fairly open or lacy effect, too, and there are other southern hemisphere conifers with the same quality that I can’t think of the names of now.

    • Patricia L Cunningham

      Those are great suggestions, Evan. Should have known to ask you. But now, I’ve got your number!

  • Anna K

    I’m just beginning to learn about conifers, too. Wonder if that yellow marvel is a ‘Golden Ghost’? First, I thought it might be ‘Chief Joseph’, but after I looked closer, I don’t think it is. There are so many, the challenge to learn feels almost akin to climbing Denali.

    • Patricia L Cunningham

      I’m happy to know you’re on the quest too. Now I’ll be in good company. We can learn together!

  • Nik Desai

    Beautiful photos and nice article! Thanks for attending the presentation.

    My favorite conifer is currently Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan-sugi’