Conifers, those plants that don't flower but produce seed cones, are among the most visually striking plants with color and texture in winter. A huge variety of conifers exist from all around the world--from tall spire-like trees to short, dwarfed shrubs. Contrast plants for extra design flair, placing different shaped, colored or sized plants near each other to accentuate their beauty. Learn what U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone you are located in and selected plants appropriate for your climate.
Strict Botanical Collection
A very straight-forward way to organize and design a conifer garden is to simply plant all kinds of conifers to display as much diversity as possible. Many botanical gardens in the 19th to late 20th centuries relied on this method to display their conifer plants. You can group the plants in any logic-based way, such as all plants native to Asia in one area or all pines separated from other species like spruces, yews or firs.
While the focus of the garden is to showcase the conifer trees and shrubs, consider using other plant types to complement the color, shape or seasonal beauty of the conifers. A garden filled only with conifers can evoke a cemetery feel. Consider using accent plants among your prized conifer specimens to bring seasonal interest so there is a reason to visit the conifer collection other than in winter. For example, use spring flowering bulbs in drifts at the base of conifers or red twig dogwood shrubs to provide a different leaf texture as well as a vertical accent of red-colored bare branches or spotted bark of crape myrtle in winter alongside the conifer's evergreen boughs. Don't forget to use deciduous conifers like bald cypress or larch to bring autumn color among other tall conifer trees. Likewise, there is no reason an occasional flowering or shade tree cannot be grown nearby to provide seasonal spring flower or autumn foliage delight. Strategically use non-conifer perennials, ornamental grasses, bulbs, shrubs and trees to make the important conifer plants look more significant and intriguing across the seasons.
Much like using a mixed variety of plant materials alongside your conifers, overlaying a cultural theme can make the designing process and leisurely use of the garden more delightful. Rather than simply labeling it the "conifer garden," dovetail a compatible theme with it so you can use ornaments or other features. For example, any Asian cultures from Japan, Korea or China could be used to bring more components into a conifer garden. Scandinavia, Canadian Rockies or an American state or past vacation theme (our trip to Aspen, Colorado) could bring in various statues, souvenirs, wood materials or stone into the conifer garden's design and presentation.
Overlapping Plant Collections
Combine two or more plant collections into the same garden if their growing requirements are similar. Instead of a garden filled only with conifers, combine your collection of Japanese maples, mountain laurels, bearded iris or daffodils into the same common landscape area. Group plants to your aesthetic, but intermingle them so when visitors come they have a reason to look at all parts of your garden and not so easily avoid a collection if it doesn't interest them or is on the other side of the property.