Narrow side gardens are the reality for many suburban homes but die hard gardeners don’t need to sacrifice height and beauty just because their footprint is small. Look for trees, shrubs and perennials that have a columnar shape without growing too wide. Even in larger gardens there is a need for ‘punctuation’ points and these skinny but interesting conifers might be just the answer (and the perfect excuse to visit the nursery).
‘Wissel’s Saguaro’ false cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Wissel’s Saguaro’) is a conifer with attitude! Blue-green ‘arms’ beg for a hug and it certainly deserves a little extra love for the way it adds structure, height, color and living sculpture to the narrowest of spaces. Enjoy a young plant in a container for a few years before transplanting it to a well-drained spot in the garden. In full sun it will grow~ 8′ in 10 years with an ultimate height of 18-20′ but just 2′ wide. Hardy in zones 6-8
‘Blue Arrow’ juniper (Juniperus virginiana ‘Blue Arrow’). The dusky blue shade of this juniper makes it a colorful, evergreen addition to any garden – perfect for narrow screens or as garden accents. Use it where you’d love an Italian cypress but don’t have the climate. It grows to 12-15’ tall and 2’wide (although truthfully I’ve seen specimens a little wider than 3’). Deer resistant and drought tolerant once established, this is hardy in zones 4-9.
‘Empire’ false cypress, (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Empire’). A dwarf, columnar conifer with a subtle yellow variegation; a beauty in containers or rock gardens. Typical height is just 4’ tall and 18” wide. Prefers full sun and is hardy in zones 4-9
‘Snow White’ Port Orford cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Snow White’) has a natural teardrop shape with soft blue-green foliage which still retains a whisper of the creamy white spring growth in fall! This species is particularly susceptible to root rot and the fungus Phytophthora if not in well-drained soil so look for those grafted onto disease resistant root stock e.g. Monrovia’s Guardian series. ‘Snow White’ grows to 6’ tall and 18” wide in 10 years, loves full sun and is hardy in zones 6-9
‘DeGroot’s Spire’ arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘DeGroot’s Spire) is an improvement on the typical arborvitae of the ‘landscaper’s special’ variety. The rich dark green foliage takes on a purple cast in winter and has nicely twisted foliage which will tolerate light shearing making it a good hedging plant. It copes with wet soils, will grow in part shade or full sun and grows slowly to 20’ tall and 4’ wide. Cold hardy to zone 3 and happy to zone 8.
Columnar Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris ‘Fastigiata’) is a narrow form of the beautifully soft and fluffy Scotch pine. The twisted blue green needles make a beautiful backdrop for shades of silver or purple leaved plants. This is hardy in zones 3-7 (possibly zone 2) where it will grow 25-30’ tall but just 6-8’ wide (the species is 25-30’ wide). Part or full sun.
Columnar Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Fastigiata’) is one of the few conifers which thrives in part or even full shade. Its dark blue-green needles are longer that yew (Taxus sp.). I use it in shady containers where it slowly grows to about 4’ tall and 18” wide. In the landscape it is more likely to be 6’ tall and up to 4’ wide.. Hardy in zones 6-9
One of my most-thumbed books on conifers is Gardening with Conifers by Adrian Bloom (Firefly). It is an excellent reference book with high quality photographs throughout. Lots of information on specific cultivars, tips on pruning, combination ideas for the landscape and more. Highly recommended. Save a few $$ and take advantage of my affiliate link: