Conifer heaven

Conifer gardens were all the rage 40 years ago when Noeline and David Sampson decided to open a nursery on part of their dairy farm on the outskirts of New Plymouth.


Yew Silver Spire makes an attractive hedge. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Cedar Lodge, until recently run by their son Greg, is  the country’s only specialist conifer nursery.

“My parents started with a hobby collection,” Greg says, “but soon realised nurseries had only limited ranges. They saw [renowned Taranaki nursery] Duncan and Davies had conifers on their list so decided to open a nursery.

“What they didn’t know was that Duncan and Davies were getting out of conifers.”



Juniperus chinensis Expansa variegata is a low-growing conifer that can be used as a groundcover. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Since the heyday of conifer gardens in the 1970s, gardeners have turned their backs on mass plantings of members of one of the world’s largest family of trees.

“The popularity of conifers will never get back to those heights,” Greg says, “partly because there are so many other plant choices now. We try to promote conifers as good mix and mingle plants that will give year-round colour and texture.”

He says that for low-maintenance, easy-care plants it’s hard to go past conifers which, loosely speaking, are any tree that has a cone and so includes natives such as kauri, rimu and totara.


Conifers as far as the eye can see – the Cedar Lodge display garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Cedar Lodge features a large display garden, including everything from the dwarf Chamaecyparis obtusa Chileab, the tips of which turn red in winter, to the giant Taxodium distichum (swamp cypress) one of the few truly deciduous conifers. Many conifers are useful for shady sites, among them the creamy-coloured Chamaecyparis obtusa Mariesii and the blue Abies procera Glauca. The world’s biggest-selling conifer is Thuja occidentalis Smaragd, which forms a natural pyramid.

“If you want an Italian look, this is the one,” new co-owner and former nursery manager Pip McVicar says. “Italian cypress can get canker so Smaragd is a better option.”


Pinus strobus Orbita is not yet released to the market. Photo: Sandra Simpson

A new member of the family that has been introduced to the market by Cedar Lodge is Dacrydium cupressinum Charisma, a “yellow rimu” discovered by Taranaki plantsman and magnolia breeder Vance Hooper, while Pinus strobus Orbita, a dwarf  “mop-top” pine, will be on the market when the nursery has enough stock.

This article first appeared in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission. It has been updated slightly.