Juniper is one of only three conifers native to the UK, and of the three, much the most versatile and varied. We have several varieties which divide into two camps, pointy ones and spready ones. There is plenty of confusion about names, and many have been revised. With the juniper in these photographs, there is also some confusion, because we found an old lead tag still attached to the tree, which said “juniperus Hetz”, a name which has gone through several changes and is now Juniperus virginiana ‘Hetzii’. However we were told by a former under-gardener that the tree was called Grey Owl. There is indeed a juniper called Gey Owl: it used to be Juniperus virginiana ‘Grey Owl’ and is now just J. ‘GreyOwl. The two species are obviously closely related, and this plant could easily be either one of them. We call it ‘Grey Owl’ because it is simpler, and a nicer name.
It is a special plant in this garden, drawing the eye from several directions, and positioned centrally in the main view the garden has over the Firth of Tay. What is quite notable to me though, is what it has done in the past six years. The first photograph was taken in March 2005 and with the general shambles surrounding it, it looks a pretty scraggy thing to show for about forty or more years of growth. The other photographs were taken a few days ago, and the change in six years is remarkable. It is not the result of any outstanding treatment; I lift it a little each year, by just removing any branches that actually sweep the ground, and have mulched it a few times, but that is all.
Opinions about when to prune junipers and by how much vary. What works for me is to prune as little as possible in order to maintain or improve the shape, and to do it now, when the plant is least in active growth, so as to keep the inevitable bleeding to a minimum. I do cut off the ends of some branches which are trying to grow over a path, knowing that they are not going to regrow, but otherwise any branches I take off are whole branches taken off right back at the central stem. It is a nerve-wracking job, as junipers are completely unforgiving – a mistake could ruin the tree’s appearance for years, so I make sure there is someone in addition to my dog supervising me from a distance.
I see that another much simpler task I need to do now, is to remove the annoying sycamore seedlings behind ‘Grey Owl’ which threaten to blur its silhouette against the Tay.