(Species: Juniperus - Family: Cupressaceae)
Juniper and its origins
Junipers encompass about 60 species of hardy evergreen conifers, both trees and shrubs, and are part of the cypress family. They grow wild in most of the northern hemisphere, and are probably the most widely distributed of all trees and shrubs in nature.
They vary from spreading alpines to bushy shrubs and columnar or conical trees. The foliage is dense, with tiny leaves either like needles or scales, and ranging in colour from green to gold, bronze, grey and metallic blue. The usually blue fruits are rounded or oval, the cones pea-sized and scaled.
Its dense growth and easy-going nature makes juniper a useful, as well as handsome addition to every kind of garden, though care must be taken to choose a suitable variety so that it does not outgrow the garden.
Junipers are tolerant of winds and weather extremes and grow quite quickly, so are good for creating a screen or windbreak as well as breaking up a one-dimensional, flat garden with their slim, columnar or pyramid shapes. The spreading, squat junipers in diverse shades also make ideal and attractive groundcover. They are also one of the most suitable conifers for chalky soils.
A few of the best columnar junipers are J communis Hibernica, a slender column of 3m that can eventually reach 5m, that suits formal gardens well; scopulorum Skyrocket, one of the narrowest conifers and with blue-grey foliage, approximately 5m; J c Compressa, a compact, slow-growing column that will not grow much bigger than 1m. Of the low-growing, spreading junipers, J squamata Blue Star forms a compact mound of silvery-blue leaves and has a 90cm spread; J communis Depressa Aurea is a rich gold shade and can spread to 180cm.
How to plant Juniper
Junipers are easy and the perfect plant for a novice gardener. They are content growing in sun or light shade and in reasonable soil. They are also drought-tolerant, although newly-planted junipers will need watering until established.
Midsummer is the time to cut back or trim, to keep the plant bushy and within bounds.
Propagation of Juniper
Take semi-ripe juniper cuttings in early-autumn, with a 'heel' attached.
Did you know?
The berries are used as an aromatic spice in cooking, especially to flavour game. They are also used to flavour gin and the name gin is an abbreviation of the Dutch word for juniper, genever.