10 AGM small conifers

There’s a huge range of conifers ideally suited to the space that most of us have – even if it’s only a patio

Many gardeners appreciate that conifers have valuable qualities missing from so many other plants - attractive shapes, colourful foliage, or foliage which changes with the seasons. Here expert plantsman Graham Rice selects 10 of the best, all of which hold the Award of Garden Merit (AGM).

H1 - H7 indicated the new hardiness ratings

Full details of hardiness ratings (510kB pdf)

Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’

This is a classic and popular conifer, and another that’s been popular for over a hundred years. The foliage is a slightly coppery gold in colour with brighter amber highlights and it lights up the winter garden warmly as it develops richer cold weather tones, especially when seen against a dark background - a yew hedge, perhaps. 2m (6½ft). H6.

Taxus baccata ‘Standishii’

Popular for well over a century, ‘Standishii’ is appealing for its slow growth, its bold columnar habit, its dense upright shoots and closely packed foliage, and its all-year golden leaves - plus its red fruits. It’s an ideal golden statement in a small space. Best in just a little summer shade to avoid scorch, but an impressive bright colour. 1m (just over 3ft). H6.

Pinus mugo ‘Ophir’

Ideal as a feature in a scree or raised bed, the upright branches develop into a flat-topped rounded plant which is green in summer. In winter all the needles that are in the sun turn yellow – so the top of the plant is brightly coloured and the shaded plants remain green. Makes an excellent support for varieties of Clematis alpina. 45cm (17½in). H7.

Picea mariana ‘Nana’

Slow growing and happily moulding itself around rocks and steps, this ideal rock garden, raised bed and scree conifer makes a rounded mound of short sharp blue green needles. Developing into a dense specimen that is broader than high, this is another that looks better against pale gravel, stone or brick rather than against dark mulch. 30cm (just under 12in). H7.

Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’

Many junipers make fine garden conifers, and many feature stiff greyish or bluish needles. This one develops a low and spreading habit and eventually matures at about five times as wide as high. The short, prickly needles are greyish green and look especially attractive against a background of gravel. Sometimes listed as Juniperus recurva ‘Densa’. 30cm (just under 12in). H7.

× Cuprocyparis leylandii ‘Gold Rider’

We should all be wary of planting Leyland cypress, but this is one you can trust not to get out of hand; it’s a noticeably slow growing form which will never cause problems. ‘Gold Rider’ features attractive bright golden foliage, a better colour than that of the widely grown ‘Castlewellan’, and will happily thrive in full sun without the foliage burning. 2m (6½ft). H6.

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Vilmoriniana’

Grown for well over a hundred years and a dependable rock garden favourite, this tough and slow growing gem features foliage crowded into a dense globe. The shoot tips turn down to give the whole plant added character and softness and while pale green in summer, in winter the whole plant turns purplish brown. 50cm (19½in). H6.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Minima Aurea’

Slow growing, reaching just over 1m (just over 3ft) in 30 years, and ideal as a rock garden or raised bed specimen, the vertically held sprays of soft, golden foliage are colourful all year. Developing into a broadly conical shape, though attractive and striking when still small, this is dependable and consistently popular. 60cm (23½in) in 10 years. H6.

Calocedrus decurrens ‘Berrima Gold’

A colourful plant with flat fans of bright yellow-green foliage in summer which, with the arrival of autumn and winter, develops an attractive rich orange colouring. Happy in full sun as, unlike some yellow-leaved plants, the yellow summer foliage never scorches. Developing a narrow, upright habit, the look is enhanced by the tree’s orange bark. 2m (6½ft). H6.

Abies koreana 'Silberlocke'

This slow growing form of an attractive and stately fir has rich, dark green needles which curve upwards to reveal the bright silvery white undersides which are hardly visible in most varieties. Bold green cones up to 7½cm (3in) tall mature to a striking violet colour, even on young plants, before fading to russet brown. Makes a splendid specimen. 2m (6½ft). H7.

Gardening with the RHS

Listen to our award-winning gardening podcasts

Listen now

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.