Falling leaves reveal value of evergreens
THE leaves hung on the trees quite late this autumn because it was relatively warm but a few frosty nights and strong gales have brought things back to normal. Now that the leaves have fallen from deciduous trees and shrubs, the garden can look very bare. This is when evergreen species come into their own.
Garden evergreen trees and shrubs are either conifers or broad-leaved evergreens. Conifers are mostly very hardy and can withstand severe cold, while many broad-leaved evergreens suffered frost damage in the last two winters. The value of evergreen plants such as griselinia, escallonia, pittosporum, olearia and hebe has been undermined, and all were widely used, good garden plants.
Laurel, mahonia, holly, laurustinus, pernettya, sweet box, Portuguese laurel, rhododendron and holm oak have proven more resilient. But there is still a place for the more tender species in the milder areas. Some evergreens are grown for their beautiful flowers, such as camellia, rhododendrons and pieris, and winter greenery is a bonus.
Conifers of various kinds can also contribute greenery and other colours in winter, such as yellow, blue-green and grey-green. Cypress, thuya, pine, juniper and yew can make fine single specimens.
Much of the disfavouring of conifers stems from the fact that many supposedly dwarf kinds grew too large for small gardens, but there are good small-growing kinds that can be used where space is tight and the larger ones can be magnificent where there is space for them to grow.
Choose conifers carefully and restrict their use to a small number of plants, allowing them to grow full size, or clipping them to shape and size. Conifers tend to be solid in appearance, more so than the broad-leaved evergreens, and it is easy to have too many.
About one evergreen to four deciduous plants is a good balance. Too many evergreens together can be sombre.
While the conifers mostly like to grow in full sunshine, most of the broad-leaved evergreens can tolerate some shade for part of the day. This makes them easier to accommodate along with deciduous shrubs, and it is possible to insert some greenery where there has been none.
Non-woody perennial flowers can contribute some greenery too, such as bergenia, epimedium, hellebores, some irises, lamb's ear, phormium, dianella and evergreen grasses and sedges. These can be used to take the bare look off the soil surface and to contrast with deciduous trees and shrubs.