Faithful evergreens - Add a splash of winter colour to your garden
PUBLISHED: 14:20 07 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:52 20 February 2013
A garden is never complete without a dash of some of the most colourful plants there are as horticulturalist Martin Fish explains
Some gardeners treat evergreens as poor relations using them only when absolutely necessary. I, on the other hand, think that they are an essential part of a garden and vital in adding colour and interest all year round. To me a garden without a selection of evergreens lacks so much, especially during the winter months when deciduous trees and shrubs have dropped their foliage and herbaceous perennials have died down.
Evergreens add permanent structure to a garden allowing you to enjoy it 12 months of the year.
Perhaps one reason why evergreens are out of favour with some gardeners is simply their name, which, to be honest, isnt inspiring. But evergreens not only come in just about every shade of green that you can think of, many also have very attractive coloured and variegated foliage, which, in some cases, change with the seasons.
Many evergreens also have very attractive flowers at various times of the year or bright, colourful berries. They can be planted to create ground cover, act as a screen or hedge or simply add shape to a mixed border. I reckon that to make a garden attractive and interesting all through the year you should have about 30 per cent evergreens. And if anyone tells you that evergreens are boring, just take a good look around when you next visit your local garden centre. Im sure youll be surprised at just how many different types there are.
Here are a few of my personal tried and tested favourites:
Arbutus The strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, starts life as a compact evergreen shrub with dark green foliage, small lily of the valley-like white flowers and round red fruits in autumn, hence its common name. In time the shrub will develop into a small tree with wonderful red-brown bark, so plant it where it has room to mature as it makes a good specimen plant.
Choisya Often called Mexican orange blossom because of its white star-shaped flowers, this is a lovely shrub with aromatic foliage. The green form Choisya ternata makes a compact shrub that grows to around 1.8m and is ideal in full sun or semi shape. The golden form Sundance prefers a sunny position and Aztec Pearl has green, finely cut foliage. Although all classed as hardy, last winter the golden form was damaged by frost in exposed gardens.
Pieris The best known pieris is one called Forest Flame which makes a compact shrub that produces bright red new growth in spring. As well as the colourful foliage, many pieris also produce large clusters of small urn-shaped flowers. It can be grown in sun or shade, but is best in as sheltered position to give the new growth some protection from late spring frosts which damage the lush new growth. Pieris grow best in a slightly acid soil.
Ceanothus There are many types of ceanothus, with the majority grown for their attractive spring flowers produced in many shades of blue. Its common name is Californian lilac, which is where several types originate from. As a result some are not reliably hardy in very cold winters so try to plant them in a sheltered south facing position where there is good drainage. There are many types to choose from raging in height from 1m to 3m.
Euonymus One of the toughest evergreens available that will grow in all soil types, sun as well as shade. The evergreen forms tend to be grown for its bright cream and green or yellow and green variegated foliage. It can be used as a low growing, spreading shrub or, when planted against a wall or fence, will climb to approximately 2m.
Mahonia Very often planted for its architectural foliage and of course its yellow flowers produced from November through until March. Mahonia aquifolium is a low growing suckering shrub, makes an ideal ground cover in a woodland garden and in winter the foliage takes on a red-purple colour. Taller varieties such as m.Charity and Buckland can grow to 1.8m and have dark green striking leaves with terminal racemes of scented, pale yellow flowers.
Photinia A very popular shrub that is often simply called Red Robin because of its red new growth in spring and early summer. This is complimented by the older dark green foliage. It makes a good specimen or can be used to create an evergreen hedge. Eventually Red Robin can grow to 4m tall, but can easily be kept in check by annual pruning.
Leucothoe This is another evergreen shrub that prefers a moist, acid soil. It naturally grows into a low, arching shrub with long leathery leaves. New foliage is red which turns green in the summer. Come the cold weather the leaves turn bright red hence its name Leucothoe Scarletta.
Laurel These shrubs come in many shapes and sizes ranging from the low growing Prunus lauroceracus Zabeliana that only reaches1m to the common laurel, Prunus lauroceracus, that can grow to 8m in height. All laurels are grown for their green glossy foliage and cream/white flower spikes. Taller growing laurels are often used for hedging or large specimen tree-like shrubs. The Portuguese laurel, Prunus lusitanica, also grows into a large plant but can be pruned to keep it smaller. It has dark green foliage and red leaf stalks that are more noticeable in winter.
Elaeagnus Both deciduous and evergreen forms are available but it is the evergreen often planted for its glossy green and variegated foliage. Elaeagnus pungens Maculata, with its bright greens and yellow foliage, makes a dense shrub that grows to around 3m. Other varieties include E. x ebbingei which has leathery metallic sea green coloured leaves that are silver beneath and Gilt Edge with its golden yellow margins to its leaves.
Viburnum This is a large family of shrubs including many deciduous types. The evergreen types make excellent garden plants. Viburnum tinus produces lovely clusters of flowers through the winter and spring. The V. davidii grows to around 1m and makes good ground cover or a specimen plant. It produces large veined dark green leaves and flattened terminal flowers. These are followed by metallic-blue berries in autumn and winter but both male and female plants are needed to produce berries.
Holly This is a versatile garden plant that can be allowed to grow as a specimen shrub and eventually a tree or clipped to form a shape or hedge. There are many different types of holly available with both green and variegated foliage and of course berries, but again both sexes are needed for the berries to develop. Ilex J.C. van Tol however is self-fertile and does not require a partner.
The list of evergreens goes on and there are many more that I havent been able to give space here, such as hebe, pittosporum, fatsia, grisellina, lonicera, escallonia and senecio to name but a few. These are all interesting shrubs but last year some of them suffered in the harsh winter. However, please dont let that deter you because they will survive most winters without problem.
Care of evergreens
Most evergreens are very easy to grow and need very little attention. Pruning is simple and if you are growing just for the foliage, any pruning required to shape the shrub or keep it compact, can be done in spring or early autumn. Those grown for flowers should be pruned immediately after flowering, if needed.