Remember those that were there for you when things were grey? In the garden, that’s evergreens.
In the last few weeks, many of the plants in our garden have awoken from winter slumber and grown a new cloak of green. Leaves now block our view where, for about six months of the year, we could see through the skeleton of deciduous tree and shrub branches.
Surrounded by a leafy wonder-world, as we are today, it is easy to forget the benefits of evergreens. They, too, sleep through winter but they don’t lose their foliage, thereby providing year-round interest.
Evergreens make a great screen or permanent hedge; large evergreens like spruce, pine and fir provide privacy and nesting areas for song birds. Evergreens smell good and at Christmas you can cut them to bring indoors for the colour and the scent, reminding you of happy times in the garden.
Here are some outstanding evergreens that we think should be on your radar:
1. Boxwood. The new hybrids produce a deeper green, more dense foliage and are generally more winter hardy than the widely used Korean Boxwood. Look for Green Gem and Green Mound for a natural, mounding shape that requires very little pruning and produce a deep green colour. The redeeming features of boxwood are many.
a. They are short. Most only mature to about 80 cm or so. Perfect as specimens in a perennial border or for use as hedges.
b. They grow slowly. This is a benefit when you are looking for an evergreen feature in your garden that will last for (almost) ever. Some boxwood will grow for over 70 years.
c. They are broad-leafed. Boxwood does not have needles, as many other evergreens do. Their broad leaves look deciduous but provide the benefits of evergreens.
d. Shade tolerant. Boxwood will “stretch” in full shade, so avoid the dense shade of a large tree. They are happy if they receive just a few hours of sunshine each day.
2. Yews (Taxus). You plant them, water them for a year or two and walk away. The wide selection of varieties is worthy of most anyone’s attention. Hicks yew is the most popular for hedging, growing up to about two metres, while Hill’s Yew is equally useful and grows to a meter or so.
Pyramid or Japanese Yews are great specimens that will grow to about three metres.
All yews lend themselves marvellously to pruning. Mark’s dad, Len, used many yews at his once-famous Cullen Gardens and Miniature Village to craft his topiary figures. Nothing conforms to shape by pruning quite like yews do. And nothing beats a yew clipped into the shape of a duck.
Taxus originally got their name from the Greek word taxon, a bow; the wood was used for making bows for many years, long ago.
Yews enjoy full sun to partial shade.
3. Oregon Grape (Mahonia). Technically, this is a deciduous plant that holds its peculiar holly-like foliage over the winter. Come spring it pushes the old leaves off as it creates new ones. But because it looks evergreen we categorize it here. Matures to about 1 ½ metres and equally wide. A native of the Canadian west coast. Shade tolerant.
4. Japanese Spurge (Pachysandra). An excellent permanent ground cover that takes a beating. We had a dog that stomped through it for years. No damage. Even people can walk on it from time to time and pachysandra will continue to look good. Matures to about 20 cm high. Plant on 15 cm centres to create a grid that will naturally fill for a carpet of evergreen.
5. Euonymus. Few garden plants are as versatile as euonymus. Look for the dark leaved Sarcoxie wintercreeper for a self-clinging vine that will grow up to two stories high or can be trimmed into a small shrub.
“Emerald ‘n Gold” euonymus features bright gold variegation on the narrow leaves.
“Surespot” provides colour as well, but the variegation is reversed, gold in the centre of the leaves with dark green margins.
If you encounter euonymus scale, treat with Dormant Oil this time of year.
Still looking for an evergreen solution? Here are our recommendations.
Consider evergreens in June, and they’ll be there for you in January.
Now is a good time to plant.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and holds the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, on Facebook and bi-weekly on Global TV’s National Morning Show.