Help! Our gardens have descended into a soggy mess and I can’t be the only one wandering around dismal piles of rain-sodden vegetation wondering where it all went wrong. It’s now that evergreens in your garden can come to the rescue. Like the bowls of cheese-‘n-onion crisps that you don’t notice at a buffet till all the chilli prawn vol-au-vents have gone, they suddenly start to matter.
But let’s be a little selective. There seem to be dozens of small conifers, for instance, that just….sit there. All year. Garden gnomes, frankly, have more life about them. No, no, I like my evergreens to have a bit chutzpah, starting with:
1. Sarcococca confusa. Sweet box. Now I’ll admit that this contributes little more than a solid green backdrop to spring and summer plantings, but come late winter, it demands your attention because the scent from its wispy little white flowers will knock you sideways. Try and plant this shrub near your front door if you can, and give your visitors a treat. Or your postman, if you are Billy-no-mates.
2. Arbutus unedo. The strawberry tree. This is a slow-growing small tree with glossy leathery leaves and a ridiculously generous list of desirable attributes – bell-shaped pink/white flowers in autumn, ripening to yellow and red small fruits through the rest of the year, red stems when young, and beautiful peeling cinnamon-coloured bark on the older branches. Very classy – and possibly a little too niche for Caroline’s proletarian tastes……
3. Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Irene Patterson’. Here’s a pretty thing to lighten a sombre winter scene. This is a lowish shrub with the usual small Pittosporum leaves but they open white. Then they slowly turn dark green but remain randomly speckled with white, turning a little pink in the depths of winter. Think boring privet with a delightful dusting of snow.
4. Choisya ternata. The Mexican orange blossom bush lives up to its common name both when you brush up against its glossy green leaves, and when you sniff the starry white spring blossom – a sharp orangey-tang hits you. Cut it back after flowering and you’ll get more flowers in autumn and winter. And grow the variety ‘Sundance’ for a splash of golden sunshine on the darkest winter day.
Yup I’m with Elaine on the conifer question, evergreens need to earn their keep in my garden and have something more about them than just needles (and sorry, but cones don’t count). I have been experimenting with some more unusual ones:
5. Grevillea ‘Canberra Gem’. A lot hardier than we have been led to believe this Australian evergreen is scattered with spunky little red tassly flowers from very early in the spring and sporadically throughout the rest of the year.
6. Callistemon salignus. The willow bottlebrush, also from Australia. Everything you would want from a medium sized evergreen foil to set off grasses during the winter (see our feature picture this week) but with the added bonus of subtle but striking lemon bottle brush flowers in early summer.
7. Acca sellowiana. The pineapple guava, originally from South America but grown extensively in New Zealand. Its evergreen credentials are not quite as striking as others, with tough leaves of dull metallic green but it makes up for this with flowers that are unique and intriguing, with possibly even a third attribute in hot summers of edible fragrant fruits known as feijoas.
8. Cistus creticus. Many cistus have rather dull leathery leaves so have to be tolerated rather than enjoyed out of their flowering season, but this one has softly fuzzy foliage with an endearing crinkle that makes it a warm and friendly backdrop for winter tubs.
So just what have the two old dears got against conifers? They are the very epitome of Scotland’s stoical resilience but if, like Elaine, you lack romance and simply see a towering dome of gloomy pine needles blocking out your winter sunlight ….. just chop ’em off!
The flat-topped edge of a frustrated pine tree provides quite a nice contrast to the random shapes in a lazy gardener’s winter garden (mine), and gets a big thumbs up from blue tits who find it the perfect landing pad.
This of course confirms everything E & L feared about the finer points of my Scottish garden (i.e. there aren’t any), but actually it’s been left to me to suggest the very best evergreens for your garden.
9. Pyracantha – Never mind hanging around for a whiff of Sweet Box in December, this is what you want growing around your door leading up to Christmas. Positively makes you want to break out in ‘Good King Wenceslas’ in late autumn – about the same time as Poundland actually does. Wonderfully well-behaved and compact for even the most bijoux garden, pyracantha has pretty white flowers in spring and the cheeriest berries in late autumn. There are gazillions of varieties but a Growbag won’t see past the orange-berried ones – our favourite colour!
10. Garrya elliptica – or silk tassel bush, a smasher that brings a West Coast vibe from its native California. It doesn’t grow enormously high – perfect for any size of garden and just look what it does in winter!
It’s hardy to H4 (possibly a bit marginal for me in the Highlands but I’m going to try) and can stand a bit of the wind (you’ll begin to recognise these are the perquisites for a great plant in my book) and its male catkins can get to a full 12 inches….golly!
NB If you want a late autumn star – don’t follow our plant advice, just look and sigh at Louise’s Great Plant this Month.
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