When I sit down to design a garden in this time of the year, I am naturally focussed on the evergreen backbone. Standing out while everything else is bare, the green does more than provide us with something interesting to look at: the leaf cover is fantastic for smaller animals to hide and for insects to hibernate; it shelters the garden from wind in a time where this is most needed, and the dark greens absorb the little heat of the winter sun, radiating this out after sunset, creating a beneficial microclimate.
On a side note, this is not so good for global warming. When we plant evergreen woodlands on large scale it can heat the earth up even more but in the small-scale garden, it can make a difference for us, for wildlife, and for the other plants. Have a good look at your garden at this time of the year and see if you need to add some evergreen power to your space.
Evergreens can be planted somewhere to provide shelter from wind, or maybe it can cover up your neighbour’s ugly shed. At the same time, you do not want to block out views, or shade seating areas or windows so be sure to check the eventual height that an evergreen is expected to reach.
Yew, confer, and holly are common in our gardens. Many of these evergreen favourites however, grow large unless kept in check. While English yew can easily outgrow its space, Irish yew and Irish golden yew stop growing around 1m (3-4ft) in height.
Large evergreen trees can also be topiarised to shapes ranging from funny to symmetrical, and sometimes bordering on rude. Whatever your style, the shapes can give your eyes a rest from otherwise informal planting.
As with all planting, repetition throughout the garden ties everything together. Repeating evergreen shapes, be it natural or clipped, can be effective all year round. With everything back to basics in winter, you can see clearly where a bit of structure would make most difference.
Shelter for Birds
A recent client showed me around their garden. A mixed deciduous hedge provided excellent shelter from the road. It is filled with birds, flitting in and out of the hedge in little flocks. In winter however, there are many gaps, leaving my clients suddenly more exposed than they would like. Living amid far stretching agricultural fields, their hedge is the only shelter for birds far and wide. Their suggestion to take out the exiting hedge and replant an evergreen one was, in this case, not my preferred one. A new layout for their garden should incorporate the existing hedge rather than replace it. My advice: smaller evergreen shrubs planted against one side of the hedge will mean that their formally trimmed hedge gradually blends into informal shapes of the unclipped shrubs. Rejigging of the layout ensures that the garden will look bigger, while fitting in more plants, and adding some evergreen cover for wildlife.
More Evergreen Choices
Skimmia japonica, berberis, mahonia, and phormium are a few other evergreen options you can think about. Garrya elliptica, the silk tassel bush, and Elaeagnus × submacrophylla feature in quite a few of my designs as well. A little research throws up a lot of options.
Or ask your local nursery growing Scottish or UK plants, or local designer, for some ideas of evergreens which will suit your style and space.