Evergreens: beyond the ‘golden oldies’

by Drucilla James

Credit: Tim Waters

It’s a truism that small gardens need evergreens, especially when every inch is on permanent show – the tricky bit is knowing which ones to choose. They come in all shapes and sizes, for every sort of purpose, from conifers to climbers and from ground cover to grasses – many of them aren’t even green! Our experts have picked their four-season favourites.

Myrceugenia leptospermoides: Honey for tea

evergreen myceugenia px“Do you have a sheltered border within an enclosed area of garden? If so Myrceugenia leptospermoides may be just the plant for you.

Flowering in early autumn, a heavy scent is given off by the mass of small tightly-packed flowers. The heady scent is reminiscent of a good honey. Pollinating insects are drawn to this plant in their droves. Prolific amounts of white bloom cover the terminal growth of the current year’s wood. This mass of flower parts bursts out of small pink buds. On the growth below, fruits are held -a proliferation of red to black colours, a memory of previous successful flowering seasons. Left to drop naturally into the soil below, combined with a minimal disturbance policy, a bonus may be self-sown seedlings germinating in the soil beneath the canopy. Growing into an evergreen multi-stemmed shrub, it is a native of Chile where it is found growing in coastal areas in the centre of the country.

 Tony Garn, Garden Supervisor, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (www.rbge.org.uk)

Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum ‘Fire Dance’

Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum ‘Fire Dance’ is a wonderful evergreen shrub for a humus- rich, moist but well-drained soil in partial shade.  Rather than the usual green leaves of an evergreen, Loropetalum is ever purple and these leaves contrast beautifully with the hot pink spidery blooms, akin to a Hammamellis in form, that are at full force in the spring from February to April (although sporadic blooms do also occur throughout the summer).  The blooms are scented which is a bonus early in the year and could be combined with Daphne and Sarcococca for added fragrance.

Loropetalum originates from the high woodlands of China and Japan and although hardy may require some added protection in very harsh winters. Given that it provides such good colour in the year and has such delicate blooms you might think that on-going maintenance would be troublesome but Loropetalum really only requires a gentle prune after flowering to encourage bushy growth.

Apart from other fragrant evergreens as companion planting, Loropetalum associates well with dissected red leaf Acer varieties, plum-coloured Heuchera, Polygonatum x hybridum, Bergenia ‘Overture’, ferns and Dicentra ‘King of Hearts’.

evergreen loropetalum Ann Rafalko px

Credit: Ann Rafalko

Kate Gould, garden designer (www.kategouldgardens.com)

Olive Tree

Twenty years ago when I trained as a garden designer, we still learned a list of substitute plants for a lot of the Mediterranean trees.  Pyrus Communis or ornamental pear for Olives was the standard.  Don’t get me wrong, Pyrus Communis is a beautiful and very elegant plant but without Olives I really don’t think you get that same sense of heat. We now know these trees are hardy; if we give them the conditions they need, then they can easily cope with the cold winters in the UK.

For this reason and this reason alone, I am suggesting the Olive Tree as a great garden evergreen.

If you want to be transported to the Mediterranean, then plant an Olive.  In many ways it doesn’t matter what you plant with it, you will always feel that you are in Italy, or Spain.  I find that if they are repeated in a garden then olive groves come to mind.  In our Spanish garden, they are under-planted with all manner of English garden varieties of flowering plants, but the effect is still ‘Spanish’.  There are few plants that can transport you to another place as effectively as this.

David  Lewis: Head Gardener, The Roof Gardens, Kensington (www.roofgardens.vigin.com)

Ilex crenata   

A total garden transformation can take place by using just one large statement topiary tree- box or “Ilex crenata” will transform a small garden instantly, even a pad-pruned olive could have a quick fix evergreen effect.

Trachelospermum jasminoides

In London where space is often tight, maximising the verticals is crucial – by using Trachelospermum jasminodies you can create the effect of a green flowering hedge, with masses of white flowers and in autumn fantastic leaf colour.

evergreens clifton px

Ilex crenata Credit: Wallygrom

Matthew Wilson, garden designer, writer broadcaster and Managing Director of Clifton Nurseries (www.clifton.co.uk)

Eucryphia x intermedia ‘Rostrevor’ 

In a warm, sheltered garden in a city, in most years, you could probably get away with a lovely evergreen summer flowering shrub or eventually very small tree called: Eucryphia x intermedia ‘Rostrevor’. The flowers are popular with bees and other flying insects. It is hardy in our garden here in Derbyshire but enjoys shelter from cold winds.

Credit: wicutler

Mahoberberis ‘Dart’s Treasure’

A tough, easy and unusual evergreen I like is Mahoberberis ‘Dart’s Treasure’. It will grow in sun or shade and is a cross between a Mahonia and a Berberis.

Aucuba japonica ‘February Star’

For a splash of colour in a shady area, we have Aucuba japonica ‘February Star’ which has large dark green glossy leaves with chaotic swirls and spots of butter yellow variegation. This plant usually flourishes in gardens in urban areas.

Sycopsis sinensis

If you are interested in something really unusual and eye-catching, I also like Sycopsis sinensis (Chinese Fighazel) which is winter-flowering and semi-evergreen with flowers a little similar to witch hazel or Parrotia.

evergreen sycopsis px

Credits: peganum and Utteridge

Robert Vernon (The Younger) Bluebell Arboretum and Nursery (www.bluebellnursery.co.uk)

Luma apiculata

Luma apiculata is a colourful shrub to introduce in any garden with its stunning peeling deep red and white/grey bark, perky dark glossy green leaves and attractive white flowers in late summer. It is aromatic too with dark edible small fruits.

Credit: Dick Cutler

Fargesia rufa

For a more oriental look you could try Fargesia rufa, a small compact bamboo with reddy-orange/green stems which clumps nicely. It is one of the bamboos cultivated in China to feed the Giant Panda.

Fuchsia microphylla

Fuchsia microphylla has small leaves and produces a profusion of tiny pink fuchsia flowers in mid-winter 

Kate Wilkinson, Glasshouse Manager and Gardener at The Chelsea Physic Garden (chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk)


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