Worth paying a little more for because of their year-round beauty, evergreen trees are either conifers – needled trees such as pines, firs, junipers, larches, yews and spruces – or broad-leaved trees like holly, Eucalyptus, rhododendron and laurels. Magnolia grandiflora is also evergreen.
Conifers: Conifer gardens were popular in the 1970s, but fell out of fashion in the ‘80s and have only started to come back again in the last few years. They can make an interesting, low maintenance garden, in a range of colours from cool blue to acid yellow, in shapes from low and spreading to tall and elegant, and sizes from miniature to the positively sky-scraping. Conifers have a lot to offer, especially in winter!
The juniper family come into their own here, tall types with green feathery foliage such as the formal columnar juniper and the upright juniper providing that lovely Tuscan feel, and spreading evergreen junipers are available for ground cover, excellent for dealing with a tricky slope.
Spruces and firs are most effective as screens and windbreaks, growing quickly and compactly to provide a dramatic backdrop to your garden, whilst the soaring pyramid of a single tree can make a good lawn specimen. They are hardy, long-lived and some are drought-resistant.
Yew can be grown as a shrub or tree. With the darkest green, thick, glossy needles and red (poisonous) fruits, and its dense, up-curving branches, it makes a wonderful talking point in sun or shade.
Broadleaf evergreens: the range of these is smaller, but extremely varied.
Olive trees can live to a great age and are surprisingly hardy. There are trees in this area that have already survived 35 winters! Olives can also be kept in a container but then will need to be given winter protection.
The eucalyptus, however, is a hardy fast-growing evergreen tree that does well, planted in a sunny position with some shelter from cold, drying winds. They have attractive bark, round blue leaves that have a distinctive smell and are excellent for flower arranging – and they look good as single specimen trees. Pruned back regularly, they can also be grown as dramatic blue leaf evergreens shrubs.
But don’t forget our own evergreen, holly, with its white flowers and glorious berries in the dead of winter. There are several varieties available, including silver, golden and variegated species.
For something different, and to provide winter interest, try the strawberry tree, (Arbutus unedo). It has clusters of creamy pitcher-shaped flowers in late autumn and small red strawberry-like fruits
The Cherry and Portuguese Laurels, which are usually planted as bushes or hedges, can grow into fair-sized trees, as can Rhododendrons.
Other plants often thought of as shrubs can be clipped into topiary trees, the most popular of these being box (Buxus), privet, bay laurel or yew, all of which have small leaves or needles, produce dense foliage and have compact and columnar growing habits.
Care of evergreens: Prune most evergreens in late spring before new buds appear, the intention being to allow the branches to develop and to keep the tree more compact. Even if topiary is not your aim, ragged branches and badly shaped trees can be corrected through trimming or clipping.
In hot, dry summer weather they should be well watered every 10 to 14 days. Better still mulch in late winter with bark, mushroom compost or recycled green garden waste [‘Revive’] to trap in winter rains.