By Sean Conway
It seems no one escaped the cold in recent weeks, and even typically sunny Florida had to face night time temperatures in the 30s or lower. Strong winds made it feel even worse.
For some reason, when I look out my window into the garden and see the bare, leafless branches of deciduous trees, it only makes me feel colder. Fortunately, when I planned my garden I planted a lot of what are commonly called "evergreens" to provide some color in an otherwise dull winter landscape.
When most people hear the word "evergreen." they think of plants with needles, such as pine trees or the common spruce trees frequently found stacked up on Christmas tree lots. The truth is, "evergreens" can refer to any tree or shrub that doesn't loose its leaves in the fall.
Broadleaved evergreens, such as rhododendrons and some azaleas, fall into this category, as do shrub hollies and many varieties of the beautiful dark green, leathery magnolias found in southern gardens.
Both northern and southern gardeners have lots of options when it comes to evergreens for their gardens. As a general rule of thumb, I recommend that at least one third of the plants in your landscape be some sort of evergreen.
In northern climates, needled evergreens, known as conifers, are best suited to the harsh temperatures of winter, and in southern climates broadleaved evergreens do best in the extreme heat and humidity of summer. In either location, including evergreens in your landscape provides a balancing contrast to deciduous trees and shrubs.
My own garden is planted with a mixture of broadleaved evergreens and conifers. The combination allows for varied winter interest by providing an array of textures, shapes, and colors to offset the predominantly leafless landscape in my area.
The variety of evergreen plants in my garden not add winter interest outdoors, but they're also useful for cutting.
Winter is the best time to prune many evergreens, and the cut branches have many uses. I use a variety of cut evergreens to "bulk up" holiday wreaths. The different textures of both conifers and broadleaved shrubs add visual interest to the wreaths, and the cut branches hold their color well into winter.
Cut branches are also perfect for seasonal containers. I add a variety of cut stems to sand-filled containers at my back door.
Many cut evergreens are perfect for use as filler with bunches of store bought flowers, and some are interesting enough to be placed alone in a vase.
Many broadleaved evergreens either bloom in spring or bear some sort of fruit in fall, an added bonus to their use for winter interest. Rhododendrons and azaleas are perhaps the best known of the flowering broadleaved evergreens, but plants that bare fruit, such as hollies and euonymus, will give your garden interest during the fall, as well as provide food for hungry birds.
Take stock in your garden now and make note of which areas might benefit by adding a few evergreens during planting season. By this time next winter, you might not feel so cold looking out your window into the back yard!
Sean Conway's book is "Sean Conway's Cultivating Life: 125 Projects for Backyard Living" (Artisan Books, 2009), describes 125 projects for backyard living.
Available at Amazon.com:
Copyright ©, Cultivating Life by Sean Conway