Valuable evergreens in my garden
As the last autumnal colours disappear from our landscape and the wintery silhouettes of tree and shrubs show their beautiful outline against the wintery sky, I start to really enjoy the evergreen touches in the garden. During the summer months they do not stand out in amongst all the other green plants, but now they are the most welcome and important plants in the garden that not only provide some welcome colour, they also offer valuable shelter for numerous garden birds.
The frost sensitivity of evergreens
Many evergreens tend to be more susceptible to hard frosts. As long as the temperatures are above freezing, the chlorophyll-containing leaves will continue to be active. During frosty periods the gentle warmth of winter sunshine warms the leaf surfaces, which encourages the plant to continue with photosynthesis, but cannot access water needed for this. By the end of winter the leaves will seem as if they just dried.
You can help to protect your sensitive plants by providing shade from morning and midday sun with light fleece which will also shield it from drying winds. The milder winters of recent years have made us more courageous to try out less hardy plants. Some of you live in regions where the winter tends to be less severe anyway, but I know from my own experience that you too will be tempted to try even less hardy plants!
Slightly tender evergreens (in Berlin at least!)
In my small Berlin courtyard garden we have several frost-sensitive evergreens, which have a good chance of surviving in this very sheltered spot. The vicinity of buildings protects the garden from cold winds and strong winter sunlight. Our three palms, Trachycarpus fortunei with their large hand-like roundish leaves are great eye-catchers in the middle ground of the garden. Along the fence the Nandina domestica has done astonishingly well with its attractively cut foliage, producing red berries in autumn, and in early spring sprays of creamy-white flowers.
It is ideal for smaller gardens thanks to the upright compact growth. Behind this a strongly scented early flowering Clematis armandii has been struggling these past years as an ignorant neighbour has cut it back several times. At the end of the garden two large evergreen Magnolia grandiflora produce a stunning backdrop with their large dark green glossy leaves. They help to screen of the neighbours.
As most of these plants now had six or seven mild years to get well-established and mature, they will be more likely to resist a cold winter than young, more vulnerable plants would do.
Evergreen bird cover
More screening come from a large group of bamboos. They are a mixture of Phyllostachys, of which my favourite one is Phyllostachys aurea with striking yellow stems. By now the group (safely enclosed by a strong rhizome barrier) have grown to about 4-5 meters high, and provide very valuable screening from the neighbouring building. The common Ivy which covers the neighbours blank firewall with its pleasing green, glossy leaves has reached about 6-7 metres. Both the Ivy and the bamboo are most valuable plants, as they are home to a large gregarious colony of sparrows. Each evening they come home to roost with loud, cheerful chattering, whilst their waking up is better than any alarm clock. Fortunately at this time of year, this happens at about 7:30, a more civilized time than at the height of summer when they wake shortly after 4am. Bats also flit in and out of the ivy, and in early autumn it is alive with bees that appreciate this late-flowering plant. By late winter the ripening berries are gratefully accepted by hungry birds.
Evergreen formal structure
At a lower level, an important evergreen structural element comes from Ilex crenata. We planted them as clipped balls, but the idea is that with time they merge to form a cloud hedge.
In the coming weeks I will write more about useful and interesting evergreen touches for the garden. They provide so many different aspects in which they can make the garden more interesting! In the meantime I wish you a happy first advent!