Gardenwise: Got the Wintertime Blues? Think Evergreen

White pine (center) has a commanding presence at Bridge Gardens.
White pine (center) has a commanding presence at Bridge Gardens.

The garden has gone dormant and the landscape is entering that time of the year best described by a bunch of “B” words…

Boring.

Barren.

Bleak.

Let’s face it, aside from your neighbors’ gaudy inflatable holiday decorations, there’s not much to look at outside — that is, unless you have some evergreens. In that case, your mixed border is transformed from bland (yet another “B” word!) to grand.

With so many types of evergreens —trees, shrubs and groundcovers — and specimens to choose from, it’s easy to bring serene green to your garden all year round.

Japanese holly ‘Sky Pencil’ has a distinctive upright habit and an important structural element in the garden.
Japanese holly ‘Sky Pencil’ has a distinctive upright habit and an important structural element in the garden.

Evergreens serve many functions in the landscape, not the least of which is providing structure.

“It’s often said that that you can judge the quality of a garden by how it looks in the winter because that’s when you see the structure without all the greenery, lushness, color and flowers,” said Rick Bogusch, garden manager at Bridge Gardens, a five-acre public and demonstration garden conserved by the Peconic Land Trust in Bridgehampton.

To be sure, evergreens are essential to the four-season garden, which is why I always incorporate a variety of them into my clients’ garden designs. In the winter evergreens take center stage and dress up a house’s foundation, but in the warm months they provide a unifying, neutral backdrop for more colorful plants.

And if you’re an avid birdwatcher, you’ll be happy to know that evergreens keep our fine-feathered friends happy.

“They provide shelter and food,” said Mr. Bogusch. “One example of a great evergreen is the native Eastern red cedar, Juniperus virginiana, which has berries that persist during the winter and sustain many bird species.”

Looking for some ideas on designing with evergreens? One of the best places to visit on the East End is LongHouse Reserve, a 16-acre outdoor museum and public garden in East Hampton. Founded by weaver/textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen, LongHouse Reserve features sculptures and outdoor art installations, a 13,000-square-foot house inspired by Japanese Shinto architecture, and an abundance of stunning evergreens.

Alex Feleppa, LongHouse Reserve’s horticulturist, knows firsthand how effective evergreens are at imparting visual interest.

Photo 2
Tanyosho pine (foreground) and Chinese fir are two of the many intriguing evergreen specimens at LongHouse Reserve.
Photo 2
Tanyosho pine (foreground) and Chinese fir are two of the many intriguing evergreen specimens at LongHouse Reserve.

“We have oaks, American beech and understory dogwoods, which are all gorgeous in the summertime, but in winter they’re just different shades of gray,” he said. “So it’s fun to incorporate evergreens into the landscape to give depth during the winter months.”

Among the property’s outstanding specimens are Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), which flank the formal entrance to the property; Tanyosho pine (Pinus densiflora), which has striking orange-red bark; and ‘Green Giant’ western arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘Green Giant’), which has the added benefit of being deer resistant.

Tall, dense evergreens like ‘Green Giant’ confer another benefit: Planted en masse, they serve as privacy screens, sound barriers and windbreaks, and can help your home conserve energy during the hottest and coldest days of the year.

Evergreens convey different aesthetics depending on the size of their leaves. They are divided into two categories, needleleaf and broadleaf. As the name implies, a needleleaf evergreen (a pine tree is an example) has a fine texture and is referred to as conifer, meaning it bears cones. In contrast, a broadleaf evergreen, such as spotted laurel (Aucuba japonica), has a coarser texture than its needled counterpart.

“There are a few things that contribute to a beautiful landscape —form and habit, and leaf size and shape and the texture that provides,” said Mr. Feleppa. “You can have two specimens that are evergreen that have completely different interest in terms of their overall habit and leaf texture.”

Photo 3
At Bridge Gardens, Eastern red cedar ‘Grey Owl’ is a food source for birds in the winter.
Photo 3
At Bridge Gardens, Eastern red cedar ‘Grey Owl’ is a food source for birds in the winter.

There’s also the matter of color: Most of us think of evergreen as being just that. Although it’s true that there are many greens in nature — and evergreens are no exception — as Mr. Bogusch tells it, some evergreens aren’t even green.

“There are a lot of different shades of green, from very, very dark green to the soft blue-green of the white pine, and to olive greens and dark blue-green of the holly,” he said. “There are gold variations, too, such as false cypress with golden foliage, and variegated evergreens, such as Aucuba, which are often gold-speckled.”

In light of evergreens’ many positive attributes and their indisputable value and versatility, it’s only fitting that I offer a new list of “B” words to describe what your winter landscape could look like with these trees and shrubs…

Brilliant.

Bewitching.

Beautiful.

Susan Tito
Susan Tito

Susan Tito is a freelance writer and proprietor of Summerland Garden Design & Consulting (summerlandgardendesign.com). She earned a certificate in ornamental garden design from the New York Botanical Garden and is a member of the American Horticultural Society and Garden Writers Association. She can be reached at stito630@gmail.com.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

One thought on “Gardenwise: Got the Wintertime Blues? Think Evergreen

  • December 18, 2017 at 11:23 am
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    It would be so much better for the future if everyone promoting plantings would support the planting of only native species. Invasives are wreaking havoc on the local environment, displacing natives that provide nesting habitat and food for native wildlife. When will people accept the impacts of plants like barberry, burning bush, Japanese honeysuckle, Norway maple and so many others, that have been brought in, promoted and spread by landscapers and gardeners?

    Reply

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