During the past few years, I’ve noticed that baby-boomers are not only trying to simplify their living situations but are also simplifying their gardens. For some, the simplification is a necessity due to demands on their time taking care of elderly parents. For others, this change of focus is from a desire to spend time doing other things: travel, spending time with grandchildren, golf, bridge or other enjoyable hobbies. An evergreen garden is one big step toward simplifying a garden while reducing the time and attention it takes to keep it in tip-top shape.
Evergreen Plants to Consider
The beauty and importance of evergreen shrubs in the home garden should not be underestimated. These are the bones of the garden. Choose carefully and thoughtfully, and they will become the foundation and framework for a beautiful and relaxing landscape. We are so fortunate in the Midlands to have such a large variety of hardy and beautiful shrubs to choose from. Here are some I consider to be the best shrubs for our home gardens.
CLEYERA japonica – Cleyera are considered medium to large shrubs with medium texture and an upright growth. At maturity, Cleyera can reach 8 to10 feet with a 5 to 6 foot spread. They respond well to pruning and can be maintained easily at 3 to 5 feet tall. They have dark green, shiny leaves and are usually pest free. Cleyera prefer part-shade to shade and are a wonderful choice for foundation plantings or to create a screen.
ILEX latifolia – If you’ve read any of my previous columns, you will recognize this one. This is my first choice for a large evergreen shrub for the corner of a foundation planting. Its common name is ‘Lusterleaf Holly,’ and that is a perfect description for it. This traditional shrub has dark green foliage and grows at a moderate rate. It thrives in sun to part-shade. At maturity, this holly can reach up to 12 feet tall but the height can easily be maintained at 6 to 8 feet. As an added bonus, the shrub is adorned with beautiful clusters of shiny red berries in the fall and winter that our local feathered friends rely on for energy during the cooler and cold months.
OSMANTHUS fortunei – Fragrant Tea Olive – I believe that all Southern gardens should have a pair of Fragrant Tea Olives. These old fashioned beauties reach a height of 9 to 12 feet and a width of 5 to 7 feet. Tea olives are happiest growing in a sunny location with well-drained and rich soil. They can be pruned to keep them shorter or left to grow to their natural height and shape. The blooms are small, but are very fragrant clusters of white flowers. Their main bloom is in the fall when their fragrance permeates many of our old neighborhoods. They are considered a medium textured shrub and are usually resistant to any insect infestation or disease. They make a beautiful hedge or screen.
Medium Evergreen Shrubs:
ILEX cornuta – ‘Needlepoint’ holly – This holly is a lovely, dark green shrub with smaller, traditionally shaped holly leaves. It prefers to grow in a sunny, well-drained location. Its mature height is 6 to 8 feet tall by 5 to 6 feet wide. It is a faster growing variety than the Lusterleaf holly mentioned above. It is a very dense shrub and works perfectly as a corner foundation plant for a traditional evergreen garden.
FATSIA japonica – Japanese Fatsia – Fatsia add an unusual tropical feel to the evergreen garden with their large, palmated, dark green leaves. Fatsia work most effectively if used as an accent plant in a part shade to shady location. At maturity, these tropical style shrubs can reach 4 to 6 feet tall by 4 to 6 feet wide. They have stalks of spherical white blooms in the fall that turn into dark blue berries that our local birds love to eat. They are insect and disease resistant and unbothered by the hungry deer in some of our neighborhoods.
GARDENIA jasminoides – All Southern evergreen gardens need at least one Gardenia. These lovely shrubs can grow to a height of 4 to 6 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide. In late spring or early summer, they are covered with very fragrant, white, waxy flowers. These shrubs are considered to be of a medium texture with beautiful, dark green foliage. They work well when planted as a specimen or a hedge. However, they can be prone to disease and insect problems. If they are planted in a sunny to partly shady place with good draining and plenty of air circulation, they should be healthy and rewarding as a member of the evergreen garden. It is certainly worth a try.
Small Evergreen Shrubs:
ILEX cornuta ‘Carissa’ – Carissa holly – This has got to be one of the easiest and best small shrubs for an evergreen garden. They are tough! Carissa holly is a small, mounding holly that grows to 3 to 4 feet tall by 3 to 4 feet wide. It is a dense, dwarf form of holly with medium-dark, green leaves. It does not fruit and seems resistant to insects and disease. It prefers a sunny spot in the garden and needs consistent irrigation when it is first planted. Once established, it is as carefree as can be in an evergreen garden.
PITTOSPORUM tobira ‘Wheeler’s dwarf’ – Dwarf pittosporum – All of my gardening friends and clients know that, in my opinion, no garden is complete without Dwarf pittosporum. They do, occasionally, produce small clusters of white flowers but are mainly grown as a foliage shrub. They have a mounding growth habit and grow to 3 to 4 feet tall by 3 to 4 feet wide. They are happiest in a sunny spot in the garden. They have medium green, shiny, elongated leaves that form a beautiful dense mound. There is a variegated form, ‘Laura,’ but it does not seem to do as well. Dwarf pittosporum can be damaged by temperatures lower than 10 degrees Fahrenheit. If covered with landscape cloth or even a sheet, they usually survive these temperatures. They are the perfect evergreen plant!
CEPHALOTAXUS Harringtonia ‘Drupacea’ – Cephalotaxus is sometimes referred to as Prostrate Yew. Cephalotaxus shrubs are trailing bushes with darn green needle-like leaves. They prefer shade to part-shade and can become washed out looking in full sun. They work well as a ground cover or mixed in with the foundation planting. They need rich soil with good drainage and consistent irrigation. They add nice texture and color to the garden.
If an evergreen garden appeals to you, please visit one of our local garden centers. Take this list along. The discussed plants all work beautifully together to create an interesting evergreen garden. Most evergreen gardens are enhanced if the plant variety is limited. For example, choose one plant from the large shrubbery list and buy four to five of them rather than one of each. These listed plants are more effective if planted in large groups rather than one or two of each. A perfect garden, in my opinion, consists of: Lusterleaf holly at the corners, Cleyera between the Lusterleaf holly with a combination of Carissa holly and Dwarf pittosporum in front. Throw in a tea olive or two and a pair of gardenia and, voila, you have a perfect evergreen garden!
Enjoy the Evergreen Garden
Once the evergreen garden is established, you will find that it is a serene and relaxing place to spend some time. It is nice to go into the garden and be able to enjoy it rather than to prune, deadhead, weed, divide, etc. Simplify your garden and simplify your life.
Gardening Chores for June
• Prune flowering shrubs as they finish blooming.
• Cut out dead limbs from azaleas and other flowering shrubs.
• Monitor the irrigation system to make sure it is working efficiently and correctly.
• To encourage heavier bloom of crape myrtles, fertilize with an extra application of a slow release fertilizer. Make sure to water it in.
• Dahlia tubers are fun to try in a sunny spot in the garden. They may need staking as they grow.
• Be on the lookout for aphids on trees and shrubs. If there is a large infestation, it may be best to call a professional to spray.
• Keep an eye out for lace bugs on azaleas. It was quite a problem this past year. Call a professional to apply the appropriate treatment.
• Make sure mulch is thick enough to keep shrubbery and flowers moist and cool.
• Continue adding any annuals that appeal to you at the nursery. Make sure they are planted in the right place – sun to shade.
• Now is the perfect time to take cuttings of your favorites to create more favorites.
• Feed the hummingbirds.
• Take a trip to the Botanical Garden at The Riverbanks Zoo to see what’s in bloom.
• While you are in the garden in the evening, consider some outdoor lighting.
• Enjoy this lovely time in your evergreen garden.
Things in bloom now:
Althea, Butterfly bush, Crape Myrtle, Gardenia, Mock orange, Hydrangea, Roses, Salvias, Cannas, Daylilies, Hosta, Impatiens, Lantana, Phlox, Verbena, Begonia and Yarrow.