Gardening: A few thoughts about evergreens…

CAROL GALLIGAN PHOTO | Cryptomeria branches — note the ‘frondiness’ if there is such a word, but you know what I mean. The branches have a much softer feel than pines or ‘Christmas trees’ do.

I’m not really knowledgeable about trees, being mainly a flower person, but I do know a few things and have some thoughts about evergreens that might be worth sharing. But first we should probably define our terms. I’m defining evergreens (there are also evergreen shrubs, rhododendrons and some azaleas, for example) as trees that have leaves year round, as opposed to deciduous trees that are shedding their leaves right now, as we can all easily observe.

Most evergreen trees are conifers because few evergreen broad-leafed plants can tolerate severe cold temperatures. These include hemlock, blue spruce, red cedar, holly and many pines.

To touch on aesthetics for a moment, one of the wonderful things about evergreens, which we’re just about to witness — and hence this column — is the lovely contrast in color they provide with the shades of autumn. How much more golden the golds and redder the reds and rustier the rusts are when viewed against the deep dark green of tall cedars and pines.

Evergreens provide the same contrast in spring when that special light pale, bright green appears. When paint cans or ads for summer wear are labeled “spring green,” we all know exactly what shade is being referred to. Then of course, there are the snows of winter, when they provide us not only with lovely contrast but with the assurance that green still exists, at least somewhere in the world.

Evergreens can be used in a variety of ways — as specimens, hedges or privacy screens to name a few. Most landscaping design books require an evergreen to be planted at the corner of the house “to soften the lines.”

When choosing evergreens for privacy, to obscure a neighbor’s house or their view of yours, rate of growth as well as light will be your first requirements, and these two factors are intimately connected. The fastest growing evergreens always require “full sun,” but it’s well to bear in mind that this doesn’t mean they can’t be grown in half-sun or light shade. What it does mean is that their expected rate of growth will be affected by the amount of sunlight they receive.

Three evergreens are among the most highly recommended. The first of these is Cryptomeria japonica, a conifer in the cypress family, which is indeed, as its name suggests, endemic to Japan. Cryptomeria grow three to four feet a year if planted in full sun and no less than half that in moderate shade.

The ones we planted here 10 years ago are more than 30 feet now. We have three others, planted much more recently, and I was delighted this summer when I came across a note in my garden book dated “Summer 2005” when they were planted. It said “If I stand as close as possible and hold my left arm as high as I can, they’re about nine inches higher than I can reach.” I went to check and was amazed. They’re in mostly light shade but they had grown at least to 12 or 15 feet. Cryptomeria are supposedly deer proof and I’ve never heard of their being even browsed, but trying to err on the safe side, I fenced the younger ones in the winter (only) until just recently.

More about the two other choices next week.

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