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COLUMN : Canny evergreens
4:30pm Tuesday 17th April 2012 in Leisure
Canny gardeners can make use of evergreen flowering shrubs, topiary and textured plants during the summer months, which will still look good in the winter, according to landscape designer Lucy Summers, author of Evergreen Plants.
“As a young gardener, I avoided evergreen plants like the plague, so distracted was I by the endless species and varieties of showy perennials,” she says.
“But all gardeners’ tastes mature and change. With experience, I learned a garden without evergreen scaffolding is destined for ordinariness.”
But how will evergreens fare in the drought?
“Once they’re established – more than three years old – most will do reasonably well,” she says. “How often do people water their hedges? Hardly ever. They are drought tolerant.
“And all the plants from the Mediterranean are very happy.”
Berberis, box, choisya, helianthemum (rock rose), hebe, potentilla, viburnum, rosemary, lavender and honeysuckle are among shrubs which can do well with little water, while ornamental grasses such as Stipa gigantea and Stipa tenuissima also need little maintenance.
“People think evergreens are dull and green, but so many have a flower. Grasses like Stipa gigantea give you a clump of green through the winter and a shimmering curtain of flowers in the summer. Cut it back once a year and the rest of the year it looks after itself.”
Phormiums (New Zealand flax) are drought tolerant, wind tolerant and will happily grow in coastal conditions.
Aloe striatula, the hardy aloe, is an architectural winner which bears tall, candle-like yellow/orange flowers in midsummer if placed in a sunny, sheltered spot.
Other drought-tolerant architectural stars include Astelia ‘Silver Spear’, its strap-like leaves reaching about 1.2m in height, while purple sage also looks exotic, with its purple leaves and accompanying flowers.
All these plants make fantastic statements and are suitable for most gardens.
However, most evergreens should be mulched before the ground dries out too much.
Many low-growing, spreading evergreens thrive in poor, well-drained soil and sunny sites and once established become very drought tolerant. But it’s important to give newly planted evergreens some TLC.
Before planting, thoroughly soak them in their pots in a bucket of water until bubbles stop rising to the surface.
Tease out any roots circling around the edge of the rootball, which will help the roots to grow out into the soil.
Dig a hole and place the plant in before filling the hole with water until at least a watering-can-full has soaked in. Some will need additional organic matter, but not all evergreens need an extremely rich soil.
They will need watering well once a week (twice a week in dry, hot spells), but should become low-maintenance once established.
Summers says: “Most shrubs are perfect for the lazy gardener – able to thrive without your interference.”
Evergreen Plants by Lucy Summers is published in hardback by Headline, priced £12.99.