Evergreen Trees – The Truth

With the descent Weather holding up one tends to forget that it November is upon us but leaves are falling en mass .

One of the reasons Trees loose there leaves in this part of the World is to allow much needed light into our lives , to maximise light ,when the sun up hours are in short supply. This creates a conflict for me, as one of the constants in creating a garden, is the consistent desire of clients to have evergreen trees placed within a garden design. I do appreciate that quite often it is for privacy reasons with property’s becoming more compact in size.

Personally I would take the much needed light option in the winter. The likes of Betula or a Hawthorn are my kind of Trees but I do have to remind myself that it is not all about me.

Deciduous trees add rich beautiful Autumnal shades to our environment while Evergreen Trees have a far more difficult job, as they have to keep everything in order, 365 days a year. Even at that they will dispense with a certain amount of leaves occasionally during the year, which can at times lead to concern, for the garden owner. There are a number of evergreen Trees that can seem very tempting especially in relation to the speed they can grow, so it is important to study the small print , for example Eucalyptus which literally can bring the Jack And the Beanstalk Pantomime to ones garden.

Eucalyptus is a huge family of around 800 species of fast-growing, evergreen trees with the most common being Eucalyptus Gunnii. It has circular, silvery-blue leaves that make it popular with florists and of course is a constituent of Vick the saviour of many colds when I was a child and of course much loved by koalas so it is not all Bad when it comes to Eucalyptus

Where the problems start is when they are planted in small spaces in Ireland, as they will become extremely tall trees, by means of there incredible growth rate which can be measured in metres per year.

Being non native there requirements to recover from frequent forest fires, in the likes of Australia, means they need to recover at faster rate than native trees. A Tree Surgeon associate of mine drew my attention to the fact that, he had never seen a bird sitting in a Eucalyptus in Ireland. Apparently the severe movement of there light branches make birds feel unsteady. To this day I have never seen a bird in this part of the world sitting or standing in one and believe me I have looked a lot.

Then there is the horror story of the Leylandii, these robust conifers have been, at the centre of thousands of disputes between neighbours here and in the U.K. They can lead to lack of light, restricted views and even damage neighbouring gardens, as they can also grow a metre plus a year.

Amazingly its life started in Britain as it is a hybrid between two species which got close and friendly in a country estate in Welshpool in the late 19th Century. Apparently the two parent trees both from North America, one from Oregon, one from California that wouldn’t normally meet in the wild but met in a plant nursery and consequently were bred in an English plant nursery, and so “Leyland Cypress” -was born the “Godzilla” of the garden.

There are though some very fine “Evergreens” available.
Evergreen trees renew their foliage year-round, as opposed to deciduous trees which drop their leaves in the autumn and regrow them in the spring. The most common types of evergreens are coniferous trees of which Leylandi are a member, they commonly grow needles rather than leaves and spread their seeds through cones.

A firm favourite of mine in the “Evergreen Corner” is Cotoneaster “Cornubia” a marvellous red berried tree carrying a beautiful crop throughout the winter. To be precise it is a semi-evergreen holding onto some of its rich green long pointed leaves throughout the winter though by March if it has been a difficult Winter the leaves can be a bit sparse.

It will grow quickly to a maximum of about 5 metres with a wide head, has small white flowers and it is particularly useful as a screening tree in small gardens.

Ligustrum Japonicum Variegated Tree is also a fine evergreen tree. Its leaves are thick and shiny with bright green and cream variegation. It has a lovely light presence and will brighten the garden. The evergreen leaves give year round interest and the white small flowers in late summer sometimes producing shiny black berries.

Ligustrum is also known as “Japanese Privet” and is incredibly adaptable and can be used as an evergreen specimen tree, for hedging or for topiary. It can be purchased as a formal clear stemmed Tree with a 2 metre plus height and 1-.2 metre round head.

While visiting milder parts of the country or passing a sheltered inner city garden coastal garden during February and March, you’ll occasionally come across a magnificent Tree, covered in a haze of bright yellow flowers. Acacia Dealbata will be the Tree in question which was first brought to Europe in 1820. This is quite honestly a magnificent Evergreen, that will suitable for the colder winter months of our midlands, it will survive some frosts but a -10.C will kill it outright, as I found to my cost, in the lethal winter of 2010. Once again this is a plant with Australian roots but is easier to manage height wise and is worth trying in a sheltered spot where it will grow to about 8 metres in maturity.

Other Evergreen worth considering are Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) a large but manageable evergreen tree with aromatic leaves with small greenish yellow flowers in the spring. It can reach heights of 12m but one can source trained ones to a manageable 3 metres. I have extensively used Bay to replace Olive Trees murdered by frosts. It is a much tougher Tree even though it is a native of the Mediterranean area and has been grown in Ireland and Britain very successfully since the 16th century.

Magnolia Grandiflora is a regal Evergreen Tree, and it can act that way, with some Magnolias taking many years to flowers it has glossy dark green leaves producing a large cup-shaped white flowers, which are highly fragrant, from later summer to early autumn.

Magnolia Grandiflora is a tree that can have a huge impact in any garden design and a row of these magnificent trees makes for a spectacular show. They have specific needs liking a well-drained soil that is acidic. Meaning they are similar to Camellias in that unless you live in area with this type of soil careful management will be needed so perhaps planting in a large pot with a suitable soil is the best option.

Finally Quercus ilex is a variety of evergreen oak. This is another Tree that wants to be tall meaning in this case 20 meters plus in height. It a versatile tree, often used in urban settings, with the right amount of pruning it can be used as an ambitious hedge, and is often available in manageable sizes. It is important to remember , that a lot of evergreens if left to there own devices , will become a very large tree so management and planning is important or else a costly Tree Surgeon will need to be called upon and that can be an expensive undertaking.

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