Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fall & Winter Colour: Evergreens, Part 1

It's very gratifying to see more and more people getting excited over evergreens, both broadleaf and coniferous. Here at Baldwin Nurseries, we've long been fans of all sizes, shapes, species and colours of evergreens as the ideal plants for mixed borders, formal name it, there's an evergreen or 9 for the site.

There's more to evergreens than ever-green, too. Plant breeders have been very busy developing new varieties and cultivars, and many of the colourful evergreens have amazing fall/winter colours, making them ideal 4-season plants.

A photo taken in late winter or early spring from plantings at the front of the nursery property, when the snow had gone but nothing had begun to leaf out or green up yet. As you can see, there is a variety of colour from evergreens, subshrubs like heaths and heathers, shrubs like chamaecyparis, and taller trees including spruce, pine, and thuja.

From weeping standards to upright forms, from tiny dwarfs to towering trees, there's an evergreen for every site. This is a young columnar Scots Pine, which will have a very pillar-like, upright shape as it grows.

One of the most beloved of decorative evergreens is the Colorado blue spruce. This is new growth and older growth on 'Hoopsii', blue spruce, which to us displays the bluest of colour, but we carry other fine cultivars as well.

Juxtapose that blue spruce foliage with the glowing gold-bronze winter colour of 'Sunkist' thuja, and you have a brilliant display even on the bleakest of winter days. In addition, 'Sunkist' provides food and habitat for a variety of songbirds.

The swallows that visit here from spring to late summer like to promote the evergreens too, even if they are a bit camera-shy sometimes.

Junipers are a popular evergreen for sites that are 'high and dry', with lots of sun and moist soil with good drainage. There are many, many different species and cultivars, and it can get a bit dizzying trying to make a choice. Tall or creeping, standard or dwarf--please don't hesitate to ask us for suggestions and help when choosing a juniper.

Juniper 'Dream Joy' is a wide-spreader with creamy yellow new growth, contrasting nicely with the more mature blue-green needles.

J. ''Gold Star', also known as Bakaurea, is resistant to root rot and has a nice spreading but compact growth habit.
We like J. horizontalis 'Wiltonii', more commonly known as the blue rug juniper, better than 'Blue Star', which is prone to limb breakage from snowfall buildup. This form is also available as a standard.

One of the most underutilized evergreens we know of is the Microbiota. There's only one species in this genus, (Microbiota decussata) and it was unknown outside of the former Soviet Union until about forty years ago. We call it by the common name of microbiota, but you may call it Siberian cypress. What we like about it is its gorgeous plum-copper winter colour, and its tough-as-nails constitition. It's an excellent groundcover or edging species.

For something equally unique and unusual, we carry Thujopsis, a native of Japan with again, only one species in the genus. Think of this as a thuja (what many call cedar) on steroids: it has the similar scaly foliage, only larger, a glossy, brilliant green colour, copper-red tips in winter, and splendidly unusual, petite cones.

Don't just take our word on the variety of colourful evergreens--our friend Jill at Bunchberry Nurseries also carries a wide variety of evergreens, and has many planted out in her display gardens. You can also see excellent evergreens at the NSAC Rock Garden in Truro.

Next time, we'll talk about one of the most varied and wonderful of evergreens, the Chamaecyparis, or falsecypress family.