Let us now praise evergreens


IMG_4836-001The more I garden, the more I want plants that look like something all year – namely evergreens.  Compared to the much flashier flowering plants, they’re pretty underwhelming at the garden centers but boy, do I appreciate them right about now.

Take, for example, this scene just outside my living room window, the window I look out when I’m doing my stretches every morning. The bright green and yellow evergreen against the house is a ‘Picturata’ Acuba in its second year in my garden.  It’ll slowly grow to an eventual 4-6′ tall, when it’ll be an awesome accent plant.

Growing much more quickly is the Crossvine (Bignonia), a vine that’s native to the Mid-Atlantic and produces orange trumpet-shaped flowers that are dazzling to humans and hummingbirds.

For winter color I’m also a fan of good-old paint. Or in this case, a tinted stain, so it’ll gradually fade a bit but never peel. And it matches the color of the chair perfectly.


By contrast, here’s what’s opposite that privacy screen, as seen from my living room window – the stems of four Macrophylla hydrangeas and the green fronds of two Autumn Ferns. This year I’ll be yanking out those hydrangeas and replacing them with a dozen more Autumn Ferns. Sorry, but hydrangeas just aren’t pulling their weight year-round in this very visible spot.


Nearby, evergreens are doing what they do so well in gardens – creating privacy. These are ‘Emerald Green’ Arborvitaes, with Nandinas and another Crossvine on the small privacy screen, combined with a Trumpet Honeysuckle for seasonal color. Where I live, only small privacy screens are allowed, so without evergreens our gardens would be awfully public.


Above, the view of my back garden from the interior sidewalk that runs through the community. Three ‘Yoshino’ Cryptomerias are quickly providing a sense of privacy from passersby and just as importantly, screening an ugly view from my porch. The evergreen grassy plants here Carexes.


Above, a view of my front yard, which unfortunately faces an elevated parking lot – thus the need for more ‘Emerald Greens.’  They’ll need another year or two of growth before they block my view of cars.

So am I a little obsessed with evergreens? I didn’t used to be, when I gardened on a hillside with views from indoors of treetops and a large deck. But now that my views are at ground level, I want to look out and see some green, dammit.


  1. Susan, I find it interesting that only small privacy screens are allowed, but you can plant all kinds of shrubs, evergreens and trees, all of which involve more maintenance than fencing and are harder to remove, should that be necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I like the “living fence” concept better than a bunch of fences blocking views, but I can see all kinds of problems cropping up if they aren’t taken care of.

    • I agree it doesn’t make much sense. The goal has been to keep the community open-looking but with no restrictions on plants used for privacy, we can and some DO have 20-foot-tall walls of green surrounding yards. Pretty anti-social, esp when compared to some built alternatives, like lattice. Susan

  2. I liked the Tibetan prayer flags, too.

    In CA, it seems, people like their privacy, and if built-fences don’t do the trick, hedges! I wanted to let my Tuscan Blue rosemaries grow to their full possible height, but I was over-ruled, as it might have looked nice, but the bill-payer felt we needed to see clearly to the street. I once saw an 8-10 ft tall hedge of rosemaries, and I adored the idea of a fragrant hedge…or wall.

    In near-semi-rural areas around DC, big lots, no privacy or even boundary fences, in 2001 when I was there. Same for a lot of (mostly northern, panhandle) Florida, when I’d visit my in-laws. This California woman wants a private back yard! I also want an orchard, and that I can’t afford.

    • Not sure how big your back yard is, but if it’s typical CA suburban size, you can have that orchard. On my lot in Northern CA, I have 20+ fruit trees, from limequats and mandarins to Asian pears and peaches. Some are in pots, but most are in the ground. Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees are the back yard orchardist’s friends. Add to that espaliers and three or four trees planted in a single hole and it’s remarkable how many you can grow.

  3. I didn’t know autumn fern evergreen was here in DC!

    I’ve come to the same conclusion about evergreens — am going to fill in my shady, pre-war garden with camellias and golden yew. Just look at these photos of mature golden yew. http://awaytogarden.com/beloved-conifer-golden-spreading-yew/

    Is any autumn fern cultivar more reliably evergreen than the rest? I was going to order tassel ferns until I saw your post.

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