As a designer, it’s hard to not notice and take notes of design elements and ideas. I learn a lot this way. One thing that has jumped out to me over the years has been the use (or lack thereof) of evergreen-types of shrubbery, tree, and hedge selections. I notice that in particular where I lived for many years in the upper Midwest, the preference for evergreens in landscapes sets design in a level I’d dare say is higher than landscapes that don’t preference evergreens. The reasons for this are numerous. I’d like to outline them so that people who are choosing what to plant think twice when considering their plant elements in their own landscapes.
The landscapes of today should function well while looking beautiful. Functioning with purpose in the landscape includes considerations for not only people, but for wildlife and the building(s) that the landscape surrounds. Evergreens offer all this functionality without much effort. They are excellent windscreens in the winter; while deciduous selections turn into open sticks (enough sticks however can offer some winter wind protection). Bitter and strong winter winds can take a toll on the home’s ability to retain heat. Having a planted evergreen screen of sorts on the north side of a building makes a very large impact on winter heating costs and energy usage. White pines are used all over the North Country for wind screens. They are especially effective around crop fields, so imagine how well they’ll shelter your home from winter storms.
Evergreens make excellent visual screens. I don’t know why choosing deciduous plants for visual screens are even an option. It’s true that there are very fast growing deciduous trees that make for fast screens, but even the humble arborvitae is a quick grower and will fill in as a visual barrier quite fast. Planted in an open area around 8 feet apart, these conical growing arborvitae need to shearing or shaping if you don’t wish to do so. Simply remove dead branches and let this long-lived and fairly fast grower do all the work. They are also excellent windscreens, like white pine.
Evergreens offer interest that’s available throughout the entire year. They have fuller shape and color in the winter, when most is dormant and for many of us covered in white. From a design standpoint, they contrast well with the sticks and flatness of winter left behind by the leaf-shedding plants and the dormant perennials. Walk through a well-planned landscape in winter that is abound with evergreen shape and life and you’ll get the idea.
Overwintering animals depend on the dense evergreen foliage of Arborvitae and Cypress to keep them protected from the cold, and for food- especially the tough berries found on Juniper. Deer enjoy eating the tips of arborvitae, but in normal situations even the browsing of deer won’t come close to harming healthy arborvitae. These evergreens do offer shelter for deer, squirrels, birds, as well as rabbit, fox, coyote, bobcat, lynx, and many other native animals. During the warmer parts of the year, many animals take up residence in sturdy and safe evergreen boughs. In fact, many birds nest almost exclusively in evergreens. With human settlement continuing to spread, natural forests are shrinking and animals are losing homes. Planting shelter in the form of evergreens is an essential for wildlife.
During the warm months when perennials and deciduous plants are offering a show, evergreens make excellent contrast in texture, shape, and color. And, of course, evergreens always smell good when you brush against them.
Evergreens make a great backbone in the landscape and are absolutely essential in design. Remember to consider and include them in your future plans, and think about replacing some of your less-desirable deciduous selections with evergreens. You’ll be happy with your decision.
The Greenwood Team