It’s fall. For the garden center that means the perennials are starting to fade (They’re fading in your garden too, right?), and the evergreens are popping. Truckloads of evergreens–from topiary boxwoods to mini-conifers–are arriving daily. A feast of plants for us plant geeks. But aside from the temptation to purchase another plant (to put where exactly?), we’re reminded that evergreens play a big part in the garden.
So often, the perennial garden is what everyone wants, but without that strong evergreen (which isn’t always the color green), there is nothing to anchor the garden, nothing to give it “bones.” Our colorful perennials and annuals come alive when balanced with the color, texture and the strong structure of evergreens. And, lest we forget in this (blasted) heat, winter is coming and looking out the window at blank spaces really is no fun.
The concept is simple. The evergreen gives the garden it’s definition. The perennials give it the fluff and stuff (the pretties, as one customer says). We need both.
Barney Bryant, co-owner and avid gardener, loves the fluff and stuff. If he labeled himself in the garden, it would be as a cottage gardener.
Definition: The cottage garden uses informal design, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants. It is not formal in structure, and is English in origin. It typically lacks formality and structure.
Barn’s place fits the definition but not entirely. Many cottage gardens are without the evergreens, depending on the charm of something blooming all season. Barney adds the layered element of conifers, yews and boxwoods to his garden, and the combination makes for a beautiful place to garden.
Gardening is often a trial by error, which is why we gardeners need to go easy on ourselves. I used to joke that no plant had found its proper home in my garden until it was relocated three times. And, lest you think Barn gets it all right on the first go, when I drove up to take pictures, he’d just moved a thunderhead pine from a “too shady” spot to a sunny corner. Arranging the garden and getting the layout right is a continual process that makes gardening the lesson in patience we all know, but also gives us the joy of intimately learning our space and plants.
If we limit ourselves to just the bloomers (think dahlias, peonies, gaura, geraniums, angelonia, and on and on) we’re missing an entire palette of plants. While many scoff at the thought of a boxwood (my favorites, so go easy on the comments) conifers, hollies, shady rhododendrons and azaleas can fill in too. Barn’s garden has lots of light, where sun-loving conifers are happy and so that was an easy choice for him. That and the interesting texture, color (chartreuse, or blue anyone?) and varied sizes (from miniature to dwarf to huge) conifers can be. Did I mention they are slow growing? (As gardeners what happy news it is when something will not outgrow its designated spot in our lifetime.) It all comes together to create a less busy space that allows the eye to rest, define the space for the bloomers, while giving winter interest.
Can’t beat that. So, if you’re hesitating, don’t. Now, is a great time to plant trees and shrubs and we have plenty to choose from. Also, if you’re thinking, I’ve done it backwards, welcome to the club. Who of hasn’t opted for the blooming perennials and annuals over bones and structure? Read about Cynthia Gilloly’s backward garden. Fall is a perfect time to examine the garden, really look at it, and see where design is missing. Look for places to add those bones that Barn anchors his cottage garden with, and immerse yourself in the world of evergreens. Just one more plant for a gardener to love.
Cinthia Milner is the garden coach, blog writer and outside sales staff for BB Barns Garden Center.
BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.