Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Aurea’ hides the hot tub while anchoring the corner of the house near the parterre garden. 15′ x 12′ is the perfect size for a small landscape, and it only grows 6-12″ a year. Lovely.

Boxwood ‘Woodburn Select’ gives this parterre garden its structure. A dwarf that stays under r2′ x 2′. 

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.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’ Barns said this one is 20 years old, so it is now its full size, 8′ x 5′. A beautiful anchor the front door and it makes the ‘Rozanne’ geranium pop!

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.

Nobody remembers what this one was. Jon said he brought it in a few years ago, and Barn said he remembered it would get 3′ x 3′ in size but for now it looks good with the bromeliads. (Sometimes plants are like cookware. The growers discontinue them and you’ve forgotten the name of it to find a replacement.)

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.

Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead, great for focal point, rock gardens, Asian gardens, or any garden. 10′ x 15’ ultimately.


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.

Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ is a true dwarf of the Colorado Blue Spruce. 8′ x 6′ it only grows 3-6″ a year so perfect for small spaces.

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. 

AAP, Cinthia

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.