An evergreen garden looks as good in winter as it does in summer.
And taking that all gardens need maintenance, it’s also relatively easy-care.
I’ve just visited a beautiful evergreen garden in Norwich, which also has some brilliantly clever touches that would suit any garden. It belongs to Roger Lloyd and Stephen Sendall.
And it’s also a sloping garden, so it shows how evergreen garden design can be a good solution to gardening on hill.
Elements of grandeur scaled down
Roger is a volunteer with the Norfolk Gardens Trust, which promotes and protects gardens and landscapes, both ancient and contemporary, in Norfolk. There are garden talks and visits to some of the great and small gardens of Norfolk. For example, there’s Fiddian’s Follies at Upwood Farm and the grand gardens of Houghton Hall and Sandringham. The Norfolk Gardens Trust has just published ‘Enticing Paths – A Treasury of Norfolk Gardens & Gardening’, which is reviewed later in this post.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that a friend once described Roger and Stephen’s garden as ‘having all the elements of a grand garden, but scaled down to a small garden size.’
Take the ‘classical’ garden shed, for example. It looks like a stone-built folly but it is a perfectly ordinary standard garden shed with a facade. Stephen built it himself and it simply stands in front of the shed. They haven’t even changed the door.
Creating a garden on a hill
When Roger and Stephen moved in, forty years ago, the garden was a bare hillside. Many people terrace sloping gardens, in order to create flat spaces for planting. Roger and Stephen decide to carve out one terrace just outside the back of the house.
The excavation of this terrace meant there was lots of spare earth. So they used it to create a flat area at the top of the garden. But they retained the slope between the two flat spaces.
An evergreen garden protects against wind
However the other aspect of gardening on a hill is that it can be windy. So that’s where the evergreen element starts to be so valuable, because it provides year round protection. Hedges filter wind very effectively.
In fact, there was apparently a mini-cyclone in Norwich when I visited, but the garden still felt very protected.
Roger and Stephen decided to have a hedge on either side, running up both sides of the garden. But they curved the hedge line, creating a serpentine garden shape. You can’t see from the bottom of the garden to the top. But it leads the eye on. You know there is something just around the corner.
See here for a post on choosing the right hedge for your garden.
The curved hedging created storage spaces
Where the hedges curved into the garden, they left spaces between it and the boundary. Stephen and Roger use the largest one as a concealed work area, with compost bins and wheelbarrows.
The curve of the hedge also allows the humdrum sides of the ‘classical’ garden shed to be hidden.
Over the past decade, garden design has been angular, with blocks and straight lines. In many ways, straight lines can make the most of limited space in gardens. But curving garden designs also have much to offer, as you can see in this post on curved gardens.
Roger refers to the lawn as a ‘green path’. It runs up, curving sinuously, between the two sides of hedging. The garden is rectangular and probably around 125ft long and 25ft wide, but the curving hedging disguises both the size and shape.
At the top, there is a bench and an archway to one side, flanked by a niche with a classical urn. ‘Over the years, the green path has got narrower and the hedges have got wider,’ he says.
At the top of the garden, they have also created an interesting striped hedging. By alternating a yellow-leafed cypress (such as ‘Goldcrest’) and a dark green Irish yew, they’ve created contrasting columns.
There are tips on choosing conifers for your garden here.
The big reveal at the top
When you go through the yew archway at the top of the garden, you are confronted by a stunning view of the city of Norwich, with Norwich Cathedral at its heart.
Roger says that this created a design dilemma. The view is so special that they didn’t want anything in the garden to compete with it. But, on the other hand, they wanted something strong enough to balance it out.
They decided on a classical parterre of box and yew hedging. ‘We keep it low so that you can see the view over it,’ says Roger. It’s a simple, but beautiful framework for the view.
There are issues with box hedging in the UK and other countries at the moment because of box tree moth caterpillar and box blight. Here is a post on the three best alternatives to box for topiary.
Evergreen garden borders
Roger says that they’d originally planned to have a herbaceous border. But after a few years of trying to plant and look after one on a slope, they decided that a border full of shrubs was the only way forward.
Shrubs are easier to look after than perennials or annuals. They’re also good for a slope because they get their roots down, helping to secure the earth.
Evergreens do require annual pruning and clipping. But they don’t require the constant dead-heading, staking, lifting and dividing or re-planting that you have to do to maintain a full herbaceous border.
The border is therefore based on foliage contrast and shape. Spiky leaved plants such as yucca, phormium and astelia contrast with the round shapes of box and yew and the feathery foliage of ferns. Blue-grey rue leaves contrast with the yellow-greens of conifers.
Some of the evergreen shrubs in the borders are carved into topiary shapes. But even these only need cutting two or three times a year. Compare that to the work involved in caring for colourful annual border plants, or even some perennials.
Punctuate evergreen gardens with ornaments
All gardens need punctuation points. For most people, that’s achieved with flower colour.
But if your garden is almost completely evergreen, think about ornaments and sculpture as focal points and punctuation points.
Where a hedge curves in, Roger has added a cherub. And he’s cut a niche in the hedging, which frames an urn.
And Stephen made an impressive obelisk from wood, and painted it. It’s a focal point halfway up the hill, surrounded by cyclamen in autumn.
There’s a post here about placing ornaments and sculpture in your garden.
A clever use of ivy
Ivy is one of our most common evergreen garden plants. For many people, it’s a weed. Yet it is hugely valuable to wildlife and requires very little looking after. Many varieties tolerate full sun to full shade, and will withstand drought and wet weather.
You do need to cut it back regularly or it will take over, but otherwise it isn’t fussy.
Roger and Stephen have used ivy as ground cover on the shady side of the garden, instead of a border. This means virtually no weeding, so although they do have to cut the ivy back, it’s still time-saving.
They also have ivy on the garden steps, across the risers. This winds romantically around an urn.
There is an ivy covered wall near the house. They’ve placed a trellis in front of ivy and will be growing Star jasmine up it. This creates an interesting layered effect.
Many people hate ivy. And it’s on the noxious weeds list for the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Some people say it damages buildings and trees. Others point to research by both English Heritage and the RHS showing that it’s more likely to protect brickwork from heat, cold, humidity and pollution than damage it. Studies have also shown that it’s good at removing pollutants from the air.
So perhaps more research is needed.
What about flowers in an evergreen garden?
I would describe Roger and Stephen’s garden as over 95% evergreen. But they do have some flowers, mainly in pots and urns. These are close to the terrace.
Of course, you can also use evergreens for year-round interest in pots, which works well if you have flower colour elsewhere in the garden.
And many evergreen shrubs have their own flowers. For example, there’s a choisya, which is a particularly good flowering evergreen shrub. It flowers for an exceptionally long season.
There are also wilder areas on the ‘green path’ or lawn, with swathes of cyclamen around the obelisk.
It’s easy to grow bulbs in a lawn. Provided you don’t mow the grass while the leaves of bulbs and cyclamen are green, there’s very little you need to do.
See the garden in video
You’ll be able to see much more of this beautiful evergreen garden, with its clever ideas, in this video, so do watch!
Enticing Paths – A Treasury of Norfolk Gardens & Gardening
The Norfolk Gardens Trust has just published a compendium of fascinating articles on five centuries of Norfolk gardens and gardening. Edited by Roger Last, these are detailed, expertly researched accounts of famous gardens – such as the Bishop’s Palace Garden in Norwich, the unique 20th century Templewood and its ‘Petit Trianon’ and the great Parterre at Blickling Hall.
Enticing Paths also tells the stories of some of the people who created gardening as we know it today. They include James Pulham who created Pulhamite, a light, realistic artificial rock, used in the Royal gardens at Sandringham. The Norwich firm of Boulton & Paul supplied iron garden equipment and even gorgeous prefabricated conservatories, ferneries and greenhouses all over Britain, including to Queen Victoria. And there is the clearly eccentric but determined snowdrop breeder, Heyrick ‘Tony’ Greatorex, the Norfolk and many more.
The book is illustrated by many historic photographs and wonderful old garden plans. £30 from the Norfolk Gardens Trust.
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