Several of the preceding chapters have embraced references to evergreens, but it will not be out of place to consider the part played by this class and briefly to study the best kinds in a special chapter.
Evergreens predominated in the old type of shrubbery. We see it often enough now-a-days, with its dense masses of uninspiring Laurels, Aucubas, and evergreen Oaks, presenting the same aspect from year's end to year's end, often dull, sometimes sombre. There is no grace, no freedom, no seductive tinting in spring, no shade in summer, no glow of mellow colour in autumn. From January to December the border presents an unvarying outline and but slight change in colour.
Matters would not have been so bad in the evergreen shrubbery if some of the more beautiful and interesting plants had been used, but it almost seems as though the mind that liked evergreens liked commonness, for masses of everyday things were put in.
The shrub-lover must beware of taking guidance from the general nurseryman in respect to shrubs and trees, for that otherwise estimable person generally labours under the disadvantages of having no special horticultural interest in them, and of having a large stock of certain cheap kinds, which he is naturally anxious to sell. Thus situated, he is but poorly equipped for giving competent and disinterested advice. How well we know his plausible and loquacious traveller, with his tempting offers! He has the "stock" articles of all sizes, like boots and shirts, and his prices are low. We buy, we plant, and somehow, in a few years, we awaken to the fact that the best parts of the garden are full of coarse, aggressive, uninteresting things, which serve no purpose except to fill space.
Sometimes the general nurseryman has a few plants in his nursery of better things, which he will supply if pressed; and in any case, there are firms which make special cultures of good kinds, and indeed grow them to the exclusion of the commoners. These firms should have preference.
There has come to be an understanding that evergreens are the only suitable shrubs for town gardens. From more than one point of view they are the least suitable. Those who look at town evergreens with a discriminating eye note that they are often in poor health, and that they are unusually sombre and gloomy. This is due to the deposit of smuts on their foliage. People who plant evergreens in town gardens might at least give them a drenching now and then in order to keep them clean.
Lovers of evergreens should refuse to be contented with Laurels and Aucubas, but should make themselves acquainted with the Barberries, the Arbutuses, the Boxes, the Cotoneasters, the Daphnes, the Escallonias, the Euonymuses, the best of the ivies, the Cistuses (Rock Roses), the Helianthemums, the Hypericums, the Pernettyas, the Rhododendrons, the Veronicas, and other important kinds. The Laurels and Aucubas undoubtedly have their uses, and so far as the latter shrub is concerned it is really ornamental when properly grown, for its berries are large and brilliant; but neither it nor the Laurel should be planted in dense masses to occupy a great deal of valuable space.
It is desirable to indicate the importance of the class by drawing the readers' attention to the principal genera of evergreens. The Bamboos, which comprise the three genera of Arundinaria, Bambusa and Phyllostachys, are beautiful for sheltered places. They are dealt with in Part 4.
The Barberries include such fine plants as Berberis Darwinii, B. stenophylla and B. Wallichiana, as well as several others. B. Darwinii likes sea air, and one may sometimes see it forming a hedge in a seaside garden; but the finest effect is produced when it is given room to grow into a fine individual specimen in a sheltered place.
The Box genus gives us the many forms of Buxus sempervirens, some of which are variegated.
The Cistuses are splendid shrubs for the rock garden, and the best kinds for growing there are described in Chapter 19. The same remarks apply to the Helianthemums or Sun Roses.
The Cotoneasters are admired for their bright foliage and charming berries. C. microphylla is the best known species, and is well worth planting.
The Daphnes include several attractive species, particularly Cneorum, but the deliciously sweet Mezereum is not evergreen.
The Elaeagnuses are conspicuous for handsome foliage.
The Lings and Heaths, species of Calluna and Erica, will receive the particular attention of garden-makers who operate on sandy peat. Another great evergreen particularly adapted to this soil is the Rhododendron.
The Escallonias are attractive both in leaf and bloom. Although the foliage is small, it is very bright and cheerful. E. macrantha ought certainly to be planted, particularly in mild places near the sea.
We have already seen how bright and inspiriting the Euonymuses are in sea-side gardens, but it is not to be inferred that they are unsuitable for culture inland.
One of the finest of the St. John's Worts, Hypericum calycinum, is an evergreen.
The Hollies, with their beautiful foliage and bright berries, come naturally to mind when one thinks of evergreens in winter.
Several of the most interesting and beautiful of the Magnolias are deciduous, but in the gigantic grandiflora with its broad leaves, so often seen on lofty walls, we have an evergreen species. The new Delavayi is also evergreen.
Many good Veronicas are not hardy, but the genus remains important, for the species thrive on chalky soil. Traversii is particularly useful. The Laurustinus (Viburnum Tinus) will thrive on almost any soil.
Such handsome Yuccas as angustifolia and gloriosa may be mentioned as good representatives of a useful genus.
In addition to the foregoing, the reader may consider Andromeda polifolia, Arbutus Andrachne and A. Unedo, Arctostaphylos Uva-ursi, Azara microphylla, Cassinia fulvida, Castanopsis chrysophylla, Empetrum nigrum, Eucryphia pinnatifolia, Gaultheria Shallon, the Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis), Leiophyllum buxifolium, Olearia Haastii, Osmanthus ilicifolius, Phillyreas, Pieris floribunda, Rhamnus alaternus, the Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), the Lavender Cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus); and the various special shrubs named in Chapter 9.
The Periwinkles (Vinca major and V. minor) are of trailing habit, with pretty foliage and large flowers.
The best of the foregoing shrubs for shady places are the Butcher's Broom, the Aucuba, Gaultheria Shallon, the Periwinkles and ivy. The best of the larger evergreens for shady places are Laurels and Hollies. Berberis Darwinii does not dislike some shade, on the contrary, in a sheltered, partially shaded corner, it will generally grow into a fine specimen. But the best Barberry for dense shade is aquifolium (syn. Mahonia aquifolia). See also Chapter 25.
In the partial shade and shelter of woods one sometimes sees the grand old Rhododendron ponticum thriving. With years it grows into a most effective object. All Rhododendrons, indeed, love a measure of shade. While they are not at home when quite under large trees, the umbrageous shadow of the tops of large trees is comforting to them.
That well-known hedge shrub, the Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium), is one of those useful subjects which will thrive either in sun or shade. Single plots in shade grow to a considerable height, and assume a tree-like habit which is somewhat surprising to those who have only seen Privet as a clipped hedge plant.