Sometimes I think you have to be a mature person to fully appreciate evergreens. In youth, when we are changing and changing again, it is flowers and trees that are always changing in their own seasons that catch our attention, but evergreens are more stable. Which is not to say that their growth, even from season to season is static, but that the changes are more subtle.
This fall, when the deciduous trees were bare, I took new notice of my evergreens, and was slightly amazed at how many I have added over time.
The first time we added evergreens to our landscape, we had only their utility in mind. Early one spring, and yes it was spring, there was a big snowstorm in the county. We barely made it home from work to be snowed in for two days. The winds always blow across the fields to the north and west of our house and dump enormous amounts of snow on our road. That storm blew so much snow that the plow couldn’t plow through it, and even the bucket loader broke down attempting to clear the road.
Our 83 year old neighbor, Mabel Vreeland who had lived in the New York State snowbelt, told us the answer to this recurring problem was simple – a snowbreak. That very spring we ordered a couple of hundred tiny tree seedlings from the conservation district, mostly white pine, but some Scotch pine, spruce, balsam fir, and cedar. We wanted fast growth, and we thought we could take out a tree every year for our Christmas tree.
That snowbreak has thrived, except for the cedars, and saved our road crew a great deal of work and grief. We have also harvested our own Christmas trees. Once I offered a neighbor one of our trees, but she said she only liked balsams, and there was no appropriately sized balsam that year. Ever since we have periodically planted balsam seedlings to provide an ongoing supply of Christmas trees.
That snowbreak does have one odd punctuation point, a dwarf Alberta spruce, now about five feet tall. One year my mother got this potted tree as a Christmas gift. She had no place to plant it and gave it to us. We had no idea where to plant it either, and we ended up putting it at the end of the snowbreak. It looks odd, a neat and sculptural point in the wild field, but it has done very well.
Many people like the idea of buying a live Christmas tree and planting it afterwards. This is a lovely idea, but it is important to think the idea through, and choose a site in your landscape for the tree ahead of time. Once the site is chosen, the planting hole should be dug, and then filled with bagged leaves to keep the hole from freezing, while the removed soil should be bagged and kept where it will not freeze.
When we moved to Heath in November of 1979 there was a nearly seven foot blue Colorado spruce growing right in front of the large window where our kitchen table sits. The beautiful view from that window was ruined by the tree, which we think must have been a bought as a live Christmas tree, with no sensible thought given about where it would be planted after the holidays. We can think of no other reason such a poor location could have been chosen.
We certainly didn’t want the tree there so we cut it down for our first Heath Christmas tree. The Colorado spruce is a gorgeous tree, and it is easy to understand why people choose it. However, it has a broad base and the stiffest, sharpest needles of any Christmas tree. By the time we got that tree cut down, and forced through the doors Henry and I were both bleeding and our three daughters had their backs against the wall to stay well away. It was lovely when decorated, but we never had the desire for another Colorado spruce.
When we put in the two Lawn Beds 14 years ago, I intended trees and shrubs to be the focus. We planted five tiny gingko trees with our five tiny grandsons, in their honor and in memory of our two years in China. One of the trees died, but four continue to do well. I don’t understand why, but gingkos are listed in my book of Conifers for Your Garden by Adrian Bloom. Bloom says they are one of the oldest of all conifers, dating back 150 million years. The leaves are unusual with a fan shape, but they do fall in the autumn.
In fact not all conifers are ‘evergreen.’ There is the beautiful larch which loses its needles in fall, but I don’t have one of those. Alas.
Underneath the gingkos I have planted a goldthread cypress. This shrub with its golden airy thready foliage is fairly common in nurseries and it is easy to understand why. It is bright and interesting in every season, and needs no attention from me but collects oohhs and ahhhs at the Annual Rose Viewing.
I have planted juniper groundcovers, and a weeping hemlock that even after 12 years looks like a ground cover, but my pride this year is that my holly finally has berries. Not many, but enough to celebrate in this season of celebration.
Between the Rows November 28, 2009