Looking at Evergreens in the Garden

The Four Branching Habits of Evergreens

Evergreens to me provide the most interest in the Winter garden, and are really the backbone or foundation on which a really nice year-round garden is built. They can be planted along with herbaceous perennials in the garden, to add height and act as focal points, or planted as specimens, spread out across your property. A mass planting of different sizes and kinds of evergreens can make a wonderful living fence, or border by themselves.

Evergreens come in basically four colors: Green, Blue-Green, a Grayish Green, and Golden/Chartreuse.

Evergreens seem to have four common Branching (not growth) Habits. They can be Upright pyramidal formed, with branches growing upward toward the sky (see illustration 1). The second growth habit is Horizontally Spreading, with branches growing straight out from the trunk, parallel to the ground (see illustration 2). The third is Weeping with branches growing / hanging downward toward the ground (see illustration 3). The fourth is Flat Ground Cover, where the branches of the evergreen grow a few inches, to a foot or so above the ground, but spread out like ground cover. This type of evergreen grows much wider than tall (see illustration 4).

All sizes and varieties of evergreens with shape descriptions such as ground cover, nest, mound, globe, pyramidal-cone shape, or column will possess one of the four branching habits.

Evergreen Needles and Leaves ..When it comes to evergreens, the needles and leaves come in a variety of Shapes, Textures, and Sizes. Illustration #5 shows a Hemlock, which has rows of short flat needles, that grow out from a center twig / branch. Illustration #6 is a Golden String / Thread Cypress. Its golden/Chartreuse leaves are long thin strands, with soft barbs on its scales.

Botanical drawings of Evergreens

Illustration #7 is a branch from a Pine. The pine can have 2 to 5 long needles per bundle, that grow off of its twigs / branches. Illustration 8 is a Moon-Glow Juniper. It has rough, pointed scale-like foliage that is gray-green. # 9 is the Blue Spruce. It is kind of bottle brush like, with needles growing out from all sides of its center twig / branch.

Botanical drawings of Evergreens

Illustration 10, the arborvitae has soft kind of fern-like, scale-like foliage. #11 the Yew has a similar needle shape to the Hemlock, growing flat out from the center twig / branch, but is bigger.

All of the evergreens just shown, and mentioned are from my garden, or surrounding land, that is in upstate New York, USA, zone 5-4. I really don’t want to go too much into the botanical part of the plants because they might not even grow in your area. Most Important, I want to get you to look more carefully at, and start noticing the different shapes, colors, and textures of evergreens.

When decorating your land with evergreens, especially if you are planting many together in a group, you want to place plants next to each other that have completely different kinds of  needle / leaves, or extremely different sizes of needle / leaves.   Really long needled Pines #7 would look fine paired with something like a Hemlock #5, that has a short needle. A bottle brush looking Spruce #9 would look just great next to a fern-like arborvitae #10. A Golden String / Thread Cypress #6 would be fine sited next to a Yew #11. You would not want to put a Cypress #6 next to a Juniper #8, or an arborvitae #10, because they all have too similar looking needles / leaves.

The only time you want things planted next to each other that are / look the same, is when you are mass planting many of the same variety of a single plant for a bold effect (ex. 3 pines in a row, followed by 2 arborvitae, then 4 hemlock).

Now let’s look at some photos showing some very interesting combinations of evergreens.

Evergreens at the Berkshire Botanical Garden Stockbridge, Ma. USA

In photo-illustration 12, look at the two upright evergreens, that are wonderfully counterbalanced by the downward movement of the large weeping evergreen in the center. The Horizontal Spreading and Flat Grown Cover bushes, almost have limbs pointing toward the weeping specimen. This grouping of evergreens has all four branching habits in it. Look carefully at the different needle lengths, and leaf textures of all the different evergreens that make up this grouping.

The Evergreen Bush Border at the Berkshire Botanical Garden, Stockbridge, Ma

The most important thing I want you to notice in photo-illustration 13 is how the weeping evergreen counterbalances all the upward thrusting and textures of the different varieties of evergreens. The weeping specimen pulls your eye downward to the ground. Without it, there would be too much of the same movement and shapes.

The Evergreen Border, looking toward the Main border, of the Berkshire Botanical Garden

Photo-Illustration 14 shows, not only a wide variety of different evergreen needle / leaf shapes, but repetitive planting across the garden space. The mass planting of upright trees on the left, take a break, before resuming with a one more similar tree, that is behind the long needled pine mound, that is in the center of the picture. Also notice how two similar, but not exact, horizontal spreading spruce(?) flank the pine mound.

Mixed Evergreens at the Berkshire Botanical Garden, Stockbridge, Ma

Photos-Illustrations 15 show different evergreens that are Flat Ground Cover, Horizontally Spreading, and Upright Diversity of plant branching habits, plant colors and plant textures all make for visual interest.

So there you have it, A Look at Evergreens in the Garden. I hope I got you thinking, opened your eyes to possibilities, and got your imagination churning, filling your mind with ideas and dreams that you could implement on your own land.

Companion Post ..Evergreens are the Winter Interest in my Garden 1-24-2012, When Designing a Perennial Garden, It’s all about the Shapes of Leaves 1-15-2011, How to Plant (Design) a Garden. Mass versus Specimen Planting 2-17-2011, Grow a Topiary from an Upright Yew 6-15-2011,  Planting a Tree by your House 4-26-2012


About fredgonsowskigardenhome

Your eyes deserve to view beauty. I hope Fred Gonsowski Garden Home helps to turn your vision, into a reality.
This entry was posted in Bushes, Shrubs, Trees, Garden Design Principles, planting a SHADE GARDEN, The Autumn(Fall) Garden, The Spring Garden, The Summer Garden, The Winter Garden. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Looking at Evergreens in the Garden

  1. pbmgarden says:

    Very interesting and helpful article. Wonderful illustrations.

    • Thank you pbmgarden for you comment, and signing up to be notified of my posts. I looked at you site quickly today, and YOU know, I have a cousin Allen and his wife Rita and their daughters, living down in your area. They moved South last year, and love it.

  2. LOVE THESE. You make me wish I could draw, Fred. Beautiful.

    • Margaret,

      I just turned on the computer again, and there you were. I think I have made a lot of progress, from the time I started the bog, to now. You know I got my start with YOU, on AWTG. This blogging journey has been fun, and for a not computer oriented person (me), a bit challenging at times. I hope you took a quick look at the 60 something cover illustrations I made for the articles. Thank You Again for making a Visit.


  3. Lisa Grady says:

    Just loving’ your post! My high school Biology students and I are embarking on a citizens science local urban forest survey and this info will be invaluable to our conversation around the evergreens that are present in our study site. The botanical drawings and photo + sketch images are so great for visualization! Kudos.

    • Hi there Lisa, Thanks for your comment. It’s nice that my article will be inspiring students. Maybe one or more of them will even be bitten by the gardening bug. The garden world needs the next generation of plant lovers to continue on. I think it is wonderful that you will be studying trees and probably bushes. When you start going over the different characteristics the trees have, it will hopefully open up the student’s eyes to shapes, forms and textures that they probably don’t even see. Good Luck with your project, I’m glad my post was helpful ;-}

  4. Jody Johnson says:

    Just love this article. So helpful. I needed to see your drawings and the shapes. That’s what I’m struggling with in finally adding evergreens to my yard. I’ve spent 25 years adding deciduous trees and shrubs and perennial beds. But in northern Michigan, as soon as the frost hits, it’s flat. It’s time to enjoy the rest of the seasons. Thank you for the inspiration I will get at my own drawings. Jody Johnson, Boyne City, MI

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