Portland nurseryman Sean Hogan has a new book, "Trees for All Seasons," that reveals the value of a wider range of broadleaf evergreens, including the silverleaf oak and the Chilean fire bush.
GARDENERS AROUND the world envy us our climate, in large part because broadleaf evergreens flourish here. But if you’ve gardened in the Northwest for any length of time, you probably take these stalwarts for granted.
No one is more guilty of dismissing evergreens than I. Maybe it was growing up in a Lake Forest Park garden thick with magnolias, laurel and towering rhododendron hedges. Such shrubbery was heaven for a child, but I came to see the plants that once offered such fort-building opportunities as heavy, dark and dreary. For most of my gardening life, I’d have sooner given up my lily addiction than sacrificed garden space to a Portuguese laurel, holly or photinia.
Yet these evergreens, and many more, are featured in “Trees For All Seasons” (Timber Press, $39.95), an eye-opener of a book by Sean Hogan. Any plant called out by Hogan must be garden-worthy, because this discerning guy owns Cistus, the Portland-area nursery filled with trend-setting flora.
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The exciting expansion of choices in evergreens is due to the work of plant explorers and breeders, as well as our warming climate.Many of those enticing hebes that have come on the market in the past decade, for instance, are from Australia or New Zealand.
It was the extravagant blue-blooming wall of ceanothus that used to flank the University of Washington Medical Center that got me over my evergreen ennui. If you’ve ever passed by the hedge of Osmanthus delavayi at the Center for Urban Horticulture when it saturates the March air with its sweet, rich fragrance, you’d be persuaded to plant this tidy evergreen. And a single Chilean fire bush (Embothrium coccineum) drenched in hot-orange flowers, fairly vibrating with feeding hummingbirds, could coax any rhody-weary gardener into the neo-evergreen fold.
Broadleaf evergreens, defined by Hogan as woody plants that retain their foliage for the vast majority of the year, offer more than eye-catching beauty. These garden workhorses lend height, texture, privacy and structure. They serve not only as year-round backbone but also as backdrop for the rest of our plantings. And even though they don’t drop their leaves, evergreens still mark the seasons with their flowers and fruit.
What distinguishes “Trees For All Seasons” is Hogan’s personal tone and seemingly encyclopedic knowledge. Because he gardens in Portland, we can rely on his hardiness recommendations. His little silhouette drawings, each with a tiny person beside it for scale, clue us as to the tree’s eventual size and shape.
The lists at the back of the book alone justify buying it. Categories like “Enjoys Lean Soils,” “Tolerates Periodic Drought” and “Better With Some Shade” are just what gardeners need to successfully practice right-plant, right-place gardening.
Now is the time to think about selecting broadleaf evergreens because optimum planting time is late autumn. Trees and shrubs planted late in the year, when the soil is still warm and rain is plentiful, settle in and put down roots that help them flourish next spring and summer, and for many years hence. Look for a great selection of unusual woody plants at the annual Northwest Horticultural Society sale Sept. 18-19 (see www.northwesthort.org for details).
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.