To me, a garden without evergreens is incomplete. I grew up with evergreens and have loved their strength and beauty all my life. Here are three of my favorite evergreens, the evergreen trees I have lived with, loved and learned from.
Growing up in Alaska, I thought evergreen meant spruce. I was born in a small town in central Alaska where the temperatures drop to extremes that people have a hard time believing. Let’s just put it this way – when temps dipped to negative 65 below zero, they cancelled school. We could count on at least two weeks off for “cold days” every winter.
Above the arctic circle, there are no trees, but in central Alaska, spruce forests thrive. These are smaller spruce than you are used to seeing, no taller than 15 or 20 feet tall, stunted by the weather. The ground soil is permanently frozen, a condition called permafrost. Only the top couple feet of soil thaw out in summer, so that’s all the roots a tree can count on.
I always loved the little spruce, so small but so tough. They adapted to the conditions they couldn’t change and gave those of us living in central Alaska protection from the winds and something to look at in winter that wasn’t snow. They were my earliest teachers.
When I left Alaska, I headed for college in Northern California where I ran smack into coastal redwoods. They are the tallest trees in the world and shattered all my previous thoughts about how grand and glorious a tree could be. These giants reach up to touch the sky.
But that isn’t all I admire about them. Redwoods form a community in amazing ways. Their needles are perfectly shaped to collect and condense the California fog, then drop it down to the ground to provide “rain” for itself and all the small shade plants living on the floor of the forest. Most wonderfully, the mighty trees “hold hands” beneath the soil, their roots intersecting, each helping each to stay erect in winds and even sending ailing trees needed nutrients through the root channel.
Since I spend quite a lot of time in my little bergerie in the French mountains, I cannot ignore the holly trees native to the Pyrenees. My favorite trees on my mountain are beech, with silver trunks and magical leaves, and nothing is as glorious as spending a hot summer’s day in the cool of a beech forest.
But come winter, those leaves fall, as do the leaves of oak and birch and plane trees. But holly trees remain green and beautiful. Their leaves are glossy green and, as summer yields to autumn, filled with bright red holly berries. Those berries feed the wild birds through the dark days of winter. I have a favorite holly just outside my house that I decorate up with lights at Christmas time. I consider it a member of my family.