Evergreen stars

Shining in the winter air: Fatsia japonica flowering, below, Euphorbia martinii Ascot Rainbow.
Shining in the winter air: Fatsia japonica flowering, below, Euphorbia martinii Ascot Rainbow.
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EVERY garden needs a skeleton – the evergreen bones that hold it together and become its winter stars.

I confess, this has really only struck me relatively recently.

I spend a great deal of time either outside, or sitting reading in the conservatory, which is on the first floor, overlooking the garden.

Evergreens can look downright dull in summer, or at least that’s what I used to think, comparing them to the showy annuals or herbaceous perennials.

In fact, they don’t. Plain dark foliage plays its part in offsetting more colourful things. It’s all about contrast and layering.

But when autumn strikes and everything dies down, then it’s their time to shine.

It's a boy: Holly Silver Queen. Below, it's a girl: Holly Lawsonia.

It's a boy: Holly Silver Queen. Below, it's a girl: Holly Lawsonia.

Here’s the plants that create the winter structure in my garden:

Rosemary: This 3ft high bush is trimmed into a rough rounded shape and survived the freezing winter of 2011/12, with just a tough of frost damage.

Berberis darwinii: This venerable old giant used to dominate the pond area, until I hacked it right back. It’s now a 15ft lookout post for the sparrows. Its tiny, dark green holly-like leaves are secondary to the knarled stems (I’ve made mine a ‘standard’ in a cack-handed way).

There’s orange flowers in summer and purple/black berries. Seeds itself around a bit, too. Cat likes it as a scratching post.

Fatsia japonica/variegata: The two green-leaved Fatsias, although the same variety, have completely different growth habits.

The oldest is a towering 10-footer next to the gate.

There’s a slightly younger one in the front garden, only 5ft tall, but much bushier and free flowering.

The white globule-like flowers appear in late autumn, followed by small black fruits. It’s the leaves you grow this for – tropical, glossy palmate specimens up to 16in long.

Surprisingly hardy, too. The variegated form is slower growing, with leaves edged and blotched slightly with cream.

Ivy: I inherited plain green native ivy growing out of a crack between our outside stairs and the garage – it has since covered the wall and is trying to conquer the garage roof!

Ivies only flower growing upright and this one is a magnet for for insects in late autumn, when there’s little else around.

There’s three variegated ivies dotted around, Hedera helix Variegata, in a shady corner; Canary Island Ivy (Hedera canariensis variegata), with much larger, green, cream and grey-green variegation and Hedera colchica Goldheart has heart-shaped, mid-green leaves splashed with yellow.

Coprosma Pacific Sunset: An impulse buy at the Harrogate Show, it looks like a small holly on acid, with purple and red shiny leaves.

Sadly, I can’t see this one lasting the winter, as it’s not that hardy, but it is planted with plenty of grit, so that might help it out.

Euphorbia: E. martinii Ascot Rainbow, planted in a gravelly bed, looks happy for the winter, but I’ve covered E. wulfenii, which isn’t as hardy (you’re supposed to cut the flowering shoots down in autumn, but mine hasn’t flowered yet).

E. myrsinites is tough as old boots, providing much-needed evergreen (or everglaucous) ground cover in the front garden.

Pyracantha: The firethorn used to be in a pot and was moved around from pillar to post until it reached its permanent home under the Berberis.

It’s shot away, but the birds very swiftly stripped it of its berries virtually overnight!