Arranging Evergreens

Winter is the obvious time of the year when evergreens are essential for arrangement, though certain evergreens are invaluable throughout the year on account of their colour and shape. They also seem to have the additional attraction of lasting longer than almost any other kind of foliage.

Evergreens can either be solidly green or variegated and, in either case, they have a different value. For instance, I think that there is nothing like the addition of a deep green leaf such as camellia or Fatsia japonica towards the centre of a group to pull together the varieties of shapes and colours (green).

Nowadays, the value of a spray of variegated periwinkle or the branches of golden’ privet which give a touch of lightness to an arrangement are acknowledged and appreciated.

Perhaps it would be best to enumerate some of the evergreens most useful for arrangement: Christmas and Lenten roses ( Hellebores ), H. corsicus, H. foetidus, H. niger are available and valuable throughout the year and although they all belong to the same family, they are quite different. The Corsican hellebore has large, spreading, prickly leaves — blue-grey in colour. H. foetidus has neat, dark green, fan like leaves, many of which are long stemmed. These are invaluable, fitting attractively into many types of arrangements with varieties of flowers. (I have a friend who uses them almost continuously for small arrangements with many of the flowers from her summer border.) Then there are the large dramatic deep green leaves of the Lenten hellebores. These usually come with long stems and so are especially useful for large arrangements. They produce an interesting outline with either a few flowers or a few differently shaped leaves. The bold, divided shape of the leaves show up extremely well against a plain background.Arranging Evergreens

Often grown in the garden quite close to the hellebores and much the same type and size of plant is the bergenia. Its solid rounded leaves vary in colour from a clear light green in the spring to a darker green during the summer and sometimes a deep wine in the autumn and winter. The larger leaves come on long stalks which makes them also useful for large groups. Some of the smaller leaves before they are quite opened grow with a charming folded effect and so at this stage are especially suitable for use with small flowers, e.g. violets, rock plants, wind-flowers, and cowslips.

Of quite a different habit is the periwinkle with either dark or variegated leaves growing on long curving stems. Both dark and variegated leaves combine well with many different flowers and are especially useful for an arrangement which stands high off the ground, i.e. giving a pedestal effect.

The camellia (tea plant) is an evergreen of constant elegance, in the early summer when it has fresh green foliage and later on in the year when the leaves become dark green. It lasts for weeks in water and the shape and beauty of the leaves make it a perfect accompaniment for many flowers including carnations, Jerusalem sage (Ph/omis), chrysanthemums, white delphiniums, gladioli, white campanulas and African lilies (Agapanthus). Silver berry (Elaeagnus) with its soft green leaves, silver backed, is yet another reliable and beautiful shrub, producing quite different effects according to whether the leaves are arranged showing the silver or the green surface.

A variegated elaeagnus ( E. pungens aureo variegata) has the same shaped leaf but with quite a different colouring. In its way this is one of the most attractive of all the variegated shrubs.

Another interesting variegated leaf belongs to Euonymus fortunei, this is a smaller shrub than the elaeagnus with rather abrupt, angular branches. Again these last for weeks when cut for decorations.

Holly, ivy, holm oak and Laurustinus are all useful in different ways — the first two are, perhaps, more so in their variegated forms. Laurustinus has a special charm even without its clusters of pink white flowers. The neat, pointed, dark green leaves have a cheerfulness reminiscent of myrtle. Spotted laurel (Aucuba) and the common laurel, rhododendron, bay, rosemary, yew all provide useful material too.Arranging Evergreens 2

The rhododendron is a reliable standby throughout the year, providing practical and most decorative foundation for a large winter arrangement, when there is little else of this type available.

Rosemary is an especial favourite — leaves dark green backed with grey, elegant in shape, and with an elusive scent. It looks charming, with many different flowers.

The spotted laurel has well shaped, patterned leaves, which can provide a distinctive foil for dark green foliage such as camellia, laurel, rhododendron, etc. But its leaves must be clean and shiny, and used with discretion. (Discretion must be applied to the arrangement of any variegated foliage.) Bay — crisp, dark and pointed, has been eulogised by Miss Jekyll in Flower Decoration in the House. ‘Of all the lovely forms of branch and leaf, the one that may be said to be of supremest beauty—that of the sweet bay—may be enjoyed in winter. For then the whole bush, or tree as it is in the south, is at its best and glossiest’.

Yew is one of the traditional evergreens, together with holly and ivy, rosemary and bay, which has been used for church decoration since the early sixteenth century. It lasts well when it is cut, and the rather angular shape of the branches often gives an interesting outline to an arrangement. Berberis or mahonia has tall, leafy sprays varied in colour and provides good support if used with slender flower stalks.

Broad leaved laurel — the new light green leaves are useful as a contrast with darker evergreens. Ilex — the leaves are a very good shape, though dusty grey-green in colour; at its best in winter.

The cucumber tree ( Magnolia acuminata)—its pale yellow flower is a great delight, and the large olive coloured leaves are most attractive, the Exmouth variety having coffee-coloured backs. Myrtle — (half hardy, except in southern England). Produces a charming, brisk spray of clear dark leaves, elegant and neat.

Portugal laurel — an interesting leaf and well shaped branch. Especially good for decoration with light pink or cream chrysanthemums.

Skimmia —good clusters of dark leaves with clumps of bright red berries in autumn in the female plant.

One of the most interesting in shape of all evergreens is the false fig (Fatsia japonica). Reasonably hardy it will survive the winter, for instance, in a fairly exposed Kentish garden, but is often brought in to shelter from the worst of the frosts. There are substantial clumps of them growing in the gardens at South Kensington Underground Station, London, and I know of one in a London garden which is well over ten feet high with a spread that is of almost equal size. It would be well worth the trouble to have a plant of such distinction for cutting and with such long lasting properties.

As with all woody stemmed plants the branches of the above mentioned shrubs need a good supply of water. The base of their stems should be crushed, split or smashed to expedite the supply, and in most cases should be trimmed of their lower leaves.

Note Perhaps the right to include variegated leaves with evergreens might be questioned and one should, in this case, classify evergreens as non-deciduous shrubs or trees.

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