Winter's leaves

... January

Garden Seasons . . . leafy shapes

Add shape and structure with evergreensWinter’s leaves are extra special. Like birds that stay with us all year round rather than migrating to easier climes, they are our permanent friends. In earlier times, evergreens were revered because of their ability to withstand whatever the season could throw at them and box (Buxus), yew (Taxus) and holly (Ilex) have colourful folkloric meanings.

Of all the trees that we depended upon to sustain life, those that provided forage for livestock when all else was unavailable, such as holly, were destined to enjoy an elevated status. Imagine how keenly peasants and farmers would have guarded their holly trees for those frozen days. And the seasonal and religious associations of the holly berries and leaves continues to be handed down. Yew is poisonous to animals, but was essential in the manufacture of the long bow, a weapon of enormous political and military importance. Often associated with churchyards, in many cases yews are as old as the church itself. Some believe that yews were planted within churchyard boundaries to protect the trees from grazing animals and illegal felling to ensure supply of essential wood, others that they have spiritual associations. The long-standing appreciation that we hold for box (another native) is well demonstrated by the twenty-five British place names which derive from its name.

The other two plants in this month’s selection, Eleagnus pungens and the Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), arrived as ornamentals, brought to this country as part of the great quest for discovery. Our history with them is less deep, but they were unquestionably attractive to both the original plant hunters who introduced them and the gardeners who subsequently grew them for their beautiful foliage and ease of cultivation.

Each of these plants is a winter wonder that could work some beginning of the year magic in your garden. Some, such as box and yew are perfect for formal hedging and topiary. Each can be used to good effect for hedging. Evergreen hedges are perfect where you need privacy or a barrier to traffic noise and pollution year-round. Perhaps most importantly, they all offer the joy of leaves. We may be removed from the necessities of cutting branches to feed to our own animals, but the same programming that draws us to an open fire makes us feel good when we look upon leafy shapes now.

Material courtesy of