Growing Evergreen Trees In A Garden

Trees vary considerably in size. There are the giants of our woods and forests, such as Oak, Beech, Elm; and much bigger than these are the Redwoods of California. In Britain Redwoods don’t grow anywhere near as big but we have many Firs {Abies grandis), for instance, which are well over a hundred feet tall.

There are many smaller kinds; most of our ornamental trees are not more than 20 or 30 feet in height; the popular flowering Almond (Prunus communis) is a moderate-sized tree. Our standard fruit trees are about the same size. (A Standard is a single stem or trunk.) And a small garden can usually accommodate one or two. Some people prefer an apple and a pear tree, probably because these fruits keep reasonably well. Others plant ornamentals, such as the Prunus. Most of the loveliest are deciduous, and those trees gardeners prize are often precocious, the blossom appearing before the leaves.

What sort of evergreen trees can we grow ? There are not many; and none is as beautiful in flower as the deciduous kinds. The exceptions are the tall Rhododendrons and some of the Camellias, growing either in their habitats or under climatic conditions similar to those they enjoy in nature. Rhododendron arboreum (tree-like) grows to tree-size in parts of Cornwall; and I have seen varieties of Camellia japonica as tall as trees, with thick trunks, growing at Ascona (in Italian Switzerland) on the shores of Lake Maggiore.

For a magnificent and lasting show of blossom, the Camellias are unsurpassed; but they don’t reach tree-size in Britain.

One of our most attractive evergreen trees is Arbutus unedo (literally: T eat one’), known as the ‘Strawberry Tree’ in England; and in Southern Ireland (where it grows wild and the finest specimens are found), the ‘Killarney Strawberry

Tree’. ‘Strawberry’ refers to the fruit this Arbutus bears when the flowers perish. It is a rounded drupe, orange-red in colour and full of seeds. Not a dessert fruit, in fact it’s not at all palatable, but it is extremely decorative on the tree, where it ripens during the autumn of the second year; the pinkish-white flowers are likewise at their best (October to December), and the effect of the orange-red fruits and flowers is delightful at this time of the year.

The dark, shining green leaves afford an excellent contrast and make a fine background to the pink-and-white and orange-red colours. The leaves are from 2 to 4 inches long and ½ inch to 2 inches wide.

This Arbutus is a native of the Mediterranean regions and of South-West Ireland, where magnificent trees up to 40 feet will be seen either in gardens or growing wild in the warm-west districts on the Atlantic seaboard.

In England it is smaller and on ordinary soils often shrublike (good specimens however may be seen in many parts of the country). It prefers deep moist acid loam or peat (which it gets in Killarney), but will thrive and flourish on lime-stone formations and will actually tolerate a certain amount of lime in the soil.

I would hesitate to grow it in my own garden, I think; yet as I say, many good specimens can be found in inland gardens -and as far north as Yorkshire. The finest I have seen so far (outside Killarney), which made wide-topped trees, grew in southern maritime districts and faced the gales that blew in from the sea.

The best time for planting Arbutus is in late September, and only the smallest specimens should be grown, since the shrub transplants badly – large specimens more often than not collapse after they are shifted. The normal way of raising Arbutus is by seeds – named varieties are grafted on seedlings of A. unedo.

Those who want to try one of the varieties of the ‘Strawberry Tree’ should get Var. rubra (red); the flowers, rich reddish-pink, are more striking than those of the type plant. This variety was given an A.M. In 1925. A good specimen can be bought for about 30^.

The most magnificent of all the Arbutus is the species A. menziesii (probably in honour of Archibald Menzies, 1754-1842, botanist and naval surgeon). It is known as the Madrona, a noble evergreen tree up to 100 feet tall in its native California; its trunk is often 6 feet thick and as the bark peels away, it reveals its beautiful shining cinnamon colour. The branches are similarly coloured – looking as though they had been polished. (The Spanish for Arbutus is Madrono; the word also means a round tassel.)

In Britain the tree seldom goes above 30 feet or so; at Kew there is a fairish specimen which is perfectly hardy – the species does better in the warmer south than in the north and according to many gardeners must have a rich moist loam. This no doubt is true of newly-planted young trees which, like many rare plants, want a specially good start off.

But people who have seen the Madrona growing in the wild in California tell me it flourishes luxuriantly in dry parched hot places, often among the rocks.

The trees were of course planted by Nature, from seed, and through the course of years (fed by rich soil washed down to them by torrential rains) have grown into marvellously strong healthy specimens. They are a feature of the valleys of Northern California; the polished red trunks, shining green leaves, and above, the erect panicles of flowers and orange fruits, are visible for miles, and beautiful in the fading light of a spring afternoon. They are as much a spectacle as the giant Cactus plants which stand up like egregious monuments in the vast desert regions of Arizona.

The noble Madrona is seldom seen in our gardens; venturesome gardeners will doubtless give it a trial. Young plants can be obtained from our leading shrub nurseries . A reasonably protected site should be found for this Arbutus.

Another spectacular evergreen tree is the Monkey Puzzle (Araucaria araucana), which is more curious than beautiful and, to many people, something of an oddity. We see the Monkey Puzzle in many gardens, and the astonishing thing is that they are found in so many small or moderate-sized gardens. It seems that small plants, about 9 inches high, could be bought very cheaply from nurseries in early Victorian times, and perhaps the strange, exotic appearance of the plant (introduced in 1795) attracted gardeners in those days. Furthermore, it thrives in ordinary soil – and perhaps most important of all: it was a tree that most people would turn round and look at twice! I doubt very much whether it is grown today – Hillier lists it, but no price is given.

The Monkey Puzzle is completely hardy. It must be planted as an isolated specimen, for there is nothing suitable to go with it. (The epithet araucana is the name of the Indian race inhabiting the region of S. Chile where the tree was first found.)

Several of the evergreen trees recommended by growers and nurseries are not hardy enough for every district in this country. Two or three in fact are quite tender: Acacia dcalbata (the Silver Wattle), for instance, is suitable only for the warmest maritime regions, and even there is sometimes cut to the ground during the winter; it is the well known Mimosa, with yellow fluffy very fragrant flowers and grey-green fern-like foliage, which we get from the French Riviera at the beginning of the year. I’ve known shrub enthusiasts try to grow it near London; but here it will survive only when planted in a cool greenhouse, as it does at Kew. An attempt was made many years ago to grow it in the sheltered, walled garden of Brampton House, Marlow-on-Thames. The owner, Mrs. Olga Kann, showed it me soon after she had planted it. The most protected spot against a south wall had been chosen for it, and it was covered completely by suitable protective material during frosty weather; but the plant didn’t live very long.

There are good specimens to be found in gardens along the coasts of Hampshire, and of course farther south, in the Scilly Isles, and the south-west districts of Ireland.

This Acacia is a native of parts of Australia, and of Tasmania, from which country it was introduced into Britain in 1820. In Nature it will sometimes reach a height of a 100 feet, with a trunk 10 feet or more in girth; but in gardens it usually makes a moderate-sized tree about 30 feet tall. Those who think they can grow it, should give it an open peaty or loamy soil in good heart.

Another Australian evergreen tree is the Eucalyptus. There are several species, nearly all of them listed in catalogues as ‘only hardy in the mildest localities’: for most of us, then, they aren’t much good.

The hardiest is E. gunnii (named in honour of R. C. Gunn 1808-81, of Tasmania). Tall specimens may be seen in inland gardens in Britain: at Kew the tree is about 40 feet high; and there is a taller, finer tree which I have seen in the grounds of Powerscourt, near Dublin.

The great attraction of the Eucalyptus is their picturesque, glaucous-green or glaucous-blue foliage, and also the coloured bark of the trunks. (The plural Eucalypts, by the way, appears in some botanical works, and Eucalypti in others.) The trees have little if any floral beauty; and in Britain E. gunnii (known as the Cider Tree) is the wisest choice.

If a young plant is obtained, and well protected for a few years during severe winters, it will in all probability grow into a good strong specimen, having formed a stout woody base.

Give it a deep moist loam and a position near a warm wall, if you can.

The Eucalypts are easily raised from seed (obtainable from any seedsman); and the tender species E. cordata (heart-shaped leaves) can be raised by the hundred; this is a striking glaucous-white foliage-plant used solely in England, I believe, for adorning formal flower-beds during the summer months.

The smell of the oil in the leaves is liked by many people; it is at once perceptible when the leaves are bruised in the fingers.

Yet another evergreen tree recommended by some, but regarded as a doubtful hardy by most, is the so-called Californian Laurel, Umbellularia californica (of California), a tree from 80-100 feet tall in its native habitat of California and Oregon. It is known as the ‘Spice Bush’ on account of the pungent smell of the leaves when crushed.

The leaves are dark green and glossy, the largest about 5 inches long and 2 inches wide. The small, greenish flowers are insignificant; the fruit pea-shaped and purplish when ripe.

The species, the only one known, was introduced into England in 1829; a good specimen grows at Kew and is injured there only by severe frosts. It wants a deep, moist loam and is unsuitable for shallow, chalky soils.

The Bay Tree {Laurus nobilis) is known to most people, principally for its aromatic leaves, which are used in cookery: a bay-leaf is one of the ingredients of the Bouquet-garni used for flavouring soups, sauces, etc. Cooks know the tree as well as gardeners do. (The leaves are kept till they are dried and then stored in air-tight containers.) One would imagine the tree would be seen often in gardens. In the old walled-gardens of the past, when the vegetable and fruit plot was enclosed by io-feet walls, the Bay was fairly common and usually planted by the south wall, and prospered there, only being damaged during exceptionally severe weather. The leaves are occasionally browned by frosts in the open garden, but the tree seldom succumbs to cold in this country.

The Bay came to us from the Mediterranean region in the 16th century and, like other plants indigenous to those parts, flourishes most luxuriantly in our warm seaside gardens – the finest specimens of Cistus (Rock Roses) and Lavender (both from the Mediterranean) grow in our southern counties.

The Bay Tree in this district, 30 miles from London, is more of a tall bush than a tree; there is an oldish specimen at Woburn House, near High Wycombe, and when I saw it last it was about 15 feet tall, a dense healthy tall shrub that had thrown out one or two deeply-rooted suckers from the base.

The leaves, oval in shape, are about 4 inches long, and of a dark glossy green colour. Their pleasant smell is quickly noticeable on a warm, sunny day.

The shrub is a favourite one for clipping into different shapes. You can see them in small wooden tubs at many of the leading West End Stores; and these topiary trees or shrubs are enormously expensive. You can buy a small natural specimen from a shrub nursery for about 15J.

The Bay leaf was the leaf chosen by the ancients to make wreaths and crowns for heroes during victory celebrations: it is called by us the Laurel – ‘crowned with Laurels’; but the ‘Laurel’ of those times was the Laurus nobilis.

There is a singularly attractive variety with much narrower leaves, called Var. angustifolia (with small narrow leaves). It is hardier than the other tree.

The Ghusan Palm or Fan Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is recommended by writers on shrubs and trees as suitable for gardens in many parts of the country, and described as an evergreen tree, which will reach a height of 30 feet in favourable districts.

It is less like a tree than the Monkey Puzzle – the familiar name, Ghusan or Fan Palm, gives one a clue to what it is like.

It is a gigantic Palm, with huge spiky-looking, much divided (fan-like) leaves, about 2 feet long and 4 feet wide. In my opinion it looks more out of place in the English garden than any other tree or shrub we grow.

Ideally its place is the exotic formal garden, among other semi-tropical plants. However, it is hardy enough for many places; and many gardeners who like novelties will want to grow it. Hillier’s nursery, who offer it at about a guinea, state that it is perfectly hardy in the south and the west of the British Isles, and probably also in most other parts. It likes a rich, loamy soil in good heart, and a top-dressing of well decayed cow manure now and then – apply this in late spring, and not at all the first year; for fresh manure, of this type, keeps the ground cold and damp through the winter; and cold and damp in any form are inimical to the plant’s growth and health, as much as a cold north wind is. If you intend growing this fantastic ‘tree,’ give it the most sheltered spot you can find in your garden. And if you want to create a ‘Tropical Corner’ in your garden, grow some of the Bamboos along with it.

The plant is named in honour of Robert Fortune, 1812-80 -famous collector in China. The Chusan Palm is a native of Central China.

The evergreen Chestnut, Castanopsis chrysophylla (having golden leaves), is hardy enough for most gardens, and thrives in sandy peaty soil of a good depth; it abhors chalky ground. It is, however, an uncommon tree, and in Britain often not much more than a bush; a specimen about 25 feet tall is at Kew and taller specimens are to be found in a few private collections. One of the finest trees in the country grows in the pleasure gardens at Tortworth in Gloucestershire.

The tree’s great beauty is in the golden yellow colour of the undersides of the leaves and the young shoots. The plant is in fact called the ‘Golden Chestnut.’ The leaves, ovalish and pointed, are about 4 inches long; but in the wild, they are much larger and the tree itself is much bigger, often reaching a height of 100 feet or more, with a trunk 6 feet in diameter. The nuts it bears are edible but not as good as those of the Spanish Chestnut.

This Castanopsis is a native of Oregon and California and was introduced into Britain about the middle of the 19th century. It is still a rarity in our gardens and so far as I can see not obtainable from any of the nurseries. It is closely related to the Sweet Chestnut (Castanea), but it differs in its evergreen foliage – the Sweet Chestnuts are deciduous.

The half-a-dozen or so evergreen trees I have mentioned so far, have been either on the tender side and not suitable for every garden in Britain (where trees can be grown) or something of rarities – even oddities. The remaining ones are better known: The Laurel Magnolia (Magnolia grandijlora) is the finest as regards foliage and size of flowers (like huge cream-coloured goblets); every town known to me has a specimen growing up the wall of one of the houses. The Evergreen Oaks are the least known, and seen; and a Holly full of bright red berries is probably everybody’s favourite evergreen tree.

The specific name of the Common Holly is Ilex aquifolium (pointed, spiny leaves); the plant through the course of centuries of cultivation has produced an enormous number of varieties, many with charming, variegated leaves; some with yellow berries, some with peculiarly-shaped leaves – twisted or contorted, and a number which are quite unattractive and therefore useless as garden plants. Although many of the variegated kinds are grown in our gardens, and especially the entire-leaved (spineless) variety Var. camelliaefolia , they have never ousted the type plant, which, tree-like or bush-like, or as a hedge, is surely the most attractive red-berried evergreen there is in existence.

It will grow in any garden, in any part of the country: in the smoky atmosphere of towns and cities; in high, cold, exposed places, and places on the cold, east coast facing the sea, and in sun or shade. The Holly adapts itself readily to any kind of soil; but new plants should be started off in some good loam.

It is a magnificent tree, up to 80 feet tall: it can be clipped to a shapely bush (it is sometimes used for topiary-work, though is not so suitable as the softer Yew for elaborate shapes), and makes the best of all hedges – dark glossy green all the year, an impenetrable and a gaily coloured object when in fruit.

The leaves on the higher branches of the Holly tree become less spiny, till on the uppermost ones they are smooth (entire) like those of the Camellia. No doubt the spininess of the lower leaves is a natural means of protecting the plant from browsing animals. There are several spineless varieties, as I’ve already mentioned; but for my part I consider them less attractive than those with spines.

It is practically impossible to transplant a good-sized Holly successfully. Even small specimens must be shifted very carefully, with plenty of soil attached firmly to the roots, and they must be shifted preferably when the roots are still active, which is in May) if not then, the transplanting should be put off till September.

Small plants are sent out from nurseries as a rule; raising them from seed, which is the best way, is a slow job; but you can increase your stock by cuttings, using thin side shoots about 4 inches long, with a heel attached. Propagation of the varieties must be effected by this method or by grafting on seedlings of the common plant.

A collector of my acquaintance has a predilection for yellow-berried Hollies and has chosen for his garden the varieties amber (originally from Hillier’s nursery), which has large bronze-yellow fruits; Var. bacciflava, with bright yellow berries; and pyramidalis fructo-luteo, an equally beautiful bright yellow-berried variety.

There are dozens more varieties of the Common Holly, the gold and the silver variegated kinds being prized above most of the others by many gardeners. I single out the following for special mention: Var. argenta marginata, the broad-leaved Silver Holly; Var. argenta marginata pendula is the weeping form, known as perry’s silver weeping holly, with arching, pendulous branches, a charming specimen tree for the centre of a lawn; Var. flavescens, leaves suffused with an exquisite canary yellow; Var. golden queen (a misnomer really, since the plant is a male variety), leaves broadly margined with bright gold; MADAME briot, the centres of the leaves are frequently blotched with green and gold, the edges conspicuously gold in colour; the plant berries freely. There are many others as beautiful as these.

There are male, female and bi-sexual kinds of the Common Holly; not all of them produce berries freely (some, none at all); hence it is necessary to get those that bear freely; group planting is often resorted to, and ensures berrying of the different varieties.

There is an uncommonly beautiful species called Ilex latifolia (broad: referring to the leaves), known as the Tarajo of Japan; it has very thick, burnished green leaves , the Laurel Magnolia, and carries plenty of red berries. It is no where near as tall in Britain as the Common Holly; in its habitat it reaches a height of 60 feet or more. It is hardy enough at Kew; but is far better growing in our warm maritime districts – some nurseries recommend it for a cold greenhouse.

The collector Sargent regarded it as the most striking large-leaved evergreen tree of Japan.

Magnolia grandijlora (large flowers). Popular names for it are the Laurel Magnolia, the Bay Laurel, and the Bull Bay. This Magnolia carries larger and more substantial flowers than any other tree we grow in these islands. They are globular, creamy-white in colour, often 10 inches across and delightfully fragrant, smelling of spice. The leaves are ovalish, thick and leathery in texture, from 6 to 10 inches long, and when young are covered beneath with a thick red-brown felt. The leaves are attractive all through the year, and they alone make the tree a valuable ornamental for the garden. Yet it doesn’t flower freely in all districts, and comes nearer to the perfect specimens of the Deep South of the U.S.A. In our warm southern gardens. Those plants that grow in gardens around London and in the Midlands are more often than not treated as wall shrubs; no doubt they are grown like that because the owners imagine them to be tender. M. grandijlora is completely hardy; but in the open garden in most of our inland gardens, it grows very slowly and only after many years makes a sturdy tree not more than 20 feet tall, and much more rounded in shape than those in the south.

Even our finest specimen-plants growing freely, cannot vie with the trees one sees on lawns in the South of France, Italy and Spain. Often these trees reach a height of 50 feet or more. They are of dense, pyramidal form and flower freely and much earlier than the English plants. Normally, our trees (whether grown as trees or as wall shrubs) bloom comparatively late -round about August. In the Deep South of America (its habitat) M. grandijlora is at its best in May. On the French and the Italian Riviera, where it is a great show plant, the flowers open in June.

The tallest, finest trees are the wild ones found in wooded country in the southern States of the U.S.A. Where they go up to a height of 80 or 90 feet. They grow as far south as Florida, and in Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia and as far West as Texas. An eighteenth century botanist described the plant as ‘growing only in cool and shady places, where the soil, composed of brown mould, is loose, deep and fertile. These tracts lie contiguous to the great swamps which are found on the borders of the rivers, and in the middle of the pine barrens, or form themselves a part of those swamps; but it is never seen in the long and narrow marshes called branch swamps, which traverse the barrens in every direction, and in which the miry soil is shallow, with a bed of white quartz or sand beneath.’

Soil conditions for this remarkable evergreen tree are important: a deep, loamy, leafy soil is wanted, and it must never dry out during the plant’s early years; yet if it is to flower freely in the open garden, as a tree, propitiousness of climate is even more important. It needs plenty of warm sunshine.

Its seed seldom ripens in Britain; but in the warm south, mature trees bear as many as 400 cones, each containing about 40 seeds. The plant is propagated either by seed or by layering.

The seedlings have produced many fine garden varieties. Some of the finest are: Var. ferruginea; this has brownish felt on the underside of the leaves, which is very conspicuous and well-developed. Var. gloriosa is rare in English gardens and has broad leaves, and flowers as much as 14 inches across, composed of unusually thick, fleshy petals. Var. lanceolata, mostly called the Exmouth Magnolia, since it is said to have originated in a garden in Exmouth. The leaves, brownish-red beneath, are narrower than those of the type plant; the plant flowers at a younger age and is hardier than any of the others. Var. undulata has broad leaves, waved at the margins.

The variety I would choose for this district (30 miles west of London) would be the Exmouth Magnolia, the hardiest of all the grandiflora Magnolias. Even so, it would be more successful trained on a south or a south-west wall than grown as a tree in the open garden.

These Magnolias are easy to train; the forcright branches or growths which stick out untidily are simply pruned back to the main stem in September. Not all these growths should be removed, though, or much of the character of the plant will be destroyed.

Few gardeners recommend Magnolia dclavqyi for inland gardens; it is much more tender than M. grandiflora and needs a warmer climate than we get here, though planted against a wall, it will survive most winters. There is a good specimen growing near a wall at Kew Botanic Gardens.

But if it is to be seen to best advantage (say, in the middle of a lawn), then it must have a place sheltered from cold winds and frost. Cornwall, Devon and the Isle of Wight are the best districts for it.

It makes a spreading, flat-topped tree, about 30 feet tall, and has very fine leaves, the largest 14 inches long by 8 inches wide; they are a dull green above and glaucous and downy beneath. The flowers are cup-shaped, a creamy-white and fragrant. Mr. G. H. Johnstone, the author of a book on the Asiatic Magnolias, says of this species: ‘It would appear to flower at about 9 to 10 years from seed . . . ‘ And another expert states that it is so easy to layer that stock can always be kept in hand in case of zero frosts in the near future.

Cultivated specimens seldom flower freely in this country. As regards soil, it thrives well where there is chalk, provided the soil is deep, loamy and well drained.

The species was introduced in 1899 by Wilson. Its habitat is Yunnan, China, growing at altitudes from 4500 to 7500 feet. It opens its fragrant flowers towards the evening. The plant has the same curious habit under cultivation. Most shrub specialists can supply this Magnolia.

Quercus ilex is known as the Common Evergreen Oak; most gardeners know it, or they have heard of it, even if they’ve never seen it. It is fairly common in the south and south-west of England but seldom if ever seen in cold northern and eastern districts, where doubtless it wouldn’t prosper at all. It comes from the warm Mediterranean region and needs a sheltered place and warm, deep, loamy soil on the light side. During a severe frosty spell it loses most of its leaves; but normally it sheds those of the previous year in May or June.

I doubt very much whether anyone today would ever grow it, for it is one of the giants amongst our cultivated evergreen trees, often reaching a height of 80 or 90 feet and making an enormously wide spreading head or top. It is best reserved for estate and parkland planting. But it can be adapted to restricted spaces by pruning it into smaller shapes and it is amenable to any amount of clipping. For that reason it makes a fine evergreen hedge (up to any height) and should be pruned occasionally between June and October. I have seen this Oak in the south cut and trained as a topiary hedge – a simple undulating top which wasn’t difficult to keep trim and neat. It is not as good, however, as the Yews for topiary-work.

The leaves are very variable in shape; they are usually narrowly oval, about 3 inches long and an inch wide; sometimes they are entire; sometimes toothed. (The popular name of this species is the Holm Oak: Holm is a later form of the old English holen. Meaning Holly; no doubt the toothed, Holly-like type of leaf was responsible for the name.)

The tree has no floral beauty: the male flowers come in pendulous clusters but are not conspicuous; the fruit is a nut -the acorn, from which new plants are raised.

The only defect this tree has is perhaps the shedding of the leaves of the previous year in June; this naturally makes the surrounding ground, or lawns and paths untidy. If it is planted in a wild part of a garden, say, at the edge of a woodland, the fallen leaves are much less noticeable. One method of obviating the nuisance is to plant beneath the branches a creeper such as the Irish Ivy (Hedera hibernicd), whose large leaves will soon hide the Oak leaves as they fall among them.

The varieties of Quercus ilex are not well known to most gardeners and they do not appear in any of the shrub or tree catalogues I possess. Two of the best, I consider, are: Var. genabi, with large leaves, 5 inches long, and of a leathery texture and toothed at the apex. Var. latifolia; another large-leaved variety; the leaves are also toothed but not so thick and rigid.

Q. ilex is the cheapest of the Oaks: a young plant can be bought for about half a guinea.

Q,. lamellosa is decidedly on the tender side and could not be safely grown in this district. It comes from Northern India and grows at altitudes of up to 9000 feet as does Rhododenron grande, the giant Rhododendron with enormous leaves. The collector, Sir Joseph Hooker, called it the noblest of all Oaks. It reaches a height of 120 feet in Nature and has leaves sometimes 15 inches or more long and 9 inches wide. Ordinarily, they are about half this size. Gardeners in the warm maritime districts of Britain prize it for its magnificent evergreen leaves, and give it even there some protection during severe winter weather. In mid-winter the leaves, a dark lustrous green above and glaucous beneath are especially good to look at.

The Cork Oak, Quercus suber (cork) is a tall evergreen tree up to 60 feet high in warm, maritime districts; but unsuitable for inland gardens in the Home Counties. Its habitat is Portugal, Italy, the south of France and parts of North Africa. One of the features of the tree is its remarkably thick and corky outer bark (hence the popular name); from it is produced the cork used in many industries – the best quality being made into bottle corks. The leaves are ovalish, the largest about 2 inches long by an inch wide; they are a dark, glossy green above and greyish and downy beneath. The acorns ripen the first year and are said to have a sweetish taste.

There is a variety called ocgidentalis, which comes from the Atlantic side of Europe and is hardier than the type. It is better adapted to cultivation in Britain than the other. Its leaves are less persistent; and its acorns take two seasons to mature.

The Tanbark Oak (from the bark tannin is obtained) is now described by botanists as Lithocarpus densijlora. It is a fine evergreen tree, up to 80 feet or more in height in its habitat -California and Oregon; and has dark green leathery leaves, glaucous beneath, the largest about 6 inches long and 2 inches wide. In our gardens it makes a moderate-sized tree and is something of a rarity.

I recommend the Holm Oak (Q. ilex) as the best ornamental evergreen Oak for our gardens – though it’s no good in cold districts. Its wood, very hard and heavy, is said to equal that of the Common Oak; and the tree lives to a great age. The Oak family, like the Yew, is remarkable for the longevity of its trees and the durability of the wood.

The evergreen Oaks will no doubt appeal less to gardeners than Magnolia grandijlora or the common red-berried Holly. I imagine these last two will be chosen by the vast majority of gardeners on the look out for hardy evergreen trees. Those of us with inland gardens would not of course attempt to grow any of the tender ones such as the Mimosa or a Eucalyptus. We might have the right soil for them but we can’t provide the climate and the weather. We can protect small plants and tiny shrubs effectually from frosts and bad weather but we would find covering up a tree or a big shrub much too difficult.

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