At this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Kate Gould won a gold medals for her ‘Out of the Shadows’ garden, as well as both Best Garden and Best Construction in the Sanctuary Garden category. This contemporary spa garden is home to a swim-spa, climbing bars, a meditation space, a fire pit and seating – all set within hardy tropical and mostly evergreen planting to create a private, calm and relaxing space.
We caught up with Kate to ask her advice on creating an evergreen garden.
Why create an evergreen garden?
Kate says: "Certainly in a front garden you want a lot of evergreens, as you go through it every day of the year. But also, people are increasingly putting huge bifold doors at the back of their houses and are now connected to their back garden every day of the year. We don't live in the tropics, so we have down seasons. Evergreens ensure your garden looks attractive all year. They are also a great foil for other plants, and of course, many flower too."
How to create an evergreen garden
Make at least 40 per cent of plants evergreen
"At least 40 per cent of plants in a garden should be evergreen – or they should offer interest over winter," says Kate. "They could flower from their stems in the winter, or have colourful winter stems – a plant doesn't necessarily have to have leaves on it in winter to be interesting."
Remember that not every evergreen is green
"Evergreens can be yellow, lime or even everpurple, such as the shrub Loropetalum chinense (Chinese witch hazel) – a great plant if you have a sheltered garden."
Think again about variegated plants
"People are really iffy about variegated foliage, but actually, it can bring an evergreen planting scheme to life."
Use evergreens to create structure
"All the small-leafed plants, like Taxus (yew), Euonymus, Ilex (holly) and box (which I don't use much any more due to pests and disease) can be used to create domes or topiary shapes. These add punctuation and structure, against which all your wafty summer plants look great. In the Out of the Shadows garden, Kate has also used Dasylirion acrotichum and Dasylirion longissimum, which are both spiky and have a mounded shape.
Don't forget bulbs for spring and early summer colour
In this garden, Kate used Cardiocrinum giganteum, Eremurus himalaicus, Iris 'Mer du Sud' and Lilium 'Snowy Morning'.
Kate Gould's top evergreen plants
An evergreen shrub. "Its flowers have a really sweet smell and is hardier than it looks. A client has one out in the wilds of Gloucestershire, and it's absolutely fine."
Cycads and tree ferns
"If you've got the right space, cycads are great as they're so dramatic." Kate has used Cycas revoluta as well as a tree fern, Dicksonia antarctica.
"Palms are great if you have a hot and dry garden and they act as a sculpture, too. Put a light under a palm at night, and you've got an amazing effect." In this garden, Kate has used Chamerops humilis.
"Aspidistra is known as a house plant but is also called the 'cast iron plant' for a reason – it has a very tough constitution and can be hardy in a sheltered garden."
I've tried to use plants in this garden that people may not have seen before, such as this Pistacea. It's forms a shaggy dome – I do like a shaggy dome."
"A very common and humble plant, but don't knock it. It's lovely and glossy, it flowers and it smells nice. I don't follow fashion - if it's the right plant for the right place, I'll use it."
An evergreen biennial sub shrub. "Beware of 'echium burn' – I planted some at the back of the garden when it was wet, and the hairs on the leaves irritated my skin."
"Keep them outside in the summer, bring into a glasshouse or the house in winter."
Sisyrinchium stratium 'Aunt May'
"This part of the garden is all about coming towards the light, and the variegation helps to bring this area to life. It looks especially good with blue-flowered plants."
The Out of the Shadows garden full plant list
Trees and palms
Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira'
Shrubs / structural evergreens
Euphorbia x pasteurii
Pittosporum tobira 'Nanum'
Dryopteris wallichiana 'Jurassic Gold'
Perennials and aroids
Anigozanthos flavidus 'Beauty Yellow'
Asarum maximum 'Ling Ling'
Disporum longistylum 'Night Heron'
Farfugium 'Wavy Gravy'
Hosta 'Krossa Regal'
Persicaria 'Purple Fantasy'
Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'
Salvia 'Spencer Lake'
Veronica Peerless is a trained horticulturalist and garden designer.
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