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The Other Evergreens

TGreen Hands
by Catherine Holmes Clark

The Other Evergreens

In this time of the longest nights, we decorate with living greens: bringing branches and whole trees indoors to bless the house with their reminder, their promise of the continuity of the life force through all its cycles. When the Christian church decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus in this season, this ancient symbolism of hope and renewal fit well.

I love the aroma of pine and spruce, fir and balsam. Unfortunately it gives me headaches. But they’re not the only evergreens. I walked around my garden to see what else I could decorate with.

Some of my evergreen plants turn a deeper color in cold weather. The creeping grapeholly has gained a bronze cast where the sun hits the leaves. This plant is not related to true holly, but the leaves sure look like it. My ‘Thorndale’ English ivy is a green so deep it’s almost black, accented by pale green veins. Bearberry’s little leaves are deep green with deep red speckles and rim. From a distance the effect is bronze; you have to look close to see the two colors.

Some of the plants which keep green leaves over winter nevertheless don’t look attractive enough, up close, to decorate with. The rhododendron leaves have curled up along their length, and hang listlessly. The pachysandra is yellowed and also a bit droopy. The hellebore, which I had great visions of using, because its big leathery leaves are so striking ... is a nice green, but it looks frozen stiff. I picked one leaf, to see whether it would improve in the house.

The thymes all look good, but I don’t have much of the species that grow tall enough: common thyme (up to 12 inches) and mother-of-thyme (up to ten). Oh, well, they might be too fragrant for me. But the tiny leaves would make a useful texture in arrangements.

Two plants looking good have white-edged leaves, which give some sparkle: ‘Ralph Shugert’ periwinkle and ‘Silver Queen’ wintercreeper. Except on the wintercreeper in the front yard, in full sun, the white has become deep pink. My miniature periwinkle, ‘Miss Jekyll,’ makes a graceful drapey effect with its small-leaved strands.

I don’t have any red berries. Perhaps I should fertilize the bearberry. But I have red: “evergreen” leucothoe’s arching, three-foot branches carry glossy, lance-shaped leaves which now in cold weather show only a little green still, contrasting with lots of wine and crimson tones.

© Copyright 2004 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 24 December 2004

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