Evergreen’s massed rhododendrons screen the garden from surrounding development
Detailed Garden Description
- Visitor Reception & Exhibit Area
- The Northwest Amphitheater
- The Northeast Niche
- The Mirador
- The White Room
- The Gold Room
- The Brook
This section also explains the principles and techniques of low-maintenance, naturalistic landscaping demonstrated at Evergreen—everything from berms, to visual “borrowing,” to low-maintenance plantings. You can learn even more about these subjects by clicking onto different parts of the web site devoted to each of them.
You may find this section helpful to view on your smart phone or tablet as you walk through the garden.
When you arrive at Evergreen, you may notice something unusual: Unlike almost every other property in the neighborhood—in fact, unlike almost every residential property in the United States—Evergreen has no front lawn.
Grass is perhaps the most labor-intensive landscape plant known to man, requiring many hours of watering, mowing, weeding, etc. For a low-maintenance landscape, maintain only as much grass as you actually use (for outdoor activities) and replace the rest with trees, shrubs, and ground covers. (For both the costs and benefits of grass and alternatives to it, see: Grass: Cheap to Install but Expensive to Maintain, Keep Only As Much Lawn As You Use—and Get Rid of the Rest, and How to Spend Less Time and Money on Your Lawn.)
Instead of grass, the most prominent plants you see at Evergreen are large, thick masses of evergreen shrubs. Your first view of the garden (from Summer Street) includes:
- A 75-foot-long sweep of large-leaf rhododendrons on a berm along the street to the left of the Garden Cottage.
- Mature mountain laurel and andromeda immediately in front of the Cottage; the white blossoms and glossy dark green foliage of both shrubs harmonize beautifully with the white clapboards and shiny dark green shutters of the Cottage.
- Nova Zembla rhododendrons on the slope below the Cottage, next to the street.
- A hedge of mature yews atop a low fieldstone wall that curves along the edge of the driveway.
- Another sweep of rhododendrons covering the large berm on the far side of the driveway.
Unlike grass, these shrubs (like most shrubs) require virtually no care and help screen Evergreen from neighboring houses; and all but the yews automatically create striking masses of flower color every spring.
Visitor Reception & Exhibit Area
At the head of the driveway you see a short flight of concrete-and-flagstone steps tucked between fieldstone walls. It leads to the Visitor Reception & Exhibit Area.
Walk toward the steps and you’ll pass through a wide tunnel of more than 100 evergreen shrubs rising on each side of the driveway. They reach higher than your head, surrounding you with walls of evergreen foliage and springtime flower color.
First you pass the shrubs you saw from Summer Street. On your left is the row of 8-foot high yews, some with picturesque 6-inch-thick trunks. On your right are massed Rhododendron catawbiense ‘Roseum Elegans’ blanketing the 8-foot-high, 30-foot-long berm—the longest, highest berm at Evergreen.
Just beyond the yews, on the left, the rhodies on the berm are echoed by a sweep of 37 more Roseum Elegans rhododendrons that runs along the slope below the Garden Cottage and follows the concrete steps upward to the Visitor Reception & Exhibit Area.
Directly above the Roseum Elegans, in one of Evergreen’s sunniest places, is another sweep of rhodies: 29 P. J. M.’s. This celebrated sun-loving cultivar is covered with lavender-pink flowers in April and early May; the blooms bring smashing blossom color to Evergreen weeks before the other rhodies flower.
Directly above the P. J. M.’s, a row of venerable P. G. hydrangeas grows next to the Cottage; like the P. J. M.’s, they flower best in sunny locations. Their huge white flower clusters begin to appear in August, after all the evergreen shrubs in the garden have already blossomed. The flowers gradually turn pink, then tan, bringing long-lasting flower color into the garden from mid-summer through fall.
On your right, opposite the Garden Cottage, a sweep of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) covers a 20-foot-wide, 3-foot-high mound at the head of the driveway. The laurel is a stunning mass of white flowers in June.
In the middle of the Visitor Reception & Exhibit Area is an open, 8-sided, 15-foot-wide pavilion.
To the right of the pavilion, a sweep of pink Rhododendron catawbiense ‘English Roseum’ runs along the edge of the space. Farther to the right, the edge of a bluff provides a wide aerial view of the south-central part of the garden. Another group of rhodies parallels the slope on the opposite side of the pavilion.
Hydrangea vines (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris), which produce clusters of fragrant white flowers in late June, climb the lattice on the Garden Cottage. Hellikki rhododendrons, which bear fuchsia flower trusses, cover the mounds in front.
Opposite the Cottage, on the east side of the space, is a small slate patio that harmonizes with the garden’s gray granite rock. The edge of the patio is raised with a small berm and planted with rosebay rhododendrons, both to create a comforting sense of enclosure and to screen the space from houses in the distance.
In the southeast corner of the patio is a handsome concrete sculpture of the Buddha sitting in his classic lotus position. Another sculpture—a tortoise crawling atop the large flat rock on the south side of the patio—creates still more interest. Like all the furniture and sculpture in the garden, it creates strong, year-long interest while requiring absolutely no care.
The classical urns next to the pavilion contain impatiens, arguably a shade garden’s most valuable annual. They produce large numbers of bright, colorful blossoms all summer long, even in heavy shade.
Impatiens are almost the only plants at Evergreen that need watering (and, of course, yearly planting). Virtually all the others—and absolutely all the trees, shrubs, and ground covers—are low-maintenance flora: they’re long-lived; they’re watered mainly by rain and snow; they’re mulched by fallen leaves and needles (which keep the garden moist and largely weed-free), and they’re fertilized by decaying leaves and needles.
The Northwest Amphitheater
Just beyond the Visitor Reception & Exhibit Area, you enter the northwest corner of Evergreen. It’s a broad amphitheater formed by the 75-foot-long berm on your left, which runs along Summer Street; and by the north slope of the garden, which rises ahead of you and to your right.
The path is less than 30 feet from the street and passing cars, and not much farther away from three neighboring houses. But you barely see them. Instead of houses, cars, asphalt, and telephone poles, you see mostly nature: an idealized woodland of huge white pines, sweeps of rhododendrons, and carpets of ground covers.
You see mainly nature, not development, because the garden is screened by the berm along the street. A berm is a man-made but natural-looking ridge made of fill or other material. The berms at Evergreen are covered with topsoil and planted with rhododendrons. The berms and the rhodies on top of them help create the illusion that Evergreen is not merely a one-acre in-town lot but a much larger and more rural estatelike property. (How the berms at Evergreen were built is described in How Evergreen Was Created.)
Berms are ideal privacy screens because they’re less expensive than fences or walls; they never wear out (how could they? they’re dirt); they’re more neighborly than walls, fences, and hedges; they can be made almost any height and still look good, so they can be made high enough to screen virtually anything; they require virtually no maintenance; they’re effective sound barriers; and they can enhance the natural look of a naturalistic garden.
They’re used throughout Evergreen, mainly along the boundaries, to block views that would otherwise break the illusion that the garden is a large suburban or rural woodland.
Now, instead of development, you see giant old white pines, many approaching 100 years old and almost three feet thick at the base, with picturesque deep, furrowed bark and wide, flaring roots that are impressive natural sculpture. You also see Roseum Elegans rhodies and Rhododendron maximum, also known as rosebays. The former are in bloom in late May/early June. The latter sport white blossoms, even in deep shade, from mid-June through mid-July. Because both shrubs are large evergreens they can provide extensive year-round screening.
The ground cover on the berm and along many of the paths is Pachysandra terminalis, which creates a thick, lustrous, weed-suppressing carpet.
Another ground cover is Vinca minor, also known as periwinkle or myrtle. It’s named for its lovely periwinkle, or lavender blue, flowers, which bloom in May. Like most of the plants in the garden, it’s evergreen, so it provides year-round interest. Like all the plants in Evergreen, it’s shade-tolerant.
Mountain laurel is one of several varieties of broad-leafed evergreens in the garden. Its exquisite white blossoms light up the garden in June. Because of their showy flowers, mountain laurel and rhododendron are the most colorful, and therefore among the most valuable evergreen shrubs.
The large shrub with the pointed leaves is ‘Brouwer’s Beauty’ andromeda, another broad-leaf evergreen shrub valued especially for the unusual yellow-green color of its new foliage. It’s a cross between Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica), described below, and mountain andromeda (Pieris floribunda).
The route next passes between a pair of large Japanese andromeda, known for its long, pointed, wavy leaves and lily-of-the-valley-like clusters of tiny white flowers. Then the path climbs gently up the slope of the amphitheater.
Atop a pole on your right is a large, hand-made wooden bird feeder shaped like a miniature house. The rustic, brown-stained structure doesn’t actually feed many birds—squirrels eat most of its seeds—but, like Evergreen’s garden furniture, it’s purpose is at least as aesthetic as practical: Like the garden’s sculpture it’s a decorative accent, effective all year round, and it requires virtually no care other than a coat of stain every few years.
As the path approaches the top of the slope, it passes an usually striking witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), on your right. The little tree rises elegantly from the earth on a single, leaning stem, and it supports a wide, gracefully arching crown of leaves. It looks a bit like one of those giant fans that servants once waved over Oriental potentates to keep them cool.
The witch hazel didn’t grow into this neat shape by itself. Like Evergreen itself, it’s an idealized witch hazel: It’s the product of creative pruning, in which extraneous stems and branches were removed and the tree was reduced to this simple, elegant essence.
Usually witch hazels are undesirable species in a woodland garden because their gnarly, gangly stems, which lean out in every direction, spoil the consistent verticality of the rest of the trees—which is why most of them were removed when Evergreen was created. (See How Evergreen Was Created.) But a witch hazel can become an attractive specimen tree and a nice accent when—as here—it’s carefully pruned and the only one left standing.
It’s another demonstration of how just one object, and one object only—a single sculpture, for instance, or a single large, special plant—can bring a beautiful order to a space. This witch hazel is a focal point that can be seen throughout much of the northwest corner of the garden. (It also helps screen out a neighbor’s house and provides warm yellow foliage color in the fall.)
After the path reaches the top of the Amphitheater—Evergreen’s highest point—it turns right and runs east along the northern boundary of the garden. The house next door is less than 40 feet away, but you can’t see it because another berm, planted with rosebay rhododendrons, runs along the left side of the path.
The berm is three to four feet high, but it doesn’t look artificial, for several reasons:
- It looks natural because it’s anything but geometric: its height, width, and overall shape are not uniform but irregular.
- The berm is built on the crest of the amphitheater, so it doesn’t look like an addition to the grade; on the contrary, it looks like the natural top of the slope.
- It’s picturesquely punctuated by giant granite boulders known as glacial erratics (so called because they were deposited by glaciers in the last ice age).
- It’s blanketed with towering rosebay rhododendrons that obscure its exact shape.
Color in this part of Evergreen is created not only by the white blossoms of the rosebay rhododendrons, but also by the foliage of large drifts of variegated ‘Emerald ’n Gold’ euonymus that grow on both sides of the path. This green-and-gold-leaf shrub is an especially valuable woodland garden plant because:
- It’s shade tolerant.
- It’s evergreen, so it provides foliage color all year long.
- It’s a vine, so it not only carpets the floor of garden rooms; it also climbs trees and rocks, so it can spread its yellow color up the walls of garden rooms.
- As it grows, it automatically creates more and more color, year after year.
The path then passes sweeps of another shade-tolerant broad-leaf evergreen shrub: leucothoe. Pronounced loo-COE-tho-ee, its small, pointed leaves and low, spreading habit contrast nicely with rhododendrons.
The Northeast Niche
Now the path runs over a thick carpet of brown pine needles and passes between two huge white pines, which are the gates to the Northeast Niche. The Niche is edged by a two- to three-foot-high berm, also covered with immense rosebay rhododendrons, which runs along the boundary of the northeast corner of the garden. The northern and eastern sections of the berm meet at about a 120-degree angle, which helps create a charming nook that’s a perfect setting for a cluster of yellow hosta; the large splotches of color in its variegated foliage create a bright focal point.
As the path approaches the hosta, it passes the glossy serrated leaves of two little meserve hollies (Ilex meserveae), on the right. The hollies are small because they’re occasionally eaten by deer, which sometimes wander through the garden. Even though the hollies are shade-tolerant and offer striking evergreen foliage and red berries, they’re used sparingly in Evergreen—not only because deer occasionally devour them, but also because, unlike other broadleaf evergreen shrubs, they don’t create showy flowers.
On the opposite side of the path is a more colorful evergreen shrub: a Pieris japonica ‘Dorothy Wykoff.’ Its leaves turn burgundy in the winter, and in the spring its deep red buds open to fragrant light pink flowers (which gradually turn white). Like all andromedas, it’s shade-tolerant—although the darker the shade, the less profuse are its flowers.
In front of the hostas, the path bends to the right and runs along the upper eastern edge of the garden. Another berm, also planted with rosebay rhododendrons, runs parallel to the path, on the left. Like the berm along the northern boundary, it was designed to incorporate the handsome boulders already on the site. The gray glacial erratics are not only picturesque natural rock sculpture; they also made the berms easier to build because every space already filled by rock was space that didn’t need to be filled with gravel or loam and didn’t need to be planted. (See How Evergreen Was Created.)
The path immediately passes another drift of Emerald ’n Gold euonymus, on the left, and a huge white pine, on the right.
To the right of the pine is a cluster of large gray granite rocks that were made into a natural planter by filling the spaces between them with loam. The boulders hold the soil on three sides; on the fourth side the loam makes an ever-widening slope as it spills out and away from the rocks—rather like the contents of a horn of plenty. Vinca and Emerald Gaiety euonymus have spread over the top and down the sides of the boulders and they’re steadily making their way along the ground around them.
The path then passes a luxurious sweep of leucothoe in front of the berm, on the left; and patches of low-bush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) and winterberry (Gaultheria procumbens), on the right. The blueberry and the winterberry (also known as teaberry and checkerberry) are both volunteer plants. Like the rocks and the white pines, they were gifts of nature (also known, less elegantly, as “free plants”). Neither one was planted, but both are nurtured by weeding out any species that try to compete with them.
Blueberries contribute not only tiny, sweet namesake fruits, but also ruddy foliage in the fall; the leaves of these specimens would be even redder and the fruits more plentiful if the pines did not create so much shade.
Winterberry is an evergreen ground cover that produces red berrylike fruits (which, like blueberries, are edible), as well as rich red or burgundy foliage in cold weather. It’s slowly growing thicker, and when it masses in, it’ll be a striking carpet of glossy dark green foliage.
Higher up the gentle slope behind the winterberry is a charming sculpture of a reclining fawn.
The path then passes between a cluster of immense white pines with a skirt of Emerald Gaiety euonymus below them. Immediately after, the route runs into a grouping of glacial erratics that are just high enough to make natural rock benches. Sit on one of them and you’ll enjoy eye-level views of rhododendrons and other evergreen shrubs all around you. You can also savor the graceful composition to the north, where you just walked.
Here, too, a small opening in the rhododendrons on the berm opens up a dramatic view of granite cliffs to the east. This noteworthy vista is an example of what landscape designers call “borrowing” a view. The cliffs are actually on a neighbor’s land, but the garden “borrows” them visually. That is, they have been made a visual (though not legal) part of Evergreen simply by making them part of the view.
Because a landscape is mainly a visual, not a legal concept—that is, your landscape isn’t only the land that you own; it’s everything you can see from the land that you own—you need to control what you see as much as possible. Evergreen seeks both to borrow every good view (such as the striking granite cliffs), by opening it up, and to block every not-so-good view—usually some kind of development, which is totally out of place in a naturalistic garden—by screening it with berms and plants.
This view of the cliffs is a result of selective pruning. The vista was once blocked by witch hazels and a few other trees growing between the garden and the crags. Now you can see the striking rock walls because the lower branches of the trees have been removed. The upper limbs, however, have been left alone, so they help screen the houses and traffic on Route 13, which would otherwise be visible on top of the cliffs.
Now the path turns sharply left and gently descends to a viewpoint that provides Evergreen’s widest vista: the entire southeast corner of the garden. The overlook is named the Mirador, after the lovely Spanish word for viewpoint.
Below the Mirador, the garden slopes steeply down to Evergreen’s seasonal cascading brook. The Mirador is so high above the brook that it offers bird’s-eye views not only of the stream, but also of the sweeps of rhododendrons, mountain laurel, and ferns on the West Bank; the dark evergreen carpets of vinca and pachysandra on the slopes of the East Bank; and the smooth, gray granite cliffs looming almost 30 feet above the brook, on the eastern edge of the garden.
The Mirador was once nothing more than the upper slope of the steep banking that it now overlooks. However, just a few dozen wheelbarrow loads of fill transformed the site into a graceful and dramatic woodland balcony. The edge of the Mirador is planted with a semicircular sweep of ‘Girard’s Rainbow’ leucothoe, whose new foliage is a variegated “rainbow” of red, pink, yellow, green, and white tints; it’s an exciting plant for an exciting place. Because leucothoe grows low, it doesn’t block the view.
The path now follows the curve of The Mirador, passes a handsome rock at the end of the viewpoint, and descends to a slope that’s planted mainly with a 20-foot-long, 15-foot-wide sweep of ‘Silver Run’ leucothoe. The shrub is named for the large white splotches on its new foliage, which brightens up the south-central part of the garden.
The route briefly follows a narrow path between the leucothoe, on your left, and granite ledges, on your right, and immediately comes to Evergreen’s largest tree. It’s the giant white pine you passed as you climbed up the steps to the Visitor Reception & Exhibit Area. Growing up the three-foot-thick trunk of the pine is Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata), a deciduous vine with large, three-pointed maplelike leaves that turn red in the autumn.
Next to the pine is an artificial earthen ramp that rises toward the driveway. Made of sand-clay fill and topped with loam, the smooth ramp cost much less to build than the ruined stone-and-concrete steps it replaced. (See How Evergreen Was Created for details.) Earthen ramps are also easier than steps to ascend and descend, and, unlike steps, they last indefinitely.
The White Room
At the foot of the ramp, the path switches back to the left, passes below the large sweep of ‘Silver Run’ leucothoe described above, and bends to the left again as it rounds a flat-topped, 2-foot-high, 12-foot-wide boulder on the right.
Then the path immediately switches back to the right, squeezes between another berm, on the left, and another boulder, on the right (a rhododendron is planted in a low mound of loam on its concave top), and arrives at the northern entrance of the White Room.
If you sit on the white cast-iron bench at the entrance, you’ll see how this roughly triangular space earned its name.
To your left is a low berm, an extension of the higher one just outside the White Room. The berm, and the thicket of rosebay rhododendrons on top of it, form the east wall of the White Room and screen it from houses on Route 13.
On your right is a tight cluster of boulders, including the low, flat-topped rock you passed on your way to the White Room. Large pines and more rosebays grow among the rocks, and together they form the west wall of the room.
Straight ahead of you, directly opposite the white bench, is the near-vertical north face of the biggest boulder in the garden. This gigantic rock wall is 15 feet wide at its base and tapers up to a 12-foot-high peak near its center. A rhododendron and a Japanese andromeda are planted at the base of the rock to emphasize its dramatic shape. The boulder and the shrubs in front of it are the south wall of the White Room.
At the base of all three walls of the White Room are billowing drifts of Emerald Gaiety euonymus. In the middle of the euonymus below the boulder is a cluster of white-and-green hosta. In the middle of the hosta is the most powerful focal point in the composition: a lovely white statue of a cherub, shading his eyes with his hand as he peers over the plants toward the northern entrance of the White Room.
This small, irregular room—about 10 to 15 feet wide and 20 to 30 feet long—takes its name from seemingly every feature within it: the white statue, the white bench, the white blossoms of the rhodies and the andromeda, and the white foliage of the hosta and euonymus.
Note how the euonymus, like many plants in Evergreen, is arranged in large sweeps or drifts. Substantial groupings of the same species or variety are usually the most satisfying planting scheme; they avoid what is probably the most common mistake in garden design: busyness: too many different kinds of plants in too small a space.
As the narrow path curves through the White Room, it’s edged by euonymus on both sides, and it passes a 12-foot-wide outcrop, on the right, that’s part of the cluster of boulders in the west wall of the room. The ledge’s flat top and near-vertical two-foot-high sides meet at a right angle, making it resemble a giant granite table.
Finally, the path passes a sculpture of a fawn lying in the euonymus below the rock table.
Then the path leaves the White Room, bends to the right around the low tablelike rock, and curves through a large sweep of hay-scented ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) . Like every other fern in the garden, they were not planted. Like the pines and the rocks, they were gifts of nature. Originally the fern bed was an uninteresting and unnatural-looking square shape. As described in How Evergreen Was Created, it was transformed into two smaller, more rounded shapes simply by cutting a curving path through the middle of it—an unusual but much-welcomed example of gardening by subtraction.
As the path winds through the ferns, it passes a slowly growing patch of partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), on the left. Like the winterberry near the northeast corner of the garden, it’s a native evergreen ground cover with minute glossy dark green leaves and red berrylike fruits, and it simply appeared in the garden a few years ago. Like the winterberry, it’s encouraged to prosper simply by removing any ferns and any other plants that try to infiltrate it. It’s already a striking, solid carpet of ground-hugging foliage.
After passing through the ferns, the path switches back to the left and passes a small patch of Vinca minor ‘Illumination’ growing below another giant pine on the left. Then, after gently descending past rhododendrons growing up the slope on the right, the trail edges a small sweep of Emerald Gaiety euonymus and a drift of yellow ‘Gold Standard’ hosta, both on the left, and a striking patch of ‘Emerald ’n Gold’ euonymus on the right.
If you turn around at this point you’ll see a sculpture of the Buddha seated between the Emerald Gaiety euonymus and the large sweep of hay-scented fern described above. The statue is placed in this particular spot to draw your eye down to the ground where the Buddha is sitting, thereby making the ferns behind him, and the plants behind the ferns, loom higher, larger, and more impressive.
This and other sculpture is valuable because it provides beauty and strong interest all year long with absolutely no maintenance.
The route now follows the path to the left. Almost immediately it passes one of the largest white pines in the garden—close enough so you can touch the rough, fissured bark of the decades-old tree.
Immediately after the pine, the path curves along a small grove of mature rhodies, on the right. The 30-year-old shrubs have been pruned up to reveal their long, thick woody trunks. The 10-foot-high plants look more like small trees than shrubs.
Then the route passes three eight-foot-high andromedas with delicately contorted branches and immediately enters the Gold Room.
The Gold Room . . .
. . . is one of Evergreen’s most memorable spaces, and the view from the four-foot-wide cast-iron bench on the south side of the room reveals why.
Opposite the large bench, on the other side of the space, is the huge boulder that forms the north wall of the Gold Room; it’s more than 20 feet wide and 15 feet high. This giant erratic—the largest rock in the garden—is the other side of the boulder that forms the south wall of the White Room. In the Gold Room the boulder is even more striking. Its face is flat, almost vertical, and even wider and taller than its facade in the White Room. Just as in the White Room, however, it tapers, rather like a pointed Gothic window, up to a center peak.
On the ground directly below the peak is another, smaller cast-iron bench. Like other benches in Evergreen, it’s more than a place to sit: It also sets off the huge gray rock; and, like the sculpture of the Buddha you passed only a minute ago, it lowers your eye—it brings it down to the bottom of the rock, thereby both emphasizing and visually increasing its already impressive height.
The east wall of the Gold Room is almost as impressive: It’s a 30-foot-long berm that’s about 6 feet high at each end and rises to about 10 feet in the center. The berm and the big thicket of tall rhodies on top of it screen out houses on Route 13—and everything else beyond the berm except tree tops.
The south wall of the room is created by still more mature rhodies and by another boulder, about 8 feet tall and 14 feet long.
The west wall of the room is a cluster of pine trees, large rocks, and still more rhododendrons.
In the center of the Gold Room is a large, rough triangle of Vinca minor ‘Illumination,’ about six feet wide and eight feet long. On the eastern edge of the vinca are rocks that were enhanced by digging dirt away from their outer edges, next to the path. This excavation—another example of gardening by subtraction—not only made the stones look larger and more imposing; it also made the patch of vinca more impressive by raising it more than a foot above the path around it.
In the middle of the vinca is a graceful, low, round concrete bowl that’s always planted every spring with the most brilliant yellow or gold flora available: sometimes coleus with solid gold foliage, sometimes a yellow hosta such as ‘Gold Standard’ or ‘Paul’s Glory’—whatever can create the biggest, brightest splotch of color.
Placing just a few bright flowers near the optical center of a space was a favorite trick of Moorish gardeners in medieval Spain, and it remains popular in hot, dry, sunny climates where water is scarce but, unfortunately, plants need more frequent watering than they do in cooler, wetter, or shadier places. Properly placed, just a few plants can dominate a space and make an entire outdoor room look well planted. The viewer is too busy looking at the plants to notice that there are actually not many of them.
Happily, this planter requires relatively little maintenance. Yes, coleus is an annual, so it needs to be planted every spring; and although hosta is a perennial, it can’t survive the winter in an above-ground container, so it too must be planted every year. But, once installed, plants in the bowl rarely need watering (other than rainfall) because the Gold Room is often in shade, the plants are mulched, the leaves of the plants create even more shade, and the planting soil is nearly half peat moss, which retains abundant moisture.
Color in the Gold Room is created not only by the foliage in the planter, but also by the vast sweeps of variegated Emerald ’n Gold euonymus that blanket the edges of the room and creep up the boulders and the pine trees that help form the walls of the space. Still more color is created by the pale-yellow blossoms of ‘Hong Kong’ rhododendrons, which bloom in May.
The concrete planter, incidentally, is actually a large birdbath stuck in the ground, so only the thick part of its pedestal is visible. Its wide, round bowl looks even wider—and therefore more impressive—than it would otherwise because it’s closer to the ground. Its pedestal also looks more imposing, not only because it enters the earth at its widest point, but also because its frivolous formal details are buried. What’s more, the lowered bowl draws your eye closer to the ground, and, like the bench in front of the giant boulder, it makes the boulder, in contrast, seem even higher.
The birdbath also provides three other benefits:
- Its wide bowl holds a larger, showier cluster of plants than a narrower, smaller planter would accommodate. (Three holes were drilled in the bottom of the bowl to allow drainage.)
- Like the planting urns in the Visitor Reception & Exhibit Area, it unifies the space because both its color and texture harmonizes with the garden’s gray granite rocks.
- The birdbath cost less than real planters with less useful and less attractive shapes.
In the northeast corner of the Gold Room, a short, narrow passageway runs between rhododendrons growing more than 10 feet higher than your head. Then it slips between two large rocks that form a natural stone gate that leads to the West Bank of the brook.
Just beyond the stone gate, the trail forks. Go right here, and you start descending toward the brook on a narrow path. You’ll pass huge rhododendrons growing on the long berm, to your right, that forms the east wall of the Gold Room. On your left you’ll see mountain andromeda (Pieris floribunda) and mountain laurel—the species Kalmia latifolia plus several cultivars with pink blossoms; all were planted here and elsewhere on the West Bank because they need a semi-sunny spot to flower profusely, and the West Bank is one of Evergreen’s brighter places. (Unlike the rest of the garden, it has almost no white pines that block sunlight.)
As you get closer to the stream you’ll pass ferns on the left, and, behind the ferns, a sweep of Emerald ’n Gold euonymus growing up a maple tree and a long, low boulder.
Immediately after that, the path levels off at the causeway across the brook. A causeway is to a bridge as a berm is to a fence or wall, and as a ramp is to steps: They’re all natural-looking, low-cost, low-maintenance alternatives to more expensive, more formal garden infrastructure.
Causeways are simple, damlike structures easily made by spreading rocks, fill, or similar materials across the stream. A pipe, or merely a channel (as here), carries the water across it. A causeway costs much less to build than, say, a wooden bridge; and, unlike a bridge, it needs virtually no maintenance.
This causeway not only takes you across the brook; in the spring and after heavy rains it also provides a long upstream view of cascades. And when there’s enough water in the brook, the causeway also acts as a dam and creates a pool: a lovely sheet of water picturesquely bound by massive mossy boulders. Because the pool is shallow, it can fill up with just a little water.
The downstream side of the causeway is planted with a lush sweep of pachysandra, which flourishes in the moist earth.
Farther downstream, the brook is a pretty composition of mossy rocks, pools, and more pachysandra.
Like the handsome cliffs on the eastern edge of the garden, the brook and the large mossy rocks in and around the streambed were all gifts of nature. The site was enhanced by removing honeysuckle bushes from the streambed and debris from the base of the cliffs—thereby opening both the stream and the cliffs to view—and by building paths and viewpoints along the banks; by making causeways (you’ll cross the one upstream shortly); and by planting pachysandra, which both unifies the space and enhances the stream by drawing your eye down to it. This work is described in How Evergreen Was Created.
After crossing the causeway to the East Bank, the path curves to the left (in front of a huge pine tree) and heads upstream. A broad sweep of white-and-green ‘Silver Edge’ pachysandra carpets the slope on your right, which rises to the base of the cliffs. On your left, the banking slopes gently down to the pool above the causeway; you can walk down for a waterside view.
The trail again bends to the left, around a large rock, then hugs the picturesque rocky streambed—sometimes only inches away from the falling water—as it follows it uphill. Thick, lush sweeps of vinca and pachysandra flourish in the rich, damp soil on both banks of the stream.
Soon, however, the cliffs draw so close to the brook that there’s no room for plants or even a path on the East Bank. Instead, the route recrosses the stream on a second stone causeway, which provides a long, exciting view of mossy rocks and falling water both upstream and downstream.
Back on the West Bank, the route turns sharply to the right and continues following the brook upstream. Now masses of hay-scented ferns crowd the path on your left. On your right, on the far side of the stream, smooth, almost vertical cliffs plunge down to the water.
The path quickly approaches a wide, flat rock that spans the streambed. When the brook is full enough, it flows over the rock in a mesmerizing wide, thin fall. (This and other features of the brook are described in How Evergreen Was Created).
Now the trail switches back to the left and heads downstream, parallel to the brook but several yards away from it. As it descends, you have a continuous view of both the East and West banks below you. You see the long wall of cliffs rising above the 40-foot-long drift of ferns on your left, as well as hostas, rhodies, leucothoe, and large pine trees on the slope to your right.
Soon the route switches sharply back to the left along a boulder and zigzags down to the stream. As it curves through lush, thick beds of pachysandra, it passes two viewpoints, both on the left, and just a foot or so from the brook. Then the route reaches a path, also on the left, that quickly ends at an overlook with a dramatic overhead view of the pool above the lower causeway.
Now the path turns away from the brook, climbs through a short, narrow tunnel of evergreen shrubs, retraces the route of the garden tour through the Gold Room, and quickly arrives at Stake #14.
Just west of the Gold Room you can look straight ahead and slightly upward and see the Cave. It’s not a real cavern, of course—it’s several immense glacial erratics leaning against each other—but it’s still a striking natural focal point.
Follow the path toward the Cave, and when you reach an intersection just below it, take the short path to the left for a closer look.
The Cave is framed by the rhododendrons on the berm to its left; by a massive white pine with wide flaring roots to the right of its entrance; and by a patch of Emerald ’n Gold euonymus on the ground below the entrance; the euonymus draws the eye downward, making the Cave look larger and higher.
Both the jagged entrance to the Cave and the 12-foot-long tunnel inside are about 6 feet high and 2 to 3 feet wide—enough for a person to slip inside. However, the rough rock has sharp edges, and if you’re not very careful, it’ll scratch you. Also, the dirt floor of the tunnel is remarkably smooth and level—but only for about 6 feet; then it abruptly slopes upward toward a miniscule opening between the boulders.
Happily, there’s no need to enter the Cave. You can see it all from the entrance.
After you’ve checked out the Cave, walk back to the previous intersection and take the path to the left, which rises through a long, wide allée of Emerald Gaiety euonymus as it brings you back to the driveway.
From here, the steps on the right return you to the Visitor Reception & Exhibit Area.