Garden Tour Guide
When Evergreen is opened to the public, visitors receive a free printed brochure that describes a self-guided tour along the garden’s quarter-mile of paths. The four-page pamphlet, reprinted below, describes the features of the garden as seen at 16 numbered stakes along the way.
For a much more extensive description of Evergreen, see the Detailed Garden Description.
You’re less than 30 feet from the street and passing cars and not much farther away from three other houses. But they’ve all but disappeared. Instead of asphalt, cars, telephone poles, and houses, you see mostly an idealized woodland.
The reason is 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 screen the garden from surrounding development.
Berms are less expensive barriers than fences or walls; they’re more neighborly than walls, fences, and hedges; they require virtually no maintenance; they’re a great sound barrier; and they enhance the natural look of the garden.
They’re used throughout Evergreen, mainly along the boundaries, to block views that would otherwise break the unity of the garden.
The rhododendrons are ‘Roseum Elegans’ and rosebays (Rhododendron maximum). The former produce rose-pink flowers in late May/ early June. The latter sport white blossoms, even in deep shade, from mid-June through mid-July. Because both plants are large evergreens, they also 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.
The ground cover near Stake #1 is Vinca minor, also known as periwinkle or myrtle. It sports lovely namesake periwinkle, or lavender blue, flowers in May. Like most of the plants in the garden, it’s evergreen, so it provides year-round interest. Like all plants at Evergreen, it’s shade-tolerant.
The shrub closest to Stake #1 is mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), one of several varieties of broad-leafed evergreens in the garden. Mountain laurel’s exquisite white or pink 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.
Welcome, long-lasting color in Evergreen is provided not only by the flowers but by the variegated foliage of shade-tolerant shrubs and perennials. The small leaves of the shrub Emerald Gaiety euonymus are white-and-green year-round. The hosta offers white-and-green foliage from May until frost. The large, colorful white, yellow, or blue leaves of hostas make them arguably the woodland garden’s most valuable perennials.
The arching witch hazel to the right of the path shows how a usually undesirable tree—most of the witch hazels were removed when Evergreen was created—can become an attractive specimen tree when it’s carefully pruned, and a nice accent when it’s the only one left standing. It also provides warm yellow foliage color in the fall.
Variegated Emerald ’n Gold euonymus is another valuable evergreen shrub because it can bring yellow foliage color into a shady garden all year long.
The small pointed leaves and low, spreading habit of leucothoe (pronounced loo-COE-tho-ee) contrast nicely with rhododendrons; some varieties have scarlet leaves in spring and scarlet or bronze leaves in winter—still more sources of evergreen foliage color. The variety ‘Silver Run,’ planted elsewhere in the garden, produces white-variegated leaves and clusters of tiny white flowers.
Still another broadleaf evergreen shrub that tolerates (light) shade is Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica), known for its long, pointed, wavy leaves and lily-of-the-valley-like clusters of tiny white flowers. Varieties with unusually colorful spring growth include ‘Dorothy Wykoff’ (here) and ‘Brouwer’s Beauty’ (beside the massive white pine tree near Stake #1, and elsewhere in the garden).
The two hollies to the right of the path were eaten by deer in 2003—the first known deer appearance in 20 years! Even though hollies are shade-tolerant evergreen shrubs, they’re used sparingly in Evergreen—not because deer like them, but because they don’t offer colorful flowers or foliage.
Because of its size, the large cluster of yellow ‘Fanfare’ hosta is a bright focal point in the niche in the northeast corner of the garden.
Opposite the hosta bed, and to the right of the large white pine, a large drift of Vinca minor and Emerald Gaiety euonymus fills up a natural planter formed by a cluster of large granite rocks.
Sit on these natural rock benches and savor the composition to the north, where you just walked. The unusually large number of these glacial erratics are among Evergreen’s most treasured natural sculpture. Like the large white pines and hilly topography, the rocks are among the “bones,” or major organizing elements, of the garden.
Look down the slope to the east and at the low granite cliffs beyond it. You can see the striking cliffs through the witch hazels because the lower limbs of the trees have been removed. The upper limbs, however, have been left alone to help screen the houses on top of the cliff. This is an example not only of careful pruning to enhance a view but also of “borrowing” a view—the cliffs are actually on a neighbor’s property. Your landscape isn’t only the land you own; it includes everything you can see from your land. Good landscaping seeks to control the view: to block everything you don’t want to see (with berms, plants, or other barriers) and to open up—or borrow—everything you do want to see.
This is the Mirador, named after the lovely Spanish word for viewpoint. It offers a wide view of both banks of the seasonal brook. The Mirador isn’t a natural landform—it’s another berm. It’s planted with Girard’s Rainbow leucothoe, named for the variegated “rainbow” of red, white, yellow, and/or pink tints in its new leaves. Because leucothoe grows low, it doesn’t block the view.
This slope is planted mainly with Vinca minor and ‘Silver Run’ leucothoe. The leucothoe’s white flowers and foliage brighten up the south-central part of the garden.
The artificial earthen ramp on the right cost much less to build than the ruined stone steps it replaced. Also, ramps look natural, they’re easier than steps to ascend and descend, and, unlike steps, they last indefinitely.
The deciduous vine growing up the rocks and the large pine is Boston ivy—not evergreen, alas, but no plant is perfect.
This is the White Room, named, of course, for its white bench, its white sculpture, the white foliage of its variegated hosta and euonymus, the white flowers of its Catawba rhododendrons, and the white blooms of the rosebay rhododendrons on the berm along the east side of the room (to your left) and on the boulders along the west side. The berm, the rhodies, and the boulders create the walls of the room. Have a seat on the bench and enjoy the view.
Note how the euonymus, like many plants in Evergreen, forms a large sweep. Large groupings of the same plant—known as drifts or sweeps—are usually the most satisfying planting scheme; they avoid what is probably the most common error in garden design: busyness, which is too many different plants in too small a space.
From here the path takes you through a large drift of hay-scented fern. Like every other fern in the garden, they were not planted. Like the pines and the rocks, they were gifts of nature. Originally, however, the fern bed was an uninteresting and unnatural-looking square shape. It was transformed into two pleasantly curved, smaller sweeps simply by cutting a curving path through the middle of it—a nice example of gardening by subtraction.
Look back at the sculpture of the Buddha. It’s 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 larger and more impressive.
Like other sculpture, the Buddha is valuable because it provides beauty and strong interest all year long with absolutely no maintenance.
The Gold Room is named after the yellow variegated hosta in the planter, the carpet of Vinca minor ‘Illumination’ around the planter, the pale-yellow blossoms of the Hong Kong rhododendrons, and the variegated Emerald ’n Gold euonymus blanketing the edges of the room and growing up the boulders and the pine trees that help form the walls of the space. Still more color is created by the two white benches and by the flowers of the rosebay rhododendrons growing atop the massive berm that forms the east wall of the room.
From the large lower bench, look back at the smaller bench beneath the enormous glacial erratic—the largest boulder in the garden—that forms the north wall of the room. Notice how the smaller bench brings your eye down to the bottom of the boulder and makes the rock look even larger—and how the planter has a similar effect.
Follow the path through the natural stone gate and you’ll be on the West Bank of the seasonal brook.
The causeway across the brook 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 easily made—they’re simply stones covered with dirt; a pipe or merely a channel (as here) carries the water across it.
The causeway not only takes you across the brook; in the early 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 that creates the pool—a lovely sheet of water bound by massive mossy boulders. Because the pool is shallow, it fills up with only a little water.
The brook is another gift of nature—as are the mossy rocks in and around the streambed, the ferns and barberry bushes, and the handsome cliffs on the East Bank.
The site was enhanced by removing honeysuckle bushes from the stream bed 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 enhances the stream bed by drawing your eye down to it.
Because the West Bank is one of the brighter spots in the garden, several varieties of mountain laurel and andromeda that bloom best in light shade were planted here. There’s also a sweep of white-and-green ‘Silver Edge’ pachysandra to the right of the path on the East Bank and sweeps of hosta on the upper West Bank.
As you follow the path upstream and downstream, be sure to pause at viewpoints along the way. After you walk downstream, retrace your steps through the Gold Room until you reach Stake #14.
Look straight ahead and slightly upward and you’ll see the Cave. It’s not a true cave, of course, but several immense glacial erratics leaning against each other; it’s still a striking natural focal point—mainly because it really does look a lot like the real thing.
The Cave is framed by the rhododendrons on the berm to its left and by the low Emerald ’n Gold euonymus below its entrance; the euonymus draws the eye to the ground, making the Cave seem higher and wider.
Take the path to the left for a closer look at the Cave. Then walk back to Stake #15 and take the path on the right, which rises through an allée of Emerald Gaiety euonymus as it returns to the driveway.
To your immediate left, a massive berm (the highest in the garden) is covered with rosebay and Roseum Elegans rhododendrons. On the opposite side of the driveway, a row of ancient yews rises atop a stone wall. Both of these features help screen Evergreen from development around it.
Directly across the driveway, the rhodies in the berm are echoed by a sweep of 37 more Roseum Elegans 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 literally 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 bloomed. The flowers gradually turn pink, then tan, bringing long-lasting blossom color into the garden from mid-summer until mid-fall.
To your immediate right, a sweep of mountain laurel covers the three-foot-high mound at the head of the driveway. It creates a stunning mass of white flowers in June.
The more-than-100 shrubs edging the driveway are especially impressive because they rise all around you, more than 12 feet higher than your head (and growing), surrounding you with walls of evergreen foliage and flower color.
Now follow the concrete steps back up to the Visitor Reception & Exhibit Area.
At the head of the steps, to the right of the pavilion, a sweep of pink ‘English Roseum’ rhododendrons 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.
On the opposite (east) side of the space is a small patio paved with slate, which 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.
The classical urns contain impatiens, arguably a shade garden’s most valuable annual. Impatiens produce large numbers of bright, colorful blossoms all summer long, even in heavy shade.
The impatiens and a few other annuals are the only plants in Evergreen that need watering (and, of course, yearly planting). All the others—all the trees, shrubs, and ground covers—are low-maintenance: They’re long-lasting, they’re automatically watered by rain and melting 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.
One plant you did not see at Evergreen is grass. Lawns are perhaps the most labor-intensive landscaping known to man, requiring many hours of watering, mowing, weeding, etc. Suggestion: Maintain only as much grass as you use; replace the rest with trees, shrubs, and ground covers. For a detailed discussion about 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.
Like the pines and the ferns, many of the herbaceous flower accents in Evergreen are also gifts of nature. Did you notice the lady slipper orchids and jack-in-the-pulpits?
Evergreen is described in more detail, not only in the Detailed Garden Description, but also in Robert Gillmore’s book, The Woodland Garden. It explains, step by step, how to transform wooded land into a woodland garden and describes 19 outstanding woodland gardens in the United States and Canada.
Berms, ramps, causeways, “borrowing” scenery, gardening by subtraction, alternatives to lawns, low-maintenance plants, and other low-cost, low-care landscaping techniques are also described in another book by Robert Gillmore, Beauty All Around You: How to Create Large Private Low-Maintenance Gardens, Even on Small Lots and Small Budgets.