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Down to Earth: Why Christmas would be incomplete without evergreens

What do Christmas decorations and gardens have in common? Both need a backdrop of evergreens to bind them together, says Cambridge designer Robert Barker

Taxus baccata, the European yew
Taxus baccata, the European yew

I appreciate almost everything has been digitised - and now newspapers, TV and social media are littered with the threat of AI turning our ever-fragile world into a scene from The Matrix - but in our household, we still use an old-fashioned calendar!

I have a digital calendar for work, so the team can keep up to date with what is going on and where we all are, but for a busy family, the simplest way to coordinate is via a calendar hung up on the side of a cupboard in the kitchen.

This morning I turned to the last page and couldn’t believe that we are in December already and the end of the year is upon us. I obviously shouldn’t be surprised: not only am I a grown up and know the order of months and how the seasons work, but I have also had the family calendar as a daily reminder.

This year, though, it really does feel like time has evaporated.

Maybe it’s because this year our spring felt like summer and our summer felt like spring? Or that, due to the financial crisis and wars still raging, adventures have been muted or at the very

least tinged with guilt? It feels like all the highlights, especially in my garden, have passed me by.

Of course, this isn’t really true; there were nights spent enjoying the garden with friends, my daughter hosting her birthday party in the summer, endless afternoons spent playing football with my son. . . And there have been the star-performer plants too: the Alliums in spring, the Hydrangeas in the shady areas in summer, the blues and greens of the Ceratostigma in autumn.

In a well-designed garden there should be all-year-round interest, but I believe every plot needs something evergreen to glue everything together. This isn’t only true of gardens, actually: at this time of year, evergreens also provide the ‘glue’ for Christmas decorations. Even the evergreen tree itself is really a backdrop to set the scene for the lights and decorations. (I appreciate that most people’s Christmas trees do not stay evergreen, however.)

In almost all our designs we add evergreen structure to ground a design and add additional interest throughout the year, but particularly during this festive period. Taxus baccata, pictured, is the preferred option (and now is the most cost-effective time to buy), but plants such as Euonymus ‘Green Spire’ and Lonicera nitida are excellent alternatives. All will become an option for nesting wildlife and be the constant in your garden when next year’s stars shine and fade.

See robertbarkerdesign.com for more.

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