Evergreen trees: the holm oak

by James Alexander-Sinclair

Evergreen trees and shrubs are tricky. They are a very important part of our gardens at this time of year, but they need to be used with great care and a light touch.

Holm oakEvergreen trees and shrubs are tricky. They are a very important part of our gardens at this time of year, but they need to be used with great care and a light touch.

I'm thinking about this at the moment because I'm planting a new woodland for a client. It isn't enormous but needs to serve the very important purpose of screening out a serious industrial-scale eyesore, about a mile or so away across open fields. Therefore I need some evergreen trees in order to ensure that the eyesore is always concealed. The tricky bit is that anything I plant has to fit in with the surrounding landscape. 

If you look around, most native woodland is a bit short of evergreenthere might be some ivy climbing up a tree or the occasional yew.  If you suddenly start planting 'aliens', they stick out like sore thumbs.  By aliens I mean the good serviceable evergreens that work well in gardens but never quite fit in when planted near fields and woods. A tall conifer in a hedge looks as uncomfortable as a jockey in a basketball team.

The good, tall growing evergreens like laurels (I think Prunus lusitanicus is probably the finest), photinias or even the gorgeous Arbutus unedo will not look right either. You see my problem? 

So, my conclusion is that the only reliably hardy, large, evergreen tree that will work in this situation is the holm oak or evergreen oak, Quercus ilex. While not strictly native (it was brought over from the Mediterranean in about 1600) this magnificent tree has been here long enough to apply for citizenship. The leaves are a little like holly, but without the prickles (hence the name Quercus ilex: Ilex is the botanical name for holly). The wood is very hardit used to be used for wagonsand there are very chirpy acorns.

However, as with all imports, it's best not to allow the holm oak free rein among our native woodlands as it can be a bit intrusive, especially in warmer coastal areas. The National Trust attack it with goats on the Isle of Wight. But it’s absolutely fine in gardens where it also makes an excellent hedge, a good screen and fine topiary

In this case it is on the edge of garden and countryside so I think it will do the trick nicely. All we have to do now is wait for it to get big enough.

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Gardeners' World Web User 19/04/2009 at 19:19

Hi there, We are collecting/rehoming five miniture conifers l have read about keeping the root ball together can you tell me abit more as l would really like them to survive the move.

Gardeners' World Web User 20/04/2009 at 15:55

If mature then dig them out with as big a root ball as possible - unless they are still young in which case they will need less soil. Most importantly water well.

Gardeners' World Web User 06/06/2009 at 11:19

A fine looking tree The only problem in a garden is the constant fall of leaves in May April & June Ihave to use the mower every day to clear the lawn of these leather type leaves that will take years to rot away

Gardeners' World Web User 08/06/2009 at 10:00

Roy: Evergreen trees have to lose their leaves at some point and tend to shed steadily through early summer - as you have noticed. At least if you are using the mower to collect them then they are being chopped into smaller fragments which will rot down quicker.

Gardeners' World Web User 17/08/2010 at 17:47

I aslso think your best bet is the ever green Oak. It is far better in my opinion to plant the Good Old Brithish oak but this as we all know will not keep its leaves all the year round. Most people would just plant an evergreen fir. Good on you for deciding on the next baest thing to the Brith Oak tree.

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