If you let an architect play around with a garden, he'll do one right thing -- he'll think of masses and volumes.
And you won't have any trouble, if you go along with him, on the question of what to plant. He'll order plenty of ivy, much flagstone, five round yews and 17 clipped hollies and that is that.
But we who are gardeners (and never mind what it looks like) are not so easily satisified. During the winter -- and may God take it away soon -- we shall go on with notes on a few plants that every right-thinking gardener either grows, longs for, or grumbles at the absence of.
I have mentioned the nandinas, mahonias, wild native juniper and photinia.
There are plenty of other evergreen creatures that should abundantly inhabit gardens where there is room for them. You cannot grow everything, alas, but a lot more than most people seem to think of.
One evergreen, a conifer, that I shall most certainly regret is Leland's cypress, Cupressocyparis leylandii, which is rapidly converting England back to gloomy forests of pre-Roman times.
This wonderful tree is rather coarse looking, not in any way comparable to the elegance of the yew, like a medium-green arbor vitae. It is columnar, never growing very wide even with age.
But it grows two to four feet a year, and in 10 years -- well. That, of course, is the reason that the minute gardeners hear of it they race out to get one. For some incredible reason it is an uncommon plant in American nurseries.
For a rapidly growing evergreen screen -- and it makes a splendid windbreak, if you happen to live in some windy place near the sea -- nothing is better, at least in temperate parts of America.
In three years, from a foot-high plant in a pot, it will reach maybe 8 feet. It is supposed the tree will reach 150 feet or so in a man's lifetime. It is a hybrid of two other conifers and nobody knows how tall it will eventually get.
If you let this cypress grow to 14 feet and then clip its top every year, it should stay manageable.
In England, where it has been planted all over the place (for the English tend to go whole hog over things, as they did a generation ago for rhododendrons, to the great disfiguring of much good woodland) and so noted a tree man as Alan Mitchell has warned that this cypress is changing the landscape.
I Recommended it several years ago to a woman who wanted precisely such a tree out in the country. It is fairly astonishing that a tree exists that is evergreen, quick growing, hardy, free from insect pests, suitable for open exposed places, and narrow in outline. Since this cypress suited her requirements utterly, she of course did not plant it (I have been told) and is probably still happily groaning about, instead of solving her problem.
If the gardener is a decent person, he will be chary of planting tall evergreens where they will shade his neighbor's garden too much. Still, if used with restraint and judgement, Leyland's cypress is the answer to many gardening prayers. Please do not ask me where to buy it. It has been around for decades and is easily propagated, but nurserymen are notoriously slow to notice things. I bought mine three years ago, for a dollar or so, in a roadside nursery near Sandy Springs, Md.
Competent nurserymen can order plants for you, but not all of them give a damn.
More useful in small gardens are some of the broadleaf (that is, not needles) evergreens, and two of unspeakable merit are the Japanese andromeda or Pieris, and the Skimmia.
Pieris japonica has glossy pointed leaves on a nearly globular bush about 6 feet high, with racemes of white flowers (like tired lilies of the valley) hanging down in late winter. There are not many sorts of pieris, including "Flame of the Forest" and some others that are remarkale in the red color of the new leaves.
Once at some effort I acquired Pieris forrestii, which is noted for its scarlet new growth, but it did not survive its first winter. The colored forms now seen -- garden varieties -- are said to be perfectly hardy here.
Skimmias have wider, longer leaves and corymbs of whitish flowers that would not be noticed, really, except the buds are present all winter. It is always a pleasure to see the unopened flower clusters in late Feburary, say, when one is hungry for signs of bloom. Often the little stems of the cluster are rich red. The skimmias keep the sexes separate, on different plants, so if the lustrous large berries, almost like cherries, are wanted in the garden, (and of course, they are very much wanted) it is necessary to have a male skimmia nearby.
Both the pierises and skimmias emerge unharmed from hideous winters like the one three years ago.
They are not good for screening the garden from undesirable views. Think of them as you would think of a large old box brush. Both skimmias and peirises fluorish in light woodland.
Really we are not sufficiently grateful for our fine soils here -- good and acid -- in which we can grow azaleas and broadleaf evergreens without any preparation to speak of (though a bushel of peat moss nicely mixed into the earth at the planting station is worthwhile).
The plants mentioned all do very well in just the sort of site you would grow azaleas, and both pierises and skimmias are at their best from fall to spring, the most desolate of seasons in the garden. They should be planted in late March, and once established they need no more care than azaleas or hollies.