The majority of the school year takes place during the winter months. If we want to have welcoming, beautiful landscapes around our school buildings then it is vital to plant evergreens.  Evergreen trees provide:

  • Structural beauty to treescapes, particularly in winter.
  • Shelter by filtering out cold north and east winds.
  • Beneficial nesting sites for birds.
  • Sensory beauty and a range of free gifts all year round.
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana, close up of the pea-sized Cones from a Lawson cypress

Awesome evergreens

Conifers are often frowned upon by the gardening intelligentsia. For this we can thank: the ubiquitous leylandii hedge; a remnant 1970s fascination with dwarf conifers; and the softwood production monoculture which darkens the landscape with regimented blocks of uniform trees.  Far, far removed from the real magnificence of coniferous trees.

In general, conifers make up the world’s oldest living organisms.  And a number of these wonderful species around during the dinosaur era are still with us today – 200 million years later!  Not only are they the oldest species around, but they also hold records as the tallest, the largest, and even the slowest growing tree – making conifers officially Awesome with a capital A!

These young pine trees make a lovely contrast with the yellowing birch leaves. When the birches lose their leaves, the winter structure of the pines remain.

Winter Structure, Interest and Shelter

When setting out planting schemes, always consider evergreens to protect from cold north and easterly winds. Make that your framework, and your space will be visited all year round by people and wildlife.

Redwoods, pines, spruces, cypresses, yews, cedars, hemlocks, junipers – all have their place in the landscape and, when mixed with deciduous trees in a well-considered planting, add vitality and ambiance to our landscapes.

Mixing evergreen and deciduous trees in an arboretum type setting. Such a setting can be repeated in schools.

Zen like

In countries where evergreen conifers are native, their place in the woodland is often alongside deciduous broadleaved trees and this creates maximum seasonal interest.  When the autumn leaves fall, the quiet Zen- like evergreen structure remains.

Interestingly, some conifers have evolved to be deciduous species too, and these are also most interesting – the Dawn Redwood, the Swamp Cypress, the Ginkgo, even common old Larch.  The inspirational site of the larch coming into leaf underplanted with spring bulbs and flowering currants – classically fantastic!

Great for forest schools

Berry Hill School in January 2020

Leaves of Green designed and supervised this planting at Berry Hill School in January 2005; the above photo was taken fifteen years later.  This planting is the base for all Forest School activities.  The use of evergreen trees mixed with deciduous trees creates an unrivalled habitat in schools for people and wildlife. 

Other useful evergreens

Evergreen broadleaved trees must also be added to our schools, and best known will be prickly old Holly, followed by the semi-native Holm oak or evergreen oak.  Beware the oak tree’s size though, as it will outgrow most others and live for around 400 years. Likewise, consideration should be taken when planting Holly on account of its fallen leaves which remain painfully prickly for children for many years. 
Red Cotoneaster berries covered with hoar frost on a cold winters day.

Other smaller evergreen worth planting is Cotoneaster franchettii (above). A 3 metre tall multi-stemmed thicket with greyish green leaves, bee-tastic in flower, then bursting with orange berries in autumn (these maturing to a deeper winter red) much loved by songbirds in January – great value all round.