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Regional Picks: Unusual Evergreens – Northern California

Fine Gardening - Issue 160

1. Michelia

Name: Michelia yunnanensis

USDA Hardiness Zones: 8 to 10

Size: 15 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to full shade; moist, fertile, well-drained soil

A rarely encountered magnolia relative with glossy, 2- to 3-inch-long evergreen leaves, michelia can be classified as a large shrub or a small tree. It blooms in early spring with fragrant white flowers. As an extra bonus, the flowers emerge from velvety, dark, rust-colored buds, which are almost as beautiful as the blooms. I have a plant in full sun and one in full shade; both bloom heavily—although the one in the shade blooms later, which extends the blossoming time in my garden.


2. Siberian Cypress

Name: Microbiota decussata

Zones: 3 to 10

Size: 18 inches tall and up to 6 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, fertile, well-drained soil

This is a great alternative to ground-cover junipers (Juniperus spp. and cvs., Zones 2–9) and is more shade tolerant. Siberian cypress is a low-spreading evergreen with great feathery foliage, which is arranged in symmetrical pairs of flattened sprays. The foliage is bright green and then turns purplish, bronzy, or reddish brown in cold weather. Plants tolerant of cool zones sometimes do not do well here, but I’ve been growing Siberian cypress successfully for many years in Zone 10. This conifer rarely needs pruning—only to remove stray growth.


3. Camellia

Name: Camellia transnokoensis

Zones: 8 to 10

Size: 6 to 10 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Partial shade; rich, acidic, well-drained soil

When this shrub flowers in my garden, everyone who sees it wants it. This camellia has small glossy leaves (about 1½ inches long) with serrated margins, and the new foliage emerges with a red tint. The blossoms are small and fragrant, and they appear in clusters along the stems from winter to spring. Unlike some camellias whose spent flowers hang onto the plant indefinitely, making them look unsightly, the blooms on this particular variety fall off cleanly.


4. Golden Elaeagnus

Name: Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’

Zones: 7 to 9

Size: 12 feet tall and 15 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil

This evergreen shrub has leathery leaves with wavy edges and splashes of bright yellow-gold variegation. The unusual variegation pattern is different on each of the leaves. During garden tours of our property, artists are always attracted to golden elaeagnus because of its unusual coloring. Although some sources say that it can grow up to 15 feet tall and wide, my plant has stayed about half that size and is a bright spot in high shade. This plant also tolerates heat, wind, and seashore conditions.


Pat Wells has an extensive garden with hundreds of evergreens in Trinidad, California.

Photos: (1, 3 and 4), Joshua McCullough; (2), Brandi Spade

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