Why do so many landscapers think evergreens are an absolute must in cold climates? Aside from healthy mature trees and tree farms that I see on drives, most of the evergreen plantings I see around me in Western New York fail for a variety of reasons.
Brown/mostly brown/somewhat brown evergreen shrubs (mainly arborvitae) are a common sight on my city walks and it would really be a stretch to find anything attractive about these. Actually, the ones that still have a bit of healthy green left are the saddest. Other common sights are rows of evergreen shrubs (mostly arborvitae) wrapped in burlap. Now, that’s cheerful. Assuming that these were planted in large part to provide a burst of green in winter, encasing them in brown kinda defeats the purpose.
I do see plenty of mature pines and other conifers, though these are often a hazard more than anything else when planted near intersections—you can’t see through them. And they don’t look quite right in the city. Healthy junipers and yews are also not uncommon, if (mostly) boring. And then you have dubious choices (at least in WNY) like most rhododrendron. My favorite quote about rhodie leaves in winter is “thin cigars of misery.”
Here’s what I do love to run into on urban winter walks: ilex verticillata (winterberry) is common, but always lovely; healthy hollies are very pretty; red-twigged dogwood is essential; and, most of all, perennial grasses always work. They can take beatings of snow and ice all winter long and still maintain their stature (more or less depending on the cultivar).
Finally, what could be more beautiful in winter than a bare tree, occasionally glistening with ice? Bonus points if it has nice bark. That’s all the winter interest I need.