For this old faithful post, I've chosen one of my top picks for a screening evergreen. This shrub is just bulletproof; no major pest or disease problems, deer resistant, drought tolerant and adaptable in just about any location. Elaeagnus pungens, AKA Silverthorn is well known in commercial landscaping, for all the reasons listed above, but is still relatively unused in domestic horticulture. The Silverthorn gets its name from the gun metal, metallic gray coloration of the foliage. Many variegated types exist, offering an exciting alternative to Japanese Euonymus which deer are normally known to browse down. For myself, the fall flowering aspect is the crowning accolade, though inconspicuous, they will fill the air with a sweet aroma.
Native to Asia, this plant has gained a reputation for making itself at home in North America. In Florida it is listed as an invasive species. However, for us in Virginia, it is not considered a threat. Elaeagnus angustifolia, or Russian olive, on the other hand has successfully escaped and leaped over the garden fence, beginning to invade as aggressively as crabgrass in our natural landscape. Russian olive is a copious producer of berries that the bird devour in a feeding frenzy and has the ability to be able to lock up nitrogen in its roots, allowing it to get a foot hold in poor soils, out competing our indigenous plants. Unfortunately, the reputation of it's cousin has made some people weary, and to further complicate matters, the Silverthorn is often mistakenly called Russian olive, leading to confusion.
It was in a Russian garden magazine that some good friends showed me, where I first began to learn about the health benefits some Elaeagnus offer through its berries. Though my Russian is a bit rusty, I was able to learn that the fruit of Elaeagnus multiflora, or Goumi Berry, is a great source of vitamins A and E and has the highest lycopene content of any food, even tomatoes Sadly, our Silverthorn isn't well known for its fruit for which I have only seen a handful of being produced, but that's what keeps this species in check and stops it from running away.
|E. 'Gilt Edge'|
For some, this plant doesn't register high on their list of most desirable. In fact, I have a sales rep (who will remain nameless), that regularly refers to them as 'ugly-agnus'. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to quote a line from a famous plants-woman and celebrated garden designer of her time, Gertrude Jekyll, "there is no such thing as a bad plant, just a plant used in a bad way". I always get a kick out of discovering how one plant can be connected to so many things. Just like a spider's web, the common thread can touch many elements at the same time.