Rhamnus alaternus

Rhamnus alaternus

‘Sow Lettuce, Alaternus, phillyrea seedes, Kirnels &c. and now begin to secure &  by little & little, as the season proves, withdraw your choicer & tender Greenes & prepare them for the Greene house.’

John Evelyn 1686 (published 1932)


  1. ‘Alaternus’ refers to Rhamnus alaternus, an evergreen shrub favoured by Evelyn in hedging, but which fell out of favour years later as being too labour intensive to maintain.

  2. ‘Phillyrea’ was another evergreen shrub of which Mary Keen says:

    ‘Gardeners of the 17th and 18th centuries, who were less spoilt than those of today, loved any tree or shrub that kept its leaves through winter. John Evelyn referred to evergreens as “Verdures, Perennial Greens and Perpetuall Springs”. Among the most highly regarded of these, and a front- rank treasure in the Georgian shrubbery, was phillyrea, often described as “of incomparable verdure”.

    It is rarely seen now, which is a pity. Phillyrea may no longer rate superstar treatment but it is both useful and attractive, making neat hedges, trees full of character and elegant backgrounds.

    A member of the olive family, phillyrea is sometimes known as evergreen privet. It is, however, both more distinguished than privet and less gloomy than conifers at this time of year because its leaves reflect rather than absorb light. Unlike a currently popular evergreen, box, it does not seem to be susceptible to blight and it has tiny, scented, greeny-white flowers, which appear in spring. (It is reminiscent of the popular shrub osmanthus, which also comes from the olive family.)…’

    3. Evelyn’s use of the words ‘Greene house’ appears to refer to its early use in protecting tender green(e)s. The first use of the words appears in the 1660’s and many other terms were used to refer to similar glazed constructions: conservatories, orangeries, botanical gardens etc.

Phillyrea latifolia

Phillyrea latifolia

Old School Gardener