Think of evergreens and think of dark coniferous trees, like ‘Christmas trees’? Well yes, and no. Many wonderful conifers look fantastic in pots, borders or as a stand alone tree in gardens. And evergreens are so much more.

What are evergreens?

Evergreens are plants that don’t lose their leaves, even in winter. It’s a confusing name because not all of them are green. They offer leaves in shades of greens, yellows, creams, silvers and purple to red. That means there can be something colourful in your garden all year. And it’s not just colour that evergreens offer. Different sizes and shapes of leaves create texture while different sized and shaped shrubs, trees, ground cover and border plants create a year round structure.

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Evergreens provide year round structure and interest. Here the deep green skimmia sets off coloured cornus and together they give a boost to a winter's day. Sarah Buchanan.

Choose evergreens for an easy life

Depending on your garden’s size, soil and aspect there is likely to be space for some of these lovely easy to care for evergreens.

  • Heathers: choose summer or winter (more like spring where I live) flowers, green or golden leaves, and these small plants will give a shot of colour that cheers any day. They need an acid soil and a haircut after flowering.
  • Ferns: sumptuous greens, these are perfect for damp and shady gardens or pots on shaded patios. They need next to no work other than cutting away marked or dead leaves.
  • Grasses: evergreen grasses are blue, black and green and offer texture all year. They prefer dry soils and sun and, like heather, need a hair cut to keep them in shape.
  • Box: when clipped into shapes these neat shrubs create a formal and calming look. Use them to create ‘full stops’, in pots on patios or planted in the garden. Or plant a small box hedge along a path or around a border. The small deep green leaves look fantastic in frost, and are a perfect backdrop for flowering plants or grasses during the year.

Choose evergreens for year round interest

The RHS suggest these 'top five' evergreens, and it seems to me that most gardens can be home to all of them. None grow very big and they need only pruning to keep them in shape.

  • Daphne (for example, x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’) are wonderful slow growing shrubs ideal for small and sheltered gardens where the fantastic perfume of their flowers can be enjoyed to best effect.
  • Euonymus fortunei ‘Silver Queen’, is a much loved easy to grow variegated plant in containers and borders. There are other varieties too – all good.
  • Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’, a silver evergreen that likes warm and dry soil, and when in flower is divine.
  • Osmanthus x burkwoodii is a lovely large shrub with glossy leaves and scented flowers.
  • Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Irene Paterson’ is one of many varieties of this reliable small leaved shrub. But look around for varieties with golden leaves, purple leaves and green leaves.
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Evergreens are not only green, or even the same green! Here at High Garden Nursery, in Devon, skimmia 'Kew Gardens',  a golden leaved variety of pittosporum tenuifolium, evergreen grass and deep green evergreen shrubs contrast with red stemmed Cornus and create a winter garden to turn heads.  Sarah Buchanan.

Evergreens create a 'statement'

Juniper, box or yew trees can be clipped into amazing shapes - topiary animals, bold pyramids or corkscrews. In a sheltered spot plant a 'strawberry tree' (arbutus unedo). Often seen as a large (and lovely) shrub, with deep green leathery leaves, white flowers, brilliant red fruits and cinnamon coloured shedding bark, it can be grown as lovely small tree if you trim the side branches from the main trunk. Or try a small conifer (not a Christmas tree). My top choice is any variety of abies koreana. This lovely small fir tree has rich, dark green needles which curve upwards to show a bright silvery white underside. Delightful cones start green and turn purple before fading to brown.

Gardens for evergreens inspiration

These largely evergreen gardens are a great way to find inspiration (and a lovely day out).

  • Bedgebury National Pinetum, Bedgebury, Goudhurst, Kent. The most complete collection of conifers on one site anywhere in the world.
  • RHS Garden Rosemoor, Great Torrington, Devon. Home to the national collection of hollies.
  • Belsay Hall Gardens, Northumberland. The Winter Garden features mahonias, viburnums, conifers and scented heathers, and there is yew topiary too.
  • Bicton Park Botanical Gardens, Bicton, Devon. Exotic tree ferns fill the rocky glade of the Fernery, created during the Victorian “fern fever” era.
  • Bressingham Gardens, Low Rd, Bressingham, Norfolk. The Foggy Bottom Garden contains over 50 different conifers and 100 heathers, along with ornamental grasses and perennials.