Karen Murphy selects the plants that will keep our gardens looking wonderful in winter
Although often overlooked compared with the floral treats of summer, evergreens are important players in the garden. They provide welcome structure and a focal point during the more challenging times of year, particularly mid-winter. While hollies are seasonal favourites, there are other evergreen shrubs that can really add interest with the shape and colour of their foliage.
One of the most remarkable is the Chusan palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, which can withstand strong winds, frost and snow. Once established, it will make steady growth until it becomes an eye-catching feature. Site it carefully and give it space to spread.
Fatsia japonica is another big-leaved, hardy shrub that’s ideal for creating a sub-tropical effect and a useful partner for the Chusan palm, producing the biggest leaves in semi-shade.
Many shrubs that revel in acid conditions are evergreen, particularly those in the heather family (Ericaceae) such as erica, calluna, rhododendron and leucothoe, which all make excellent partners for dwarf conifers and pines. Leucothoe ‘Scarletta’ is particularly effective as its foliage turns beetroot-red in winter. It is a good companion plant for winter pansies and foliage plants such as heuchera in containers.
Many evergreens, such as elaeagnus and aucuba, can be grown as hedges, useful for dry soils or shade. In milder and coastal areas, try griselinia from New Zealand which tolerates salt-laden winds.
Best plants for winter interest
Aucuba japonica ‘Rozannie’
A spreading shrub with lustrous leaves. The small flowers in April produce long-lasting red berries. Height: 1.5m (5ft).
An upright, relatively fast-growing shrub with oval polished leaves. Prefers sun in any well-drained soil. Tender in cold areas. Height: 4m (13ft) plus.
Elaeagnus ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’
This one’s a tough shrub, ideal for well-drained soil in sun or semi-shade. Small, highly fragrant flowers in autumn. Height: 2.5m (8ft).
A mounding shrub that turns deep red in winter. Small, white flowers. Needs well-drained acid soil in sun or shade. Height: 90cm (3ft).
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