Evergreen shrubs keep their leaves all year round and are a must in any garden. They’re an especially welcome sight in winter, when their fresh green foliage and distinctive shapes stop the garden looking bare. Evergreens are often described as the ‘backbone’ of a garden, as they bring important structure – some can be clipped into balls, mounds, columns and pyramids. They also act as a foil to more showy plants, such as summer-flowering perennials or shrubs that have lovely autumn colour.
Not all evergreen shrubs are actually green – their foliage comes in many other shades, from grey to purple to golden and variegated. Many also have the added bonus of flowers.
It’s a good idea to space evergreens out fairly evenly throughout the garden, so that they unify the whole space. Evergreen shrubs are useful as permanent ‘foundation planting’ around the base of a house, for lining a path to a front door, or for framing an entrance. Some make great hedges, and can be used to create private areas in the garden, or garden ‘rooms’. They also make good windbreaks. Some can also be used as ground cover – great for covering a tricky area. Many smaller evergreen shrubs grow well in pots, either on their own or planted with seasonal bedding plants.
Spring or autumn is the best time to plant evergreens. If you can’t decide which to choose for your garden, here are 20 of our favourite evergreen shrubs to inspire you.
Azaleas are compact evergreen shrubs that are smothered in bright flowers in spring. There are thousands of cultivars to choose from, with flowers ranging in colour from pinks, magenta and purple to red, orange and yellow. Azaleas are perfect for growing in a shady part of the garden. They do best in acidic soil, but if you do not have this in your area, you can grow dwarf varieties in pots, using peat-free ericaceous compost. Azaleas are closely related to rhododendrons, which are similar, but not always evergreen.
Height x Spread: from 1m x 1m
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Bamboos are great evergreen evergreen shrubs for a contemporary or urban garden, as well as a tropical planting scheme. They also work well as a natural screen, great for creating privacy or concealing an ugly garden feature. Bamboos sway and rustle beautifully in the breeze. There’s a huge range of bamboo plants to choose from, the stems ranging in colour from black to yellow. Some varieties grow well in pots.
Most bamboos do best in a sunny spot and need plenty of water in spring and summer. They also benefit from a high-nitrogen feed in spring and summer.
H x S: up to 3m x 3m
Find out more about growing bamboo
Bay (Laurus nobilis) is an evergreen shrub with aromatic leaves that have many culinary uses. Often sold as standard balls or shaped into cones, bay can be used as an alternative to yew or box topiary. It grows well in pots. Grow bay in a sunny, sheltered spot in moist but well-drained soil.
H x S: up to 3m
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The fresh evergreen leaves of box bring a freshness to the garden all year round. Clipped into topiary shapes such balls, mounds, cones, spirals, animals or birds, or grown as a low hedge in a knot garden or parterre, it is hard to beat. But box is not without its problems, which are worth considering before you invest in some plants. In recent years, box has come under attack from box blight and the box tree caterpillar, both of which can weaken and kill the plants. If either of these are a problem in your area, you might consider our alternatives to box.
H x S: from 30cm x 30cm
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Camellias are a welcome sight in late winter and early spring, when little else is in flower. Their blooms range in colour from white to pink and red and can be single or double. Their glossy, evergreen leaves look great all year around. Camellias need a shady spot and need to be grown in acidic soil. If you don’t have this in your garden, they can be grown in pots, in ericaceous compost.
H x S: from 1m x 50cm
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Also known as California lilac, ceanothus are smothered in flowers in May and June – mostly a vivid cornflower blue, although some varieties have pink or white flowers. They like a sunny spot, so a south- or west-facing border is ideal. The bushy, evergreen types have small, neat leaves and tend to be slightly less hardy, so grow in a sheltered spot, away from cold, drying winds. Ceanothus come in a range of sizes.
H x S: from 1.5m x 2m
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Choisya, or Mexican orange blossom, is an attractive, low maintenance evergreen shrub. Its glossy green leaves look good all year round and the white, star-shaped flowers in late spring and early summer smell deliciously of orange blossom. It prefers a sunny, sheltered spot.
H x S: 3m x 2.5m
Daphnes can’t fail to lift your spirits in winter – they have evergreen foliage that appears bright and fresh on a winter’s day, and they also flower when little else is out. The blooms have a very strong scent that can stop you in your tracks. Daphnes are an ideal shrub for smaller gardens – grow them in dappled shade, ideally near a path or a doorway where you can appreciate their fragrance.
H x S: from 50cm x 50cm
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Griselinia is a low-maintenance, evergreen shrub with pretty, apple green leaves. It can be grown against a wall, or as an evergreen hedge. Griselinias are tolerant of salty air, making them perfect for coastal gardens, but they’re not suitable for cold, exposed sites.
H x S: from 1m x 1m
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Heathers are compact, evergreen shrubs with spikes of tiny, bell-shaped flowers in shades of white, pink, red and mauve. Some varieties flower in summer and autumn, others in winter. Grow en masse as ground cover or at the front of a border, or in a pot. Most need acidic soil and a sunny spot. Winter flowering heathers are an especially valuable source of nectar for bees.
H x S: from 30cm x 20cm
Hebes are popular evergreen shrubs that come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The colour of their small leaves can vary, from dark green to pink and variegated. Hebes flower over a long period in summer, in shades of pink, blue and white, and are popular with bees. Grow towards the front of a border, or as ground cover or low-growing hedging. Grow in full sun or partial shade, sheltered from cold winter winds.
H x S: from 40cm x 40cm
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Lavender is an evergreen shrub, grown for its grey-green, fragrant leaves and bee-friendly flowers in shades of white, pink and purple. Lavenders are incredibly versatile and can be grown in all kinds of gardens, from wildlife gardens to cottage gardens and from Mediterranean-style gravel gardens to herbaceous borders. Lavender can be grown as a low-growing hedge and also grows well in pots. Drought tolerant, lavenders need a sunny spot to thrive and should be planted in well-drained soil. Cut back after flowering in order to keep their shape.
H x S: from 60cm x 60cm
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Mahonia, also known as the Oregon grape, has dramatic, evergreen foliage and clusters of fragrant, yellow flowers in autumn and winter that are much appreciated by bees. The flowers are followed by blue-back fruits that are enjoyed by birds. Mahonias prefer a shaded spot and look good with contrasting foliage plants that also thrive in shade, such as elephant’s ears and epimedium. They also look good in a jungle-style border or exotic planting scheme.
H x S: from 1m x 1m
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The olive tree, Olea europaea, is a classic Mediterranean tree that grows surprisingly well in the UK. It has pale grey-green, evergreen leaves and compact size. Olives thrive in conditions closest to the hot, dry climate of their native habitat, so choose the sunniest and most sheltered spot available – a south-facing spot with a brick wall behind it is ideal. Olives look particularly good in urban and contemporary gardens and grow well in pots – they look especially good framing a front door or with other Mediterranean plants on a sunny patio.
H x S: up to 10m x 10m
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Photinias are low-maintenance, evergreen shrubs with glossy leaves – their name derives from the Greek word photeinos, which means shiny. Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ has bright red fresh leaves in spring, coupled with sprays of creamy white flowers. It can be grown in a sunny border or as a hedge.
H x S: 4m x 4m
Pittosporums are versatile evergreen shrubs that are grown for their neat, attractive foliage that ranges from dark to apple green or grey-green or purple-black, depending on the variety. They have inconspicuous but highly scented flowers in May and June. Some varieties can be lightly clipped into a pleasing shape. They are a good choice for a sunny spot in mild areas or seaside gardens.
H x S: from 60cm x 60cm
Yucca gloriosa is a tough, evergreen and low maintenance plant with distinctive, spiky foliage. In time, it will form a branched trunk. In late summer, clusters of creamy-white bell-shaped flowers appear. It’s a great plant for a dry, sunny garden, coastal locations and exotic planting schemes. Yuccas also grow well in containers. The leaves of Yucca gloriosa ‘Variegata’ have pretty yellow and pink variegation.
H x S: up to 9m x 7m
Find out more about growing yucca