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Planting: Unusual evergreens

Planting: Unusual evergreens

Aucuba japonica f. longifolia ‘Salicifcolia’. Photo: Andy McIndoe

Andy McIndoe recommends lesser-known evergreens to shake up your planting palette

Evergreens for town gardens

The reliable, plain, dark-green, compact Aucuba japonica ‘Rozannie’ is often used for shady situations. It is an excellent plant that reliably produces a good crop of large, scarlet berries. However, it rarely grows to more than 1m in height and spread. Aucuba japonica f. longifolia ‘Salicifolia’ is much larger in stature, growing to twice that, with upright, sea-green stems and slender, dark, evergreen leaves. It makes a most attractive backdrop or screening shrub in heavy shade and is excellent for urban gardens. The abundant bright red fruits that ripen in late summer are a bonus. 

Evergreens for deep shade

Hedera helix ‘Erecta’ is an interesting form of the common ivy with upright stems clothed in arrow-shaped deep green leaves. Growing slowly, the stems eventually lean over to the ground, put down roots and grow vertically again. Eventually it can make a substantial, evergreen shrub of 60cm in height with a spread of 1m or more. It deserves wider planting and is a good partner for small hederas used as groundcover with Cyclamen hederifolium. It is drought tolerant and will thrive in the deepest shade on virtually any soil.

Evergreens for coastal gardens

The variegated forms of elaeagnus are rather brash and most revert badly; eventually plain green shoots take over. However, they are very tolerant of dry soil, shade and salt air. Elaeagnus pungens ‘Frederici’ is more compact with less inclination to revert and its pleasing soft yellow and green variegation sits well alongside other subjects without dominating a planting scheme. It is a useful plant in semi-shade close to coniferous trees, and is ideal for smaller gardens.

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan-sugi’. Photo: Andy McIndoe

Evergreens for feature specimens

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan-sugi’ is a conifer for even those who claim to hate them. It mixes well with broadleaved shrubs and the appealing feathery foliage is light peridot-green, cream or primrose towards the tips of the shoots. The growth habit and form are quite unlike any other conifer and grown as a specimen it makes an excellent focal point. Naturally it is flame-shaped, but it responds well to shaping and makes an interesting topiary subject, even trimmed as a large ball.

Viburnum x hillieri ‘Winton’ holds an Award of Garden Merit from the RHS. Photo: Andy McIndoe

Evergreens for flowers

Flowering evergreens are always sought after. Viburnum x hillieri ‘Winton’ is a large, vigorous shrub with ascending but spreading branches. It works where it can be left to grow naturally, but needs space and lends itself to underplanting with shade-loving groundcover. The dark-green leaves are copper tinted when young, becoming bronze in winter. Ribes-like clusters of white flowers hang from the branches in midsummer, followed by rather insignificant red fruits that finally turn black. It is a good choice for large central beds and grows well in sun or semi-shade.

Evergreens for texture

The wire-netting bush, Corokia cotoneaster, is a curious evergreen with fine, zig-zagging dark stems and small, leathery brown-green leaves. The appearance is quite unlike any other evergreen or deciduous shrub. Some will love it, some will loathe it. Hailing from New Zealand, it is not the hardiest of subjects, but responds to conditions that would suit hebes. It looks good with silver foliage and soft-yellow variegations, but can be lost against dark evergreens. Corokia x virgata ‘Yellow Wonder’ produces masses of small, starry yellow flowers followed by yellow berries. It is more upright in habit, hardy and a good choice for small gardens. It can be grown as an unusual hedge in mild areas.

Abelia x grandiflora Confetti. Photo: Andy McIndoe

Evergreens for containers

Abelias have become more popular. Evergreen and graceful in habit with small leaves, they have delightful autumn flowers and attractive long-lasting calyces that persist after the blooms. Abelia x grandiflora is an excellent shrub where space allows a height and spread of 3m. Abelia x grandiflora Confetti is much smaller, growing to a little over 1m in height and spread. The small green-and-white-variegated leaves are tinged pink at the tips of the shoots and the foliage can blush in winter. It is light, pretty and frothy with a sprinkling of pink, fragrant flowers in autumn. Great for small gardens and containers, it works well in green, white and pastel schemes.

Evergreens for hot dry soils

For favoured, dry, sunny situations, Teucrium fruticans can be a good choice, especially near the coast. With a fast-growing, sprawling habit, it is often seen on banks and pouring over walls. It can also be grown as a lax wall shrub and if controlled with pruning works well with cistus, lavenders and silver foliage subjects. The straight silver stems carry small leaves, silver felted on the undersides, and attractive nettle-like sky-blue flowers throughout summer. In the right conditions, it makes an excellent hedge and can be trimmed as a topiary subject.


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