Evergreens are crucial to achieving varied texture and form, as well as the key to any successful four-season garden. Unfortunately, many gardeners would put a lot of evergreens in the “necessary but boring” category. They are a backdrop, the much-needed greenery during colder months, but never the garden star that steals the show.
The plants below might just change your mind about the humble evergreen. These foliage all-stars can be called anything but boring. From beautiful blooms to colorful foliage and pops of bright berries, all of these evergreens have that little something extra.
1. ‘Sulphur Heart’ Persian Ivy
Hedera colchica ‘Sulphur Heart’
Size: 6 to 8 inches tall and 3 to 8 feet wide when grown as a ground cover
Conditions: Partial to full shade; average to dry, well-drained soil
The very mention of the word Hedera makes many seasoned gardeners run for the hills, but don’t! Bold foliage with a thick waxy texture sets this dense ground cover apart from others, suppressing nearly all but the most insistent weeds. Its habit is dense, but not so much that your desirable additions to the border will be challenged. ‘Sulphur Heart’ has a tricolored variegation on each leaf, with variable mottling of the deepest briny green, a fresh medium green, and vibrant chartreuse on each leaf. Protecting it from winter winds will help keep the foliage intact, whether through siting or with a light mulch of chopped leaves or evergreen boughs.
2. Longstalk Holly
Size: 10 to 20 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; average, well-drained soil
I do like hollies; I just can’t come to terms with the thorns. This is why I enjoy using longstalk holly. It has no thorns! This easily grown broadleaf evergreen is so versatile but is seldom seen in gardens. All it asks is to be sited out of the worst winter winds. Quarter-inch red fruits borne on delicate little stalks give the plant its name. If you want the fruit, however, you’ll need to plant one male for every three to four females in the immediate area.
3. Dwarf Mondo Grass
Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nanus’
Size: 3 inches tall and 3 to 12 inches wide
Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist, fertile, well-drained soil
Dwarf mondo grass is a tiny but mighty ground cover that can find a place in any garden. This little spreader finds and exploits the cracks between paving stones in one area of my garden, and it forms a thick, weed-resistant colony on the verge of becoming a lawn alternative in another. However, it can take only very light foot traffic. Rich, glossy green foliage yields a tufted and tactile effect, with lavender blooms that emerge in midsummer. I like to spread this plant by lifting and replanting small tufts.
4. Fragrant Valley™ Himalayan Sweet Box
Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis ‘Sarsid1’
Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide
Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist, acidic, well-drained soil rich in organic matter
This new selection of Himalayan sweet box is known for having slightly longer and narrower foliage than the species, but most important, it is the hardiest form currently available. A shade-tolerant ground cover, it spreads slowly and is perfect at nestling itself in and around rocks. On mild winter days, when the delicate yet abundant white flowers produce their delightful fragrance, I am obligated to bring a stem indoors to enjoy. Have I even mentioned its deer resistance?
Dan Benarcik is a horticulturist at Chanticleer in Wayne, Pennsylvania.