The term evergreen shrubs often conjures up visions of banks of dark evergreens, such as were planted by Victorian gardeners, and latterly in the public parks of the UK.
Nothing could be further from the truth, for modern evergreens have many new forms and varieties that can transform a garden border - if not into a riot of colour - certainly an area which features virtually every colour imaginable, and often with more colour - for longer periods - than many deciduous flowering shrubs.
There are also many evergreen shrubs that are principally grown for their flowers - rather than foliage. They are covered in detail elsewhere on this section. Here, it is worth pointing out that colourful evergreens will retain their foliage interest for many - if not all - of the months in the year. Flowers generally last a few weeks!
Evergreens have a multitude of uses throughout the garden, as feature plants; part of a shrub border; container centre-pieces; screens and hedges; and also for use in winter containers of evergreens, (or summer) hanging baskets and troughs.
During the last ten years in particular, there have been many new introductions to the Evergreen Shrub range. Many are old favourites that have been given a new lease of life, as gardeners value the foliage variants and know how to care for them!
One main thing to realise, is that with an evergreen shrub, you will have something there to look at for 12 months of the year. They change from season through season with new foliage often a different colour or shape even to that of the older mature canopy of prsistent leaves.
First and foremost, an evergreen shrub is NOT necessarily green. Those days have gone, with the bright coloured foliage varieties that have been introduced - or re-introduced, in some cases.
As the two images show, as well as the colour variety, there is of course the diversity of foliage types in the evergreen range. Bring in the conifers, and the choices are widened considerably
One the left with the spectacular foliage for much of the year, is Photinia Red Robin with the left image being of Pinus mugo Ophir.
An evergreen shrub is one that keeps its foliage throughout the entire year, though some leaves do fall as new ones push their way to the front of the 'light availability' queue. Some evergreens are not fully hardy, or simply get a bit of a bashing in a hard winter - or with late spring frosts.
The latter is true when the evergreen has erroneously thought that winter is past, and it is time to shoot forth. These new shoots and leaves can be susceptible to late spring frosts or drying winds. For the most part however, the shrubs we mention in this section will be hardy under normal conditions.
Of latter years - when 'global warming' was thought to be bringing Mediterranean climates to the more temperate regions, and a few mild winters led us into a false sense of security - or stupidity - several suspect evergreen species were sold with an 'assurance' that it was hardy now that severe winters are a thing of the past!!! This last winter - and a few other recent winters will have made a mockery of that assurance - often given by 'experienced' writers. It will be interesting to see how many Olive Trees and the like survive this last winter.
Maybe the winter was the coldest for goodness how many years. It will serve as an expensive reminder to those who have planted - or are about the plant - 'exotic' type evergreens. In short, if you want to have a Mediterranean garden, then up and move, to where such gardens are situated in reality.
The versatility of the evergreens shrubs does not stop with its ability to hang on to its leaves for the whole year. Some of our finest flowering shrubs are evergreens. This gives the added advantage of when the flower has faded, then there is still the foliage to create interest. There are many dual-purpose shrubs evergreens - and a few triple purpose (at least).
The Firethorns - Pyracantha is one such that springs to mind. With the Pyracantha, we have evergreen foliage (variegated even on some varieties), a mass of creamy white flower in May, and then a superb display of berries which gives it its common name, from August through to winter.
That's three uses. So what about the fact that it can be used as a wall or fence shrub, a hedge that will repel anything with its spiteful thorns, or just a stubborn old shrub that will grow in almost any situation that you plant it!
Image on left shows the creamy white flowers seta against the glossy green evergreen foliage, with the right image showing just two of the berry colours which are available with this versatile evergreen.
Oh - and it makes a good feed for the blackbirds in a hard winter.
Appetite whetted yet! Just follow this section through to see how you can best use evergreen shrubs in your garden.