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Planning your garden for year round interest

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

It’s that time of year when our gardens really start to wind down, looking more brown than green, with faded flowers heads and leaves slowly dying back. This is where evergreen shrubs come into their own, becoming the true ‘backbone’ of your garden space. Having mentioned shrubs many ornamental grasses also lend structure to the garden throughout winter, with the added benefit of gorgeous spider webs glistening between the blades (grasses are for another day).

Planning in evergreen structure, whether a more naturalistic form shrub or clipped into a sphere, rectangle or any shape you fancy, brings you greenery all year round, which in the depths of winter is greatly appreciated. Talking of shapes, go with what suits your garden style best. I for one love a mix of formal and informal (helpful I hear you say), so I mainly have a mixture of soft naturally sphere shaped shrubs which suit many styles of garden. These are contrasted with the strong rectangular shapes of my hedging, I have beech hedging which isn’t technically evergreen but holds its lovely bronzed leaves through winter.

If you love the more formal style you could consider topiary, again any shape goes. More typical shapes include spheres, rectangles and lollipops however for a more contemporary vibe why not consider bold square clipped blocks or if you’re both brave and creative create your own shape? The contrast of these formal shapes with herbaceous perennials is beautiful.

Box (Buxus sempervirens) has always been a favourite for topiary, but with box blight and box caterpillars causing issues throughout the UK, gardeners and designers have been choosing other suitable plants as a substitute. You could consider using yew (Taxus baccata), Japanese holly (Ilex crenata), bay (Laurus nobilis) or other conifers. Remember the more informal evergreen shrubs can look just as good but lend a different feel.

Here are some favourites for evergreen structure in your own garden:

1) Yew (Taxus baccata)

A very tolerant plant, great for clipping into shapes whether spheres, rectangles or chickens...

Red berries are produced through winter and are a great source of food for our garden birds.

2) Dwarf pine (Pinus mugo 'Slowmound')

A gorgeous compact coniferous shrub, for a more informal style of planting.

Looks great on its own in a gravel garden, with Mediterranean style planting

or even in an informal rockery.

3) Mahonia (Mahoniaeurybracteata subsp. ganpinensis 'Soft Caress')

I've never been a huge fan of mahonias, with their harsh spiny leaves

but this is a game changer for me. As the name suggests the leaves are soft with no spines!

Plus scented yellow flowers in later summer - lovely, also good for partial shade.

4) Holly (Ilex crenata)

Slow growing, low maintenance and a great substitute

for Boxwood due to its similar sized small leaves and habit.

Great for clipping into smaller shapes or for low level clipped hedge in your garden.

5) Bay (Laurus nobilis)

We have a few small standard bays in our garden, they look great and add structure - ours are kept as very informal lollipops as punctuation through the borders.

Perfect for popping into the garden to collect some leaves for the kitchen...

just remember to keep them within arms reach if used for cooking!

Just remember they do like the sun.

6) Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens)

A stalwart of the formal garden, this dense evergreen shrub has been used as topiary for many years. Unfortunately it has now become prone to both box blight and box caterpillar, therefore thinking of alternatives is wise. Otherwise it remains a fab shrub for winter structure, just think about future proofing your garden.

7) Pittosporum (Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Golf Ball')

A firm favourite, this shrub naturally grows (as it's name suggests) into an informal globe shape.

I have these dotted through my borders and they're currently covered in lush new green leaves.

Will suit contemporary or more traditional planting plans for a lovely pop of green.

8) Choisya (Choisya ternata)

A slightly larger shrub, this will grow to around 2m wide and tall. Another with lush, glossy green leaves, producing deliciously scented white flowers through the year (if enough sun). Another winner for bringing a very lush green into your garden all year long.

9) Osmanthus (Osmanthus burkwoodii)

Another with a naturally rounded growth habit, this gorgeous large dark green shrub flowers

in spring, producing beautiful highly scented white stars.

Consider planting it in the dark, shady corner of your garden or even as a hedging plant.

10) Red robin (Photinia × fraseri 'Red Robin')

Describing this plant as an evergreen never feels quite right as its new leaves are a most gorgeous, vibrant, glossy red colour. Can be used as a hedging plant, as pleached trees for screening and structure or even as a small multi-stem tree.

Hope this helps to inspire you this winter. Let me know your favourites below!

Keep safe and warm and speak soon,


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