Books do furnish a room, according to British author Anthony Powell, and in the same way, shrubs do furnish a garden. Bushes and shrubs define the stage on which frilly annuals and generously flowering perennials perform their colorful dances of a summer's day. However, in winter, when the blossoms are sleeping, evergreen shrubs keep your garden beautiful.
Evergreen Means Winter Leaves
Autumn has its own glory, with brilliant foliage and golden grasses. However, a winter garden can appear skeletal as deciduous shrubs drop their leaves in preparation for winter dormancy. Evergreen shrubs -- those that do not lose their leaves in the cool seasons -- offer year-round color and texture. Gardeners looking for shrubs that hold their foliage in winter can choose standouts from a cast of thousands.
Deck the Halls
Sprigs of holly take center stage on holidays, but the holly clan (Ilex spp.) includes some 780 evergreen shrubs and trees. Any gardener can find an appropriate holly since species thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 11 and can be grown in all 50 states. Choose by size, from a 6-inch dwarf to a 70-foot tree, and by berry color. Mid-size shrub options include blue holly (Ilex × meserveae), with rich, blue-green leaves and red berry clusters on a 15 foot-tall by 10-feet wide shrub, and inkberry holly (Ilex glabra), 10 feet in both directions with slender, spineless leaves and tiny dark berries. Both grow in USDA zones 5 through 9.
Some shrubs just give more and complain less, and viburnums (Viburnum spp.) are generous garden favorites in USDA zones 2 through 9. Before you fall too hard for the interesting foliage, lovely flowers and bright berries of a particular species, check to assure that it is an evergreen and hardy to your area. "Pragense" (Viburnum "Pragense") is one evergreen cultivar to try, growing to 12 feet high and wide. Its pink buds open into ivory flowers in spring while the dark green leaves hold tight to the shrub all year long in USDA zones 5 through 8. Or try Japanese viburnum (Viburnum japonicum) that grows into a dense, rounded shrub some 6 to 8 feet high with fragrant spring flowers, leathery leaves and brilliant berries. Plant it in USDA zones 7 through 9.
Meaty, Beaty, Big and Buxus
Shape these shrubs to your heart's content: evergreen little-leaf boxwood (Buxus microphylla "Compacta") continues to thrive in your hedges and topiaries. These easy-care broadleaf shrubs grow in almost any soil. For best results, plant them in sun-dappled areas in USDA zones 6 to 9 where they grow into 1-foot mounds. For twice the height and width, plant the "Green Gem" cultivar (Buxus microphylla var. koreana x Buxus sempervirens), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9. It will brighten up your winter garden with its yellow-green foliage.