Some evergreens to get you through the winter

Thank goodness we have evergreens to help get us through the winter. Today was another mild day with temperatures close to 60. Very overcast though and rain is on the way. It looks like we will have a wet Christmas Eve. I took some photos of several plants that are as beautiful in the winter as any other time of year.

O'Spring Chinese Holly (Ilex cornuta 'O'Spring') is a variegated holly that is satisying any time of year. It is slow growing but I was alarmed a while back when I saw it in a garden on "Gardener's Diary" and it was the size of a small car. This one is three or four years old and it is still very small, less than 3' tall. Of course plants tend to conform to the space they have.
Mahonia (Mahonia bealei) is a tough, durable shrub for shade gardens. Tall and narrow (about 6'x 3'), the multi-trunks are topped with thorny leaves similar to holly. Yellow flowers appear in January and February which are followed by grape-like berries.
Nandina (Nandina domestica), also known as "Heavenly Bamboo", is used so much that it has the undeserved distinction of being common. There is a reason for that - it is a tough, carefree shrub that is also quite beautiful, especially in the winter. There were two on the north side of our house when we moved in seventeen years ago. Although they don't get a lot of sun, there is still a hint of red in the winter leaves. I planted one at my mother's house in full sun and the foliage on it is now fiery red. Of course, the most beautiful thing about the nandinas are the berries which hang on forever (well into spring). They make excellent Christmas decorations. All these shrubs ever need are annual pruning in the spring (just cut out the oldest stalks to the ground).
Thuja (standishii x plicata) 'Green Giant'

If you want a tall evergreen hedge, just say "no" to the ever-popular Leland Cypress and go with this one instead. The Leland cypress has become increasingly prone to disease. 'Green Giant' is a fast-growing (the one in the photo is only about 10 years old) pyramidal evergreen with rich green color that remains outstanding throughout hardiness range. No serious pest or disease problems.
Another great conifer is the Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Yoshino’). Also a fast-grower (this one is 12 years old), it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and I'm afraid it is taking over the surrounding plants. The soft needles are quite beautiful and tiny green acorns are almost inconspicuous and do not attract wildlife.

Cast-Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior) has many uses - in containers, as foundation plants, around trees or even as houseplants. It is right on the borderline of hardiness here in Zone 7b but so far (knock wood), it has flourished in our garden. It requires shade and the winter cold will often burn the leaves. They can be cut back before new leaves appear in the spring.

Jackson Vine (Smilax Smallii) adorns many doorways around Southern towns. It is quite beautiful and easily trained. Vicious thorns are found around the base of the plant but not along the branches. It grows from a large tuber and you don't find it often in nurseries. I did see it at Bennett's Nursery in Huntsville where they were charging an arm and a leg for it. I got a piece from a neighbor who is sadly no longer with us. It grows rampantly in the woods on my mother's property. Perhaps I should start selling it.
It is hard to miss the bright canary yellow flowers of the Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) in the early spring around mailboxes and arbors. The tiny green leaves are evergreen and I think they are beautiful in the winter. This is a rampant growing vine (up to 20 feet) and requires continual pruning to keep it in bounds.


  1. Excellent choices all, well except for the English Ivy which is a scourge in my yard. We sell a few of the Smilax at work and we only charge a foot and an arm. It is hard to tell from your picture, but is your mystery plant some sort of variegated eleagnus? My second choice was variegated winter daphne.

  2. Such good color in your garden. So many large shrubs. Your garden must be larger than I envision it. I have always wanted to try to grow one of those mahonias. If our winters continue this warming trend maybe I could grow one. It feels like spring here today. Rain though.

  3. Phillip, You have beautiful greenery in your garden~~Love the Thuja and the Japanese Cedar~~ I want to replace parts of the forsythia hedge and your suggestions might work. I hope you have a happy holiday~~gail

  4. Love the variegated holly and the nandina! Happy holidays!

  5. Great list. Will pass it along through other sn's. I'll pass on the English ivy. Too many problems with scale here in Charleston or it takes over the tree above it!

  6. Great post! I have the carolina jessamine and it quickly camoflauged a section of chain link fence, which is hard to do!

    The Green Giant is beautiful. Can't believe it's only 10 years old.

  7. Lovely greens for the winter garden Phillip! I love your cedars! Adding more evergreens to the garden (that the deer do not relish) is something I must do ... I see so clearly now looking out on my stick garden. Happy Christmas Eve! Carol

  8. Great shrubs! The unidentified shrub is "Leucothoe" I believe, at least it appears to be. Btw, my Nandina Domestica Firepower shrubs did not produce any red berries. Do you know how this could be? I bought them from Home Depot in late summer, and they are planted in a part-shade location.

  9. You can't beat evergreens for winter interest and you have some winners.
    Have a very Merry Christmas, Phillip.

    Always Growing

  10. Love your evergreens! That last one looks a lot like a winter daphne.

    Do you have winter honeysuckle? It isn't a very pretty shrub with its straggly limbs and dull leaves, but I look forward to its fragrant, lemony blossoms every Jan/Feb, reminding me that spring is just around the corner.

    I planted a sweet box last spring. It also has fragrant blooms sometime in winter, and its glossy leaves are lovely. The buds are there, just about to open. I can't wait!

    Merry Christmas! Very happy I discovered your blog.

  11. I love that Holly. I wish they did well here. The only plant I have is the Thuja. I know they aren't the most exciting shrubs, but they are such good growers & they look lovely with snow on them, lots of snow on them. Happy Holidays!

  12. Phillip, you have some wonder green for the winter. I love the big Japanese Cider ~ it looks like the NYC Rockefeller Center tree before it is decked out.

    Hope ya'll had a great Christmas and getting ready for an exciting New Year.

  13. Does the variegated plant have a fragrant bloom in late winter? It looks like winter daphne, daphne odora. i have one, and I think it is a special plant. I love that Chinese holly - am adding it to my wish list! Your evergreens are lovely.


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