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Early Flowers

Crocus Cyclamen coum Hellebore 'Merlin' Snowdrop Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Some Evergreen Shrubs

Mahonia repens (Creeping Mahonia)

I can never over-emphasize the importance of evergreen shrubs in the garden. Otherwise, you have nothing to look at during the winter months. Here are a few of my favorites.

Talk about a carefree plant! The PNW native Mahonia repens (Creeping Mahonia or Creeping Oregon Grape) requires nothing special and will even tolerate drought after it is established. I tend to think of this plant more as a groundcover but after many years (six to be exact - it was planted in April of 2017) it is beginning to look more like a low-growing shrub. The height is less than 2 feet tall. Growth tends to be more horizontal and it has spread 3-4 feet. Not a fast grower. Sun or part-shade.

The leaves are an attractive blue-green and they become tinged with red and purple when the weather is cooler.  Flowers have been sporadic but every year they increase. It usually blooms around April -

The flowers are then followed (around July) by the berries or "grapes" -

Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki' (False Holly)

Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki' looks very much like a holly - in fact, the common name is "False Holly" - false because it is in the olive family.  But to add even more confusion, it looks nothing like the other tea olives. The difference in hollies and this plant is that the leaves on hollies are set alternate from one another and they are opposite on this plant. As to why this tea olive looks very different from the other varieties of Osmanthus, I have no idea!

This seems to be a very popular plant in the Pacific Northwest. I see it in almost every garden I visit. It is common though only in abundance as the leaves on this plant are so attractive. 'Goshiki' means "five colors" in Japanese and I'm mentally trying to count the colors in the leaves. In early spring, the new growth appears red or reddish-brown, changing to creamy white and then a mixture of light and dark greens. My favorite thing about the tea olives is the intoxicating fragrance that comes in the fall. I've yet to see (or I should say "smell" as the flowers are miniscule) 'Goshiki' blooming.

I've seen some very large specimens of this plant which makes you stop and wonder what you've planted in your small garden. When I say large, I mean about the size of a Volkswagen. I would not say I see that often and they respond well to pruning. Sun to partial shade is recommended. Ours get mostly shade and is situated underneath the big pink dogwood tree that was already here when we moved in. I see that I planted it the first summer we were here - July 1, 2016. That makes it seven years old and it is about five feet tall and six to seven feet wide. I've lightly sheared it a time or two.

Daphne 'Carol Mackie' covered in Japanese Maple leaves

One of the nicest things about gardening here is that Daphne is easy to grow. Of course, they need the right spot - I suggest partial shade, especially in the late afternoon.  I grew one daphne in Alabama and it survived and even bloomed but it never gained any dimension and then it promptly died. Sudden death is a common characteristic of daphne in any climate. Knowing that hopefully eases the pain and guilt when it happens to a gardener (It's not your fault!)

Euonymous albomarginatus

Euonymous albomarginatus is my favorite shrub that was left here by the prior owners. There were not a lot of plants here but the few that were still retained the tag from the nursery which was very helpful.  I don't think I've ever seen this one at the garden center where I work. It is a fantastic shrub. It always looks good, especially during the winter months. It is located in a mostly shady area and gets only dappled sun. It is about 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. 

Juniper 'Daub's Frosted'
with Barberry 'Rose Glow' and
 Clematis montana 'Freda' on the fence, covered in frost.

When I was planting the strip outside the front fence along the street, I knew that I wanted some type of low-growing evergreen on both ends to anchor.  I impulsively chose Juniperus 'Daub's Frosted' and it has turned out to be a good decision. I've never had any trouble with it with the exception of it continuing to spread more than I would like. Descriptions say that it can spread out to 6 feet and that is certainly true. It has stayed very low, however, and it always looks attractive in any season.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy


  1. All nice choices, albeit not a one recommended for my climate :(

  2. Beautiful, I love daphne and have killed a few. ha, nice to know I'm not completely responsible.

  3. I LOVE evergreen shrubs!
    I want to enjoy my garden in winter as well, and it's only possible when there's plenty of visual interest left to carry one through the cold/wet season. Many deciduous trees look good when bare, but it's the evergreens that make the difference for me: dwarf conifers and junipers in particular.
    I had my eye on Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki' for a while, but I'm deterred by its spiky leafs.
    Your photo of "Daphne 'Carol Mackie' covered in Japanese Maple leaves" is stunning.

  4. I need more evergreens, and I love all of the plants featured in your post. I must look for them, or something similar, for my North Texas climate.


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