Put simply, an evergreen plant is a species that retains its foliage throughout the year. Usually bearing thicker leaves and more dense growth habits, evergreens keep their colour year-round, unlike deciduous trees and shrubs that transform with the seasons. Often, we think of evergreen trees as the likes of spruces and pines, but there are in fact a wealth of evergreen species, including the kaffir lime tree, native frangipani, broad-leaved paperbark and the weeping peppermint tree, as well as many colourful flowering shrubs. Well known for being hardy, evergreens make an excellent addition to a bare winter garden and can add privacy and structure to a yard too. To help you narrow down the vast choices, we’ve put together a guide to some of the best low-maintenance evergreens you can grow.
Traditionally used in formal gardens, boxwood is easy to manipulate and maintain, making it the ideal candidate for a garden border or hedge. Glossy green leaves adorn dense branching that helps the boxwood to keep its shape. The plant is pretty fuss-free, versatile enough to handle full sun or full shade, and is very drought-tolerant, requiring only an annual trim and well-drained soil to keep it happy. If planting in hot, tropical climates, boxwood will grow best in partial shade with weekly watering. There are many varieties and cultivars of boxwood plants, each with varying needs, though common boxwood is one of the most popular choices.
There are 50 species of the flowering daphne shrub throughout the world, and some of the most popular species include the smaller evergreen plants ideal for adding ornamental interest to rockeries and borders. With waxy green leaves and clusters of highly fragrant pink and cream flowers that bloom in winter through to spring, daphne is a rewarding plant to grow. However, it does have a few specific requirements to thrive. Daphne plants are very particular about the soil, it must have excellent drainage – well suited to growing in a raised bed, and a cool, sheltered spot that ideally gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Daphne also works well as a potted plant and will often be lower maintenance this way.
Evergreen viburnums are a diverse group of shrubs well suited to growing in Australia’s temperate regions. Boasting clusters of umbrella-like pink, white and cream flowers tightly packed together, viburnums are exceptionally hardy. One of the most common evergreen viburnums is Viburnum Tinus, an excellent plant for hedging that will stand up to almost any condition. Content to grow in sun or shade, the shrub will need pruning in spring and little else to thrive. If you want to grow a hedge or border fast, then the larger-leafed Viburnum Odoratissimum is the best choice.
Originating from Asia, camellias are renowned for their shiny deep green foliage and big showy flowers that pop in shades of pink, red, yellow and white from winter through to spring. Camellias grow well in most regions of Australia and prefer a sunny spot with partial shade in the afternoon, especially in hot climates. A popular type of camellia to grow is the Japonica, a shade-loving plant boasting white, pink and red blooms that also make excellent cut flowers. Known as the queen of winter blooms, camellias make an attractive bush or hedge in well-drained soil with some light annual trimming. Sasanqua camellias are a good choice if you need a more tolerant, fast-growing variety.
Producing a mass of beautifully scented purple blooms amongst silvery-grey foliage, lavender is easy to grow and highly rewarding. There are four main types of lavender to grow: English, French, Spanish and Lavandin, and each is evergreen in warm climates. Lavender grows well in full sun and is ideally planted in spring, when the soil begins to warm up. Prized for its long-lasting scent and drought-tolerant qualities, lavender is a very versatile plant, able to be grown in rockeries, borders, herb gardens or containers, with a long flowering season. Well-drained soil and a sunny position is a must, but lavender can do well in even poor quality soil with very little pruning. When picked, the flowers have a wealth of health benefits and uses, including being distilled into an essential oil, drying and mixing with bath salts or even used in cooking – lavender is delicious in shortbread biscuits!
The striking red foliage of photinia makes this an excellent feature plant or hedge for the garden. Most commonly grown as the Red Robin species, photinia grows best in a sunny or partly shady spot in the garden. Come spring, the plant will come into flower with small white blooms followed by fleshy red fruits. The fast-growing plant bears striking red and green leaves throughout the year and requires very little care to stay looking its best, just a little pruning now and again to maintain its shape.
Native to Australia and well suited to arid locations, the cypress pine is a beautiful evergreen tree prized for its termite resistance. Two popular species include the Black and the White cypress pines, both similar in appearance, bearing bushy foliage and clusters of cones, with the latter recognisable for its darker, bluish-grey foliage. Usually found growing in forests, cypress pines suit large, arid land spaces in well-drained soil, also suitable for planting on slopes and hills, growing between 15-25m in height. The tree is also fairly tolerant of drought and poor soil conditions.
Perfect for growing in a sunny, sheltered spot in moist, well-drained soil, the evergreen shrubs in this genus of the buckthorn family originate from North America and make attractive bushy plants with leathery green leaves and ball-like clusters of tiny, often pastel blue and pink flowers. The shrubs can vary from low-growing plants to tall shrubs, coming into bloom at the start of summer. California lilacs grow quickly and can withstand tough conditions, including drought and extreme temperatures, ideally suited to growing against walls, in rockeries or as a groundcover. Evergreen varieties do not usually need pruning, often this can have a negative effect on the plant, so be sure to find out the specific needs of your chosen species before you start growing.