When guests stroll through my garden during the height of summer it is highly unlikely that they notice the many evergreens planted among the more showy flowers and foliage, but as the leaves begin to fall in autumn, these workhorses emerge from behind the scenes to reveal the real secret of my garden’s design.

There is a lot more to an evergreen than just year-round foliage. These plants can serve as garden walls, privacy screens, focal points, and points of punctuation. It could be said that evergreen plants are some of the most important in your garden because they possess both form and function.

As we transition from autumn to winter, the structure of your garden becomes more apparent, which makes it a good time to evaluate where you could use a few evergreens to bolster the framework. The first thing to consider is what type of structural element is lacking. Do you need a point of interest in an area of your garden? How about a hedge to create privacy or to screen out an unpleasant view? Maybe you could use a low border of green to frame a bed of flowers? The type of structural element you need will be a guide to the size and form of the evergreen plants to consider.

Next, decide what type of evergreen will best suit the conditions where the plants will grow.  What are the extremes of temperatures (heat and cold) in your area? Will the plants be in full sun, shade, or a little of both? Would you say the area is moist or dry?

Another consideration is the form of the plant you want (weeping, conical, spreading, etc.), and the plant’s growth rate (slow or fast). It is also a good idea to know the size the plant will reach at maturity.

Below I’ve created a chart to help you get started in your search for the perfect evergreen for your garden.   This is only a partial list. There is a whole world of evergreens to be explored. I suggest you visit your local garden center to see what they have that may be unique to your area.


Plant Cultural Notes Form Function Attributes
Italian Cyrpess

(Cupressus sempervirens)

Zones 8 – 10; any well-dreained soil in full sun; shelter from cold, dry wind Columnar, from 3 – 20 ‘ wide x 20 – 70’ tall depending on variety, good for formal gardens privacy walls, focal points, punctuations One of the best evergreens for creating an illusion of enclosure without creating a solid wall.
Camellia sasanqua Zones 7 –8; moist but well-drained, humus rich, acidic soil; partial shade; established plants will tolerate full sun, shelter from cold, dry wind. Upright, full, 10’ wide x 20’ tall, good for both formal and informal gardens privacy walls, screens, focal points Autumn blooms are a bonus to this shrubs glossy, deep green foliage. For greater cold tolerance try one of the Ackerman hybrids. Excellent as a solid hedge to create privacy. Also works well as a focal point.
Hick’s Yew

(Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’)

Zones 4 – 7; plant in full to partial shade, well-drained soil. Will not tolerate wet feet. Upright, columnar, 3 – 4’ wide x 10 – 12’ tall, good for both formal and informal gardens, slow growing screens, low borders


An excellent shrub for creating the walls of your garden rooms. Yews are a favorite in English gardens. All parts of the plant are poisonous. Narrow, needle like foliage is a nice, glossy dark green.
Ilex ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ Zones 7 – 9; grow in moist but well drained, moderately fertile, humus rich soil in full sun to partial shade. Upright, columnar, 10’ wide x 10 – 20’ tall privacy walls, screens, focal points, punctuations I use this shrub as an evergreen wall around my fountain garden. Fast growing with dense dark green foliage, it has proved to be an excellent hedge plant.   Will produce orange-red berries if a male Chinese holly is planted nearby for pollination.
Canadian Hemlock

(Tsuga Canadensis)

Zones 4 – 8; plant in moist but well drained, humus rich acidic to slightly alkaline soil; full sun to partial shade. Conical, loose, 25’ wide x 40’ tall, good for informal gardens privacy walls, screens, focal points The loose airy nature of this plant creates a nice relaxed hedge that allows air to circulate through the garden.
Common Boxwood

(Buxus sempervirens)

Zones 6 –8; plant in fertile, well drained soil; prefers partial shade but will tolerate full sun. Round, dense, 15’ wide x 15’ tall, good for formal gardens low borders, punctuations, containers This is a great evergreen to use for punctuation at entries or to add structure to perennial borders. Can be clipped into a nice hedges or topiary forms.
Indian Hawthorne

(Rhaphiolepis indica)

Zones 8 – 10; plant in well drained, moderately fertile, moist soils; full sun. Mounding, spreading, 8’ wide x 6’ tall, good for informal gardens low borders, punctuations, containers Depending on the variety, this plant produces white or pink flowers followed by attractive berries.
Dwarf Alberta Spruce

(Picea glauca ‘Albertiana Conica’)

Zones 2 –7; plant in moist, well draine, neutral to acidic soil; full sun. Conical, 4 – 5’ wide x 6 – 8’ tall, best for formal gardens punctuations, containers An excellent conical punctuation. For the best results plant several to create a rhythm or use as an accent in a geometric design
Inkberry ‘Compacta’

(Ilex glabra)

Zones 5 – 9; grow in moist, well drained, humus-rich soil; full sun to partial shade. Round, 4 – 6 wide and tall, good for both formal and informal gardens low borders, punctuations Deep green foliage and black berries make this an exceptional backdrop for flowers and colorful foliage.